Call me Kamalani

My name is Jon, I introduce myself as Jon, so it only makes sense that most people who meet me, know me as Jon. Which begs the question, why do half the people who know me, know me only as Kamalani?

One day, when I was five, maybe six, I remember playing in the front yard at our home in Newark. Grandma sat on a wood bench with iron armrests near the house, and she called me over to sit with her. When I finally caught my breath, she asked me if I wanted her to call me Jon, or if she could call me Kamalani. That’s my Hawaiian name, the name she gave me. She asked what to use, because she didn’t want me to feel embarrassed in front of my friends.

Grandma in 2006

I told her, “Grandma, you can call me Kamalani.”

Since that day, she never called me by anything else. That’s why her friends all know me as Shirley’s grandson, Kamalani.

I have a wealth of cherished memories with my grandmother, more than I have time to tell. We visited her house so often, to this day I still have more dreams set on Moyers Road than any place I’ve ever lived.

When I was probably seven, Grandma taught me that good things sometimes come in small packages. My birthday gift that year was my first nice watch, a Timex Ironman Triathalon, which was a Rolex compared to the sea of cheap Casio kid watches.

In the third grade, she said she would buy me a video game system if I got straight A’s. As you can imagine, the bribe worked. Now, nineteen years later, I work at Xbox, which I think officially makes that bribe an early investment in my future career.

When I hit my teens, she pestered me about when I was going to get my ears pierced. All the kids are doing it, she said. She let me stay with them over the summers when I worked at the CoCo Hut. I didn’t drink caffeine growing up, so working at that coffee cart was a crash-course in workplace stimulants. So yet again we have another investment in my future career.

I could go on and on, and I’m still only talking about what I remember, what I saw in the last third of her life. I mean, she remembered surviving Pearl Harbor; I can’t even begin to catalog the amazing life she had. I only know that she was one of the toughest, generous, and loving women I know, and that I’m going to miss her with all of my heart.

My name is Jon Pekele Kamalani Thysell, but for you Grandma, you can call me Kamalani. You can always call me Kamalani.

Until we meet again,


In memory of Shirley K. Jones
September 20, 1935 — May 9, 2012

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