Andrea's Volcano Gardens - A Tale of 3 Generations of Artists

Dr. Rodney Chang *
May 9, 2013

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     "Andrea's Volcano Gardens" is a tale of 3 generations of artists, a story about family that can uplift the spirit and provide an example for other families on how to work together and assist aging parents to keep active.  "How so?," you may be asking. This story starts in the Philippines.

    Andrea Cabico, 77, decades ago, like so many other immigrants to America, decided to give up what she had in her native land, in order to secure better opportunity for her young children.  She sold her acres of rice and tobacco fields in Ilocos Sur province. There she had the most beautiful residential garden, unlike her neighboring farmers' parcels.  She was disappointed that her neighbors could not comprehend why she wasted time and resources, just to make her land “pretty.”  "They were all blind to beauty."  

   She moved with her husband Pio, now 74, and their 4 young daughters and son from the spacious farmland and into a cramped apartment rental on McNeil Street in Honolulu’s inner city neighborhood of Kalihi.  They had to make due with what Pio made working at the local gas company and herself working in a chicken butchery and packing warehouse on Dillingham Blvd.  She was downtrodden but thankful to be in Hawaii and "America.”  Eventually the family saved enough to make the down-payment for a modest house in Waipahu.  It didn't take long before the property's front yard was the most beautiful on the street.  Andrea now had about 500 feet of frontage to create her first Hawaii flower garden.  She loved her days off from the poultry slaughterhouse, finding solace from the daily massacre at work - by nurturing planted seeds to sprout, grow, then blossom into a rainbow of colors.

   Generously, she and Pio sold their residence to move to Las Vegas in order to assist with a daughter's startup family.  Back then, Vegas was the boomtown for jobs. Long story short, like for so many island families that gambled on Las Vegas for better employment than could be had on Oahu, the economy sunk and boom turned into personal bust for the Cabico's family in Nevada.  Circumstances led to her daughter's family move back to Hawaii as renters, with only enough space for the immediate family.  Andrea and her husband, now retired, were in need of a place to stay.

   This leads to my own story.  You may know of me if you are a Baby Boomer.  I'm the dentist that you saw on national television, the “disco dentist” who remodeled his Kalihi bland waiting room with discotheque décor.  Judging from the times folks viewed me dancing in commercials, I was one of the most popular eccentrics featured on the then most popular TV program entitled Real People.  During those days there were only 3 "stations."  No seemingly infinite choices of cable channels like today. NBC's Real People presentation of nutty people was rated as the most viewed program of the 3 networks in 1979-1980.  In the 1980 reruns, I again anchored the nationally televised commercials, dancing away in my dental clinic.  I must have been, back then during the disco mania era, America's most famous dentist.  That's history, my true story, my "15 minutes of fame," as described by the late Andy Warhol.

  Now how does this relate to "Andrea's Gardens?"  OK, time to get more to the point.

  Turning 6-0, I did my last public dance performance.  I reserved the Rumors dance club in Waikiki for my 60th birthday party bash.  Celebrity disco diva, Yvonne Elliman, famous for the dance hit "If I Can't Have You," highlighted the disco birthday dance party with her presence.  My own birthday dance with my wife is still viewable on Youtube.

  Since I no longer would be dancing (I already felt like the last disco dancer in clubs in 2005), I realized I'd better find some other way to exercise regularly, entering my senior years.  So I got the idea to run multiple 26-mile marathons through my 60's, to prepare for my 70's, when I expected to become more sedentary.  I had run only 13 Honolulu Marathons from age 30 to age 59 - for dance conditioning, so figured I'd better step it up moving forward in age, and running now for longevity instead of for Saturday nights’ disco fervor. 

  I'm now 67 and next month's Kona marathon will challenge me to cross my 47th Finish Line, God willing.  I'm trying to complete 50 marathons before I hang up my running shoes, just like I did my dance shoes.   The heart is still willing, but now the knees and hips are threatening to go on strike.  Including training runs, that's only about 1,200 miles to go!  I think, over a life time, these knees and hips have endured 150,000+ miles of pounding concrete and asphalt (plus 45 years of twisting, spinning, jumping, in disco dancing), so deserve their retirement.  If my body was an old car, the "trade in" might be $25 - cost to get if off my hands.

   One of the marathons I participated in was the Volcano Marathon.  And that's how I discovered, as a sheltered Honolulu city boy, the magnificent beauty of the giant fern trees that add enchantment to the rain forests at that elevation of the Volcano National Park, with its fuming Kilauea crater.  It was magical running within the national park, struggling over the 26.2 miles of barren lava fields of the now defunct Volcano Marathon.  Thicken vog, injuries, and liability, I guess, put an end to that annual run, then promoted as "the toughest marathon to complete in the world."  I believe I was the oldest, at 62, of the 220 runners that took on the challenging course in 2007.  Most were in their 20s and 30s; most appeared to be in the military.  Tough Marines, and the “Army strong.”

   So that is how I discovered the property on which Andrea's Gardens are now taking root.  I got title to 3 acres of rain forest with an existing cottage. A large room was modeled into a dance room.  A neon sign, blazing "Volcano Disco," glows at dance parties in the rain forest.  Like in a time capsule, Disco Doc still boogies to all the golden dance hits of the 70s and 80s.  Donna Summers, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston seem to resurrect, performing once again on the large video screen above the dance floor.  Every party starts with Whitney’s  "The Greatest Love of All."  It’s a tear-jerker every time I watch the video and hear Whitney sing that song. Her poster, as well as one of Michael and another of Donna, hang on a wall of the dance floor, like a private hall of fame.  I'm still in love with Whitney (as well as Donna).  My wife, Erlinda, the eldest daughter of Andrea, lets it pass. In fact, she knows she looked like a Filipina version of Whitney when she was younger, and that's what attracted me when I found her in the dental chair, resulting in our marriage. 

   Our union brought Rochelle into the world, Andrea's granddaughter.  When Rochelle was just 3, she out-discoed her father, the Disco Doc.  I then knew she was a chip off the old block, that dance was in her blood.  I realized then that dance performance would continue into the next generation.  Long story short, Rochelle, today 21, just graduated from the most prestigious college program for classical ballet, The Jacobs School of Music at Big Ten Indiana University.  After coming home to visit, she's off to Colorado for a summer gig, and then will display her talent in New York City. 

   To the disappointment of her grandmother, Andrea!

   Andrea and Pio, in need of a place after the Vegas debacle, were offered lodging at my Volcano "spiritual retreat" in the rain forest.  They would take care of the property; I would support them as a loving son-in-law.  Just minimal housekeeping and providing security would suffice.  But then Andrea eyed all that land.  She heard that the private disco was only temporary, that it eventually would be converted into her talented granddaughter’s ballet studio.  There's a Charter school in Volcano Village where kids don't have any access to ballet lessons.  So Andrea, already possessed with her need to express her creativity through gardening, informed me, 

  "I will create my lifetime ‘garden masterpiece’ so that when Rochelle's future students come for class, they will walk through beautiful flower gardens, inspiring their dancing."  

  So that's the story of Andrea's Volcano Gardens.  Grandma labors with passion 7 days-a-week, rain or shine - usually rain, in preparation of her granddaughter's eventual coming.  Meanwhile, her son-in-law can keep on disco dancing when he vacations from Honolulu with his wife, who eagerly comes to visit her parents (more than to disco anymore).  Being that I am a lifelong artist (MA, painting, Chicago; Ph.D., Aesthetic Psychology, Cincinnati), the gardens inspire my digital art.  And for you fellow Boomers who have a novel in your head that you never get around to write, try long distance running.  Thousands of miles of jogging with the mind in idle, and inspiration to use Andrea's fantasy gardens as the story's setting, led to the materialization of mine - Voggy Visions.  Meanwhile, Andrea pursues her goal to do her life's garden masterpiece with 3 acres of rain forest as raw canvas.  And Rochelle, budding ballet starlet off to the East Coast, will eventually come to roost and share her talent with Volcano and other Puna neighborhood children who welcome the opportunity to learn classical ballet. 

  There you have it, Andrea Volcano Gardens, volcanic gardens and forest that serve 3 generations of artists in Hawaii.  Here's a peek at the gardens on its 1st anniversary in December, 2013.


* Some may be asking, “What ever happen to the Disco Dentist?  Disco Doc transformed himself to Pygoya, Web artist and co-founder of Webism, an art movement of global artists, now hundreds strong, dedicated to making digital art FOR the Internet instead of physical galleries. Pygoya is also founder and director of a virtual art museum at  Search Google with “internet art museum” and Truly Virtual Web Art Museum is listed lst among over 185 million link results.  A big victory for a Hawaii-based Web site! The brick n’ mortar New York City museums, like MOMA and the Whitney, are listed below Py’s virtual museum.