My grandmother, Abigail McMillen, “Auntie Abbie” to almost everyone who knew her, was a big woman. Big heart. Big soul. Big body. She came to me from Hawaii the year of Statehood and became a fixture at every gathering of local Hawaiians in the Washington, D.C. area. If there was a meal, she would pray the Benediction. If there was hula, she would strum her guitar or tenor ukulele. If there was a luau – that meant one thing – get out the Black Holoku.
As a teen, my asthma would often send me to the TV room in the middle of the night, where I would sit in a chair with two or three pillows piled onto my lap to support my hunched shoulders as I willed myself to breathe. Reruns of McHale’s Navy and Combat and the late night movie provided some companionship as I bargained my way through an attack, begging God to make it stop and finally cursing God for the lungs that have failed me my entire life.