Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate

My father was a carpenter, a simple man. But he led a fascinating life that was stopped short by a heart attack a few weeks before his 70th birthday. Dad was born in 1911 - either on Feb. 20 or Feb. 22. His mother swore it was the 22nd, but his birth certificate says the 20th. Either way, had things worked out differently, he'd be 101 this week.

The last time I saw my dad alive and well he was waving good-bye at the Honolulu airport. It was an uncanny twist of fate to leave my parents behind in Hawaii. I had lived there happily for seven years but had decided I wanted to raise my children on the mainland. My parents, who had followed me to Hawaii to be near their only daughter and their twin grandsons, stood firm in their decision to stay. Especially my dad.

He enjoyed the weather and the amenities Oahu had to offer. With his status as a senior citizen he rode the buses for free. He loved that. He sold his Audi and bought a bicycle.

"It's all I need," he said with that twinkle in his eye. And almost

every morning after that he rode an 8-mile loop on a bike path near the

condo he and Mom bought.

Some mornings he got up early and caught the bus to Chinatown where

he enjoyed shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables. Along the way he

got to know his favorite vendors as well as the butchers and the bakers.

I took him to Leonard's Bakery to taste the specialty of the house,

their legendary malasadas andndash; Portuguese donuts without a hole made with

sweet dough, deep fried and rolled in granulated sugar. He wanted to

have a cream horn, he said, but, if I was buying, he'd try a malasada.

After that experience he declared Leonard's "the best bakery in the

world" and often came by my house after a visit to Leonard's on a

Saturday morning. He'd walk in the kitchen carrying a pink box full of

malasadas that the kids devoured and I ate without guilt back then. I'd

put on a pot of coffee and we'd sit around the table licking the sugar

off our fingers.

I think those years in Hawaii were the happiest for Dad. He and Mom

were liberated from their house on an acre of land on the busy boulevard

in Southern California. They divested themselves of things they didn't

need and managed to fit comfortably in 744 square feet on the 17th floor

with an expansive view of Pearl Harbor. They were excited to be living

in a place that was a perfect jumping off point for new adventures.

They rode the bus around the island to explore the parks and beaches.

They packed picnic lunches or tried out a new restaurant dressed in

their colorful aloha shirts and shorts. When they weren't doting over

their grandsons or helping me with a project at my house, they were

constantly on the go, thriving in the tropical climate and enjoying the

good life after retirement.

As I step deeper into my sixth decade, I think about how my dad was

only 69 when we lost him and all the things we didn't get to do

together. Dad never met my youngest son, never saw the boys drive or

graduate from high school or grow into the young men who resemble him so

much now.

I'm glad Dad was always a risk-taker and brave enough to take the

plunge and up and move with Mom to Hawaii when they did. I know it

wasn't easy leaving their friends and familiar surroundings, but I think

they'd both say it was worth it. But then my father was never afraid to

try something new. Like the malasadas from Leonard's Bakery. Happy

birthday, Dad.

Reach Michele Thomas, the Del Norte Triplicate's publisher, at

mtandshy;hoandshy;masandshy;@triplicate.com, 464-2141 or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.