An Old Love Affair: Halcyon Hawaii


I fell in love with Hawaii when I was a kid growing up in small-town Ohio … thanks to my Dad. He loved all things Hawaiian, but his passion was the music. He would hum, sing, or whistle his way through all the popular Hawaiian songs of the day.


At Christmas he was just as likely to croon Bing Crosby’s version of “Mele Kalikimaka” as “Silent Night.” He even owned a ukelele … and that made him very cool.


Hawaii was all the rage with my friends, too. My best friend’s father turned their entire basement into a Hawaiian Tiki Lounge, complete with a grass-skirt-covered bar, coconut monkey heads, rattan furniture, a juke box that played only Hawaiian 45s, and a pinball machine. It was magical!


I was always captivated by the old, sepia photos of the graceful, lei-clad Hawaiian women and the virile, surfing men …


… probably because they reminded me of my childhood hero, Tarzan.

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Now that I’m grown up, I still love the music, memorabilia, and people of Hawaii. And although modern-day Honolulu and Waikiki are gorgeous, with gleaming hotels and upscale boutiques, I find myself drawn to the simplicity of the “old Hawaii” I’ve come to treasure.



And although Dad never made it to Hawaii, he always wanted to go. When I walk around searching for “old Hawaii,” I hope he’s riding on my shoulder taking it all in.



We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

61 thoughts

    1. Wow Andrew, I hadn’t thought about Hawaiian Eye in years. It must have been one of the breakout roles for Robert Conrad, Connie Stevens, Troy Donohue and Poncie Ponce (who was evidently a big fan of Don Ho – my Dad’s hero). And Hawaii 5-O introduced the whole world to the phrase “Book ’em Danno.” Thanks for the great memory jog. 🙂 ~Terri

  1. When I was in Waikiki a few years ago, they were filming the new Hawaii 5-0 across from our hotel. My favorite part of Oahu was the giant sea turtles and the helicopter ride we went on. So many TV shows and movies have been filmed there. I’d like to visit some of the other islands some day.

    1. It’s such a beautiful place, Laura. And I bet seeing it from a helicopter was pretty spectacular – like the opening shots on Hawaii 5-0. Did you take lots of photos? We’ve been to a few of the islands, but there’s always more to see. 🙂 ~Terri

      1. In 6 days, I think I took nearly 2000 images. Most of them went into the recycle bin, but I did come away with some wonderful ones!

  2. We have loved our trips to Maui Terri. I enjoyed hearing about your Dad and his love for Hawaii. I am certain he was very cool indeed with a ukelele. Lovely memory.

    1. Oh Sue, I’m so envious because we haven’t made it to Maui yet. Have you written about it – bicycling, climbing? My Dad was always a great singer, but his skill with the uke left a bit to be desired. Fortunately most songs only required a few chords and a lot of strumming. 🙂 ~Terri

  3. Love this post possibly because I, like your father, loved the old Hawaii! My dad visited there during WWII and brought back a little plastic, grass skirted hula girl that moved kinda like a bobblehead except she moved from the waist up! That old stuff — floral prints, Tiki cups, yellowed postcards made memories back then. Yesterday, I read an article in the NY Times about a man named Larry Ellison who has just bought Lanai and is turning it into “the old Hawaii” except for the very rich. You might enjoy it since your post has so much of what I hope they will incorporate into a small boutique hotel:
    Thanks for helping me remember the old stuff we were so fond of as kids!

    1. Thanks so much Rusha. I remember the hula girl models that so many GIs brought back. I always loved the ones that end up swaying on car dashboards. And the floral prints and barkcloth always say “Relax” to me. 🙂

      That article you mentioned is fascinating. I didn’t know Lanai had changed hands. It sounds like Ellison has some grand, far-reaching plans for the island and I would love to see it … but I must admit that $650 a night is waaaay too rich for my blood. So I guess I’ll just have to be content with looking at the photos. 🙂 Have you and Bert been to Hawaii? ~Terri

      1. We’ve both been to Maui but only Bert has been to the Big Island to visit my son who lived there for a short while. Would love to take one of those island tours and see it all!

  4. I loved this post, it reminded me of my own dad and the love for Hawaii that he instilled in me. We were fortunate to go there together, it was my last trip with him and I’m grateful for the memories.

    1. Heidi, How wonderful that you and you Dad got to go together. That must have been one special trip! 🙂 So what were some of his and your favorite things? ~Terri

      1. He was also a huge fan of the music and would dance around singing the songs. To this day that brings a smile to my face. He loved Hawaiian tradition as well and loved making friends with the locals. 🙂 His favorite island was Kuai but he never stopped talking about how beautiful Hanna Road as on Maui. I loved it all but the pineapple tastes better in Hawaii. 🙂

  5. What a lovely post! Like your father we’ve never been. The graphics, prints and sounds of that “golden era” are so evocative. Thanks for bringing them back to us!

    1. Aww thanks. My first trip to Hawaii was also my first time outside the continental US and I was enthralled – so different than anything I’d experience to that point. We came back through Hawaii as we were wrapping up our RTW, and it really brought things full circle. 🙂 ~Terri

  6. “C and H, pure cane sugar, growing in Hawaii, growing in the sun.” Remember that song Terri? For some reason it was playing in a small restaurant the first time I visited Kauai. Maybe it was a radio station. Somehow it stuck in my mind, that and the guava juice I bought at the restaurant. Now they mean Hawaii, even though I have been back many times since. 🙂 –Curt

    1. Isn’t it funny how all those old songs and jingles stay with us. I remember the Dole pineapple ads, and Punchy asking “How about an nice Hawaiian Punch?” 🙂 And since my Mom played the piano, we always had the sheet music laying around. James and I first visited over Thanksgiving and it was the most exotic holiday ever! ~Terri

    1. Thanks Dina. I didn’t know that ukeleles were all the rage again. That is so cool. I mean you just can’t see and hear someone playing a uke without smiling. 🙂 ~Terri

  7. Lovely post! Thanks for showing me a different view of Hawaii. I love all the old pictures and I bet the culture and character of Old Hawaii is quite unique.

    1. Many thanks Nicole. There is a wonderful beauty and dignity to old Hawaii. They have such a fascinating heritage that’s a joy to discover. Have you had a chance to explore the islands – probably the perfect escape from your Minnesota winters? 🙂 ~Terri

      1. I went to the big island about 7 years ago and loved it. I have not been anywhere else in Hawaii since I was a child. It is an amazing place yet a little expensive for a family of four. Hopefully someday we will get there as I’d love to see some of the other islands!

  8. Hawaii is one of the places I’d love to visit. So much greenery, at least from what I’ve seen on TV and it seems like a culture devoted to happiness. My kind of place.

    1. Marie, there is such amazing diversity of landscape in Hawaii. For instance, the Big Island has a “dry side” and a “wet side.” There are lava fields and black sand beaches. The variety is astounding, and the people are wonderful. You would love it! ~Terri

  9. What lovely memories, Terri 🙂 Oh, for such a colourful childhood! For me, Hawaiian shirts were always something to smile at when they turned up inappropriately but as soon as I saw your intro I was on that surfboard going ‘da-da-da-da-daa-da’. That’s meant to be the theme music in case you didn’t guess 🙂 And no- not in my wildest dreams could I surf!
    But I would love to see that dramatic landscape 🙂

    1. Thanks Jo. I can’t surf either! But I do love your theme song music – are you a fan of the original Hawaii 5-O or the remake? I must admit I like them both. It gives me a chance to say “Book ’em Danno!” 🙂 And the way you love to walk and explore, you would love the landscape – it’s incredible! ~Terri

      1. Original for me. I don’t think I ever saw the re-make, Terri. I’m not the coolest kid on the block by a LONG stretch 🙂

    1. You said it perfectly Carol – that distant paradise. And as for my Dad, I must admit I feel him on my shoulder pretty regularly – smiling and giggling – especially when I screw up. 🙂 ~Terri

  10. My first trip to Hawaii was as a tour conductor in 1980, loved it immediately. Waved goodbye to the group and stayed for three years. My second favorite place in the world, you know what is first now.

    1. Carol, I didn’t know that you had lived in Hawaii. How cool! Where were you based? And I know that Dubrovnik is your first love. What kind of weather are you having now? ~Terri

  11. Hawaii is yet another place on our ever-growing list. This was a touching tribute to your father Terri. I am sure that in his day it was very cool to have a ukelele. Our granddaughter is very much into music and has taught herself to play the guitar and ukelele.

    1. Thank you so much LuAnn. Dad loved his uke, and I am so impressed that your granddaughter taught herself those instruments. What a talent she must be. And as for you two and Hawaii, I think it has your names written all over it. And if you decided to visit Australia or New Zealand, you can often stop in Hawaii for free (or very cheap). 🙂 ~Terri

      1. Australia and New Zealand are also on our list. We have made quite a few plans these past few years but have had to change them due to Terry’s folks. It is so difficult to know what to do about international or long-distance travel when elderly parents are in the picture. We go back-and-forth on that topic because none of us knows how long we have but when parents are 94 and 89 and begin to show significant signs of slowing way down, it is a concern.

  12. HI Terri. Really enjoyed your article! It brought back memories of when I lived there (1977-80; Volcano, Big Island and Makiki, Oahu) when the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance was in full swing. I still pull out my old Gabby Pahinui cassette when I want to go back in time and play “Blue Hawaiian Moonlight” “Royal Hawaiian Hotel” and “Moonlight Ladies” “Wahini Ui”– I know, not quite so far back as your dad’s “Old Hawaii,” although Gabby was part of that, but at my age it qualifies as “my” old Hawaii! Thanks for posting. Cheers, Nelson

    1. Wow Nelson, what a time that must have been! I’d love to hear more about the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance from a first-hand observer. Have you written about it? I love “Blue Hawaiian Moonlight” – such a gorgeous song. Now I’ve got to head to Youtube to see if I know the others you mentioned. So glad that you stopped by and thanks for the great memory jog. 🙂 ~Terri

  13. Oh yes, John Parent did sing “Tiny Bubbles” at bedtime, and bath time, and while washing the car. He used any sudsy task as an excuse to break into song. That and “Yellow Bird” were the top two songs in the house at 512 Park Street. That old record player just about wore out the Don Ho and Herb Alpert LP’s. Thanks, Sis, for bringing back the old memories–truly wonderful. And as far as Dad on your shoulder–he’s right there. I do have a ukulele update: His uke, now more battered than ever, is sitting on my dresser as we speak. It’s a prized instrument to 11-year old Arianna–who insists on playing it, while I keep trying to preserve it–just like those memories.

    1. Wonderful memories El – and you’re so right about “Yellow Bird” which also included whistling and encouragement to learn how to sing the harmony (I still can to this day! 🙂 ). I forgot about all the Herb Alpert LPs – love that Tijuana Brass. So glad that the old uke is getting used by Ari. Someone above mentioned that there’s a Ukelele Club at their kid’s school! Is there one there? That would be an entertaining “sport,” don’t you think? Oh, and about the ukelele, does it say where or when it was made? I don’t remember how Dad acquired it. Love, T

  14. Never been to Hawaii but trying to go within the next few years! It looks so sweet, posts like this get me pumped. Which Island would you recommend? Also, I did a poster for the state of Hawaii. Tell me what you think!

    1. Hi Joshua! Hawaii is a fabulous place to visit. Most flights go in via Honolulu on Oahu, so there’s lots to explore there. After that you can go to the Big Island of Hawaii to experience the tropical forests on one side and the volcano on the other. I’d love to see your poster, so just send me a link. So glad you stopped by. ~Terri

  15. I loved your childhood reminicence of Hawaii. I too fell in love with the magic of the islands as a kid watching TV shows like Magnum PI. I finally had a chance to visit the Big Island 2 years ago, and hopefully one day I’ll make it back to visit Old Hawaii on the other islands 🙂

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