We've met a lot of interesting people here
on Oahu, but by far, the most interesting is Ellie Lam.
She was one of the instructors Bob inherited when he became the manager
of a riding stable after moving to Hawaii.
Ellie taught beginning western riding to a wide range of students.
She liked to school the horses between lessons and she rode them in a
twisted wire bit with a fork, or running martingale, and spurs. Ellie could get spins and sliding stops out of many of the
otherwise tired lesson horses.
If you had to choose one word to describe
Ellie - it would be rough. She was
tough on equipment, horses, students, and on herself.
She was responsible for knocking the passenger side door off the stable's
pick-up truck shortly before Bob took over.
The door had never been re-installed which made it convenient for doing
chores but embarrassing for the passenger when traveling away from the stables.
Ellie was rough to look at. Her
hands and skin were leathered from years of cigarettes and sun. She spoke "pidgin" and walked with a limp.
Thin and weathered, Ellie had little use for books and didn't hesitate to
point this out.
Ellie was also used to being in charge. In
order to make a point with Ellie, Bob had to be loud and insistent.
After a period of resistance, she would give in and walk off, flipping
him the shaka sign (pinkie and thumb spread wide - middle fingers folded into
the palm) over her right shoulder. The
shaka is a common Hawaiian greeting, similar to a thumbs-up.
It is used as a greeting, to say "thank-you." In Ellie's case,
it meant "OKAY!" and was delivered with a militant air.
When we met Ellie she had been married for
many years, and her husband Dwayne was dying of lung cancer.
was still smoking, but trying to quit with the help of nicotine patches.
It wasn't going well. Despite
the patch, the added stress of her husband's illness kept driving her back to
the succor of her Kools. Some days
she would show up to work early because Dwayne was having a bad day and wanted
her out of the house.
Everyone at the stables felt for Ellie but
that didn't stop us from cringing at her teaching methods.
Often, we'd see her class of 6 beginners all simultaneously cantering
around the arena in a re-enactment of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
After a string of unsafe episodes resulting in several accident reports,
Bob and Ellie came to the decision that she needed to spend more time with her
husband during this trying time. She
resigned and Dwayne died less than a month later.
The day of his death, Dwayne had labored for
breath all day. Ellie and a
girlfriend stayed with Dwayne in an effort to ease his distress.
No one had eaten all day and finally, the women decided to fix dinner.
Dwayne sat on the couch without any desire for food.
When Ellie and her friend sat down to eat, they looked over at Dwayne.
"I don't think he's breathing."
Ellie observed. "Should
we call someone?" her friend asked. "No,"
Ellie answered, "Let's just eat."
Ellie and Dwayne had agreed a long time ago that when his time came, she was to just let him go naturally. She wasn't to prolong his death by calling an ambulance. Honoring this agreement, Ellie and her friend finished their dinner while Dwayne sat on the couch. After dinner, rather than calling Dwayne's doctor, Ellie called Danny, the local veterinarian. "Dwayne's color isn't too good and I don't think he's breathing - do you think he's dead?" she asked.
Three months later, I was cleaning stalls at
another barn and up walked Ellie. She had softened her look with a haircut and I was surprised
to see that she was wearing a trace of makeup.
She had come to talk to me about getting some chain link fence out of the
stables junk pile. She was planning
to fence off her acre of land for fighting cocks.
I asked her how she was doing and she
confessed that she had had a very strange day.
That morning, she had been awakened by Dwayne's voice directing her to
drive up to the a particular spot on the Pali. The Pali are the steep cliffs
left when the slabs of the now extinct volcanoes slid down the sides of the
Hawaiian islands and into the ocean. Hawaii
is notorious for its ghost stories and every island has one place on the Pali
where it is said the souls of the dead come and go.
Dwayne had directed Ellie to this very place on Oahu.
When Ellie arrived at the designated spot,
she was immediately infused with Dwayne's presence.
For the first time since he had died, Ellie and Dwayne were able to
communicate. She spent a long time in discussion with her dead husband's
spirit. Then she felt his arms
around her as if he was standing behind her and it felt as if he moved through
her body and up into her mind. She
said it was the strangest thing she had ever experienced. Dwayne's son had been telling Ellie that Dwayne had been
coming to him in this way regularly since his death and now she was experiencing
it for herself.
After a few hours on the Pali, Ellie had had
enough. "I'm going home;"
she told Dwayne, "I have things to do."
She descended the steep hill to her car and began to drive home but was
unable to think about anything because Dwayne was still chattering away in her
brain. It was difficult to
concentrate on traffic with his voice going on in her head.
By the time she got home, she was totally
unnerved and reached for a bottle of St. John's Wort tablets.
She heard Dwayne say, "Don't take that, because if you do, it will
block me." She took the pill
anyway and Dwayne was gone. Now she knew why she hadn't had this experience until now.
After Dwayne' death, she had been taking St. John's Wort every day to
calm her nerves. Things had been
going pretty well and she hadn't taken any for the last three days - just long
enough to allow Dwayne's spirit to come for a visit.
Ellie explained that Dwayne's family members
were known for their psychic abilities, especially as regards mental telepathy.
Often she would try in vain to reach Dwayne by phone only to have him
call her within a few minutes and ask, "What?"
Shocked, she would ask him how she knew she had wanted to speak to him.
"I saw your face on the windshield of the car as I was driving and I
knew you were trying to get a hold of me." He would say.
To Dwayne, there was nothing unusual about having the ability to detect
the thoughts of a loved one. This
"paging system" was used regularly by the Lam family.
When I repeated this story to my friends, they laughed but weren't surprised. First of all, they knew Ellie and were accustomed to expect the unusual from her. Second, the Hawaiian Islands are rife with supernatural tales. We have "night marchers", phantom hitchhikers, choking ghosts, faceless ghosts, possessed rocks and surprise visits from the fire goddess "Pele." Many have felt the irresistible pull from the world beyond for themselves. Stories that would shock most mainlanders are commonplace on the islands, as are exceptional personalities like Ellie Lam.