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

My Grandfather’s Desk

The most important things Grandpa ever said to me were in private, in low voices, and usually at his desk. If you spent time with Papa, you know what I’m talking about. He’d wait in the garage doorway, and when he caught your eye he’d call you over, tell you to shut the door, sit down, and listen.

As a kid I was enchanted by his desk. It was off limits, but he had all kinds of treasures in there. A pair of designer sunglasses he’d found on a park bench. A one of-a-kind coin. Tools and parts and other knick knacks. And if I didn’t know what it was, he’d give me a “What’s the matter with you kid?” look. Like a five year old’s supposed to know what a wire stripper is for.

Me and Papa at the San Pablo Reservoir

One time we all went down to the reservoir to go fishing, and sure enough he took me aside and pulled out a little jar of green slime. He told me to dip the bait in it, but keep it quiet. Don’t say anything cause it’d make the other fishermen angry if they found out. To this day I have no idea what that green slime was.

He was always letting me in on secrets like that. He’d give you money for the ice cream truck, but act like he’d got the cash from a bank heist or something. Cash, everything was cash with Papa. And he knew the exact location of every penny he had. I tell people everything I learned about watching your money I learned from Papa.

I don’t remember seeing much physical affection between my grandparents. I don’t remember seeing them kiss, or saying “I love you” to one other. Grandma once told me, you get old enough, and it’s like living with a roommate.

But Grandpa loved her, and I learned to see the signs. When she was having trouble with the TV, he took me aside and handed me two grand in cash and told me we’re going to get her a new one, something HD. I told him, “Papa, they’re not that expensive anymore.”

One night, a few years after Uncle Teeny passed, and Papa’s health started to go, he called me back into the garage. He told me to not worry about him. He said, “I may look bad and sound bad, but I’ll be fine. It’s Mama I’m worried about. You know she’s got it worse than me. She doesn’t look it, but she’s the one you need to watch out for.” I think it’s the first time I ever really saw him express how much he cared about her.

I love you Papa, and I’m going to miss you. Someday I hope I have my own desk in the garage, just like you did.


In memory of Mart N. Jones Jr.
January 26, 1935 — September 27, 2011