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The Familiar Folks You Meet at Zippy’s

Growing old over the decades: Alone, with loved ones, with the friends who outlast the loved ones.


(page 1 of 3)

This story originally ran in the September 2015 issue of HONOLULU Magazine with the title “Folks You Meet at Zippy’s.” 


Photos: Elyse Butler Mallams


I dream of growing old at Zippy’s. I used to think I would grow old there with my husband, in the same booth every day and eating the same thing every day: saimin and grilled cornbread for me, a chili-chicken mix plate for him, with three scoops rice, no mac salad. Even though women tend to outlive men, I believed that, somehow, on his diet of meat and rice, he would live longer. We would sit across from each other and eat, not talk—after half a century of being married, we would have already said all that needed to be said. Now, when I think about it, that would never have happened—that silence. The man I knew to be my husband will never run out of things to say. Even if it’s just to say that Zippy’s fried chicken is better than Popeyes’ when it’s fresh out of the fryer.


We divorced recently. So now my vision of an older me at Zippy’s is unclear. Will I be alone with a book? Will I be with another man? A second husband, or, hell, maybe even a third, one who does eat in silence? Or will I be there with girlfriends, longtime ones who have outlasted all the men in my life?


I can’t know the future. But I wanted to know what it might look like. So I started dropping into Zippy’s and meeting the seniors—the regulars, the ones the servers know by name, when they arrive, where they sit, what they eat, how long they’ve been coming. 


And then a funny thing happened. The servers started to get to know me, started to know when I would arrive and what I would order. Growing old at Zippy’s isn’t a far-off dream. It’s already happening. 


The Crochet Ladies 

“You been watching that fabulous neighbor? His legs are so long. I like that.” 


I like that, even in her 80s, a woman can still appreciate a set of fine legs. Even if they belong to a Korean drama actor on TV and not the actual neighbor. (I mean, honestly, who’s more likely to have hotter legs anyway?)


The crochet ladies gather at Zippy’s Koko Marina every Tuesday from 9 to 11 a.m. There are about 15 of them, ranging in age from the 60s to 80s—it’s hard to nail down the exact ages because, apparently, no matter how old we are, we still hate to see our ages in print. 


Amy Kajiwara started the club almost 20 years ago when she worked at Ben Franklin’s Koko Marina and taught crochet. When that crafts store closed, one of the women asked Zippy’s if they could meet there. Zippy’s told them: “Yes, come, the more people who come, the better for business.” (This may be part of the reason Koko Marina ranks as one of the top “senior stores,” locations with the most senior customers. The big four are Koko Marina, Kāhala, McCully and Makiki.)


They arrive with bags stuffed with yarn and ribbons and patterns. Around this time of year, they start planning the Zippy’s Christmas decorations. If you visited Zippy’s Koko Marina last Christmas, you might have noticed the crochet Santa Claus, the afghan with the Zippy’s logo and the Mele Kalikimaka decking the halls. 


The “crochet ladies” at zippy’s koko marina in 2006. 


Over coffee and malassadas, the women admire each other’s crochet projects—Misa Hironaga places a lei she just finished around my neck, Dolores de Lima is just starting a baby blanket, Amy Kajiwara drinks out of a bottle swaddled in a crochet warmer. 


Conversations spin off into remedies for some of old age’s ailments: Turmeric is good, but expensive, and when Ellen Yamanaka asked a Whole Foods employee for black cherry juice he told her, “If it’s for dementia or Alzheimer’s, then save your money, it doesn’t work.”


If there’s one lesson, though, it’s not about herbal treatments. It’s that a long life is an accumulation of near misses. Yesterday, Ellen had gone to Kāhala Mall to shop, but a passerby spilled coffee on her shirt. So, instead of shopping, she returned home to change. There, she found her sister, who had fallen and couldn’t call for help. Ellen had come home just in time to take her to the hospital. 


“So lucky,” Ellen says. So lucky, the crochet ladies agree.

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