While at the Mayo Clinic conference last week, we saved mega bucks
by eating at various hole-in-the wall restaurants in nearby Koloa rather than venturing into the luxo locations on site at our resort. Among these, one of our favorites was the Garden Island Grill, where, between 6-8 pm on the weekends, Larry Rivera entertains his friends, family, and new friends (whoever happens to be passing through).
Larry is 86. The day we visited, he was celebrating his 60th anniversary with his lovely bride and says he’s still on his honeymoon! They have 6 kids, 17 grand kids, and 18 great grand kids. Furthermore, he can say all their names in 35 seconds (±). Want to hear his story? Larry was born in 1931, the sixth generation in a long line of Hawaiians born in Kauai. He started working at the Coco Palms Resort at 20, was called to serve in the Korean War, and by 24 (1955), he was back to work at the Coco Palms singing with his group called “The Beach Boys.” He says the ones we know today “stole” his band’s name and ended up with all the money and glory, but who cares? “I’ve got all this love!” he beamed, his arms sweeping the audience where his wife sat smiling and then flying out and up to embrace his island and the sky, where His Father sat smiling. (Rivera is an ordained minister as well as a musician.) Larry’s long musical career included such highlights as teaching Bing Crosby how to sing (Hawaiian style), watching Frank Sinatra nearly drown on Wailua Beach (surfers rescued him), having John Denver join in a hula with his daughters while Larry sang, and having Elvis Presley and Patti Page sing background vocals for him while they were visiting at Coco Palms. (Actually, Larry said Elvis was an unusually sweet person. He would bus tables just to be kind if things got to hectic at the restaurant, and he paid $500 for one of Larry’s songs!) In 1961, the wedding scene from Blue Hawaii, starring Elvis Presley, was filmed at Coco Palms. Larry was 30, and Elvis was 26. Very sadly, Elvis Presley died just 16 years later at age 42 from “cardiac arrhythmia” (caused by an overdose of a pain killer, Codeine, and a nonbarbituate sedative, Quaalude). He was divorced by then and only had one child, Lisa Marie. He has four grandchildren (whom he never met), and no great grandchildren at this time. I don’t know about you, but I would personally choose Larry Rivera’s life over Elvis’s any day. Larry has lived more than twice as long, is still fit at a fiddle (balanced on one leg and did other tricks for fun), working hard, living well, and full of love and joy. Alan and I were both totally delighted and inspired. If we make it to 86, we’ll have been married 64 years. (That’s 20 more years; think we’ll make it??) Would I ever love to be able to work a few hours singing and sharing the love of God and man with those around me at his age, wouldn’t you? How did he do it? Well, for one thing, he chose the slow life. He chose to stay in his homeland among his own people. He chose to stay with his wife. He chose to remain faithful to His God. To me, those are admirable choices! What do you think? Would you rather have fame and fortune, or love and happiness?“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord“ (Joshua 24:15).
(“Aloha” is used by Hawaiians as a greeting, both “hello” and “goodbye,” but ultimately it means “Love… affection, peace, compassion, and mercy!”)