Liliuokalani. Say it with me out loud. Lilly-O-Kalani. Every time I say it I want to say it again and again. It rolls off my tongue as milky soft as butter and leaves me wanting more lush verbal pleasure. Liliuokalani. Say it again. Liliuokalani.

The first time I heard Liliuokalani I was a junior in high school sitting through American history.   Our class was taught by Vic Marsh, the coach of the varsity football team at Paul G. Blazer High School in Ashland, KY. Go Tomcats!

“Lee Harvey Oswald-here!” Coach Marsh drew a big white X on the chalkboard.

“Shooter behind the fence-here!” Another emphatic X.

Coach Marsh diagrammed the Kennedy assassination with fierce gestures, occasionally glancing back at us with wild eyes from behind his large glasses, impressing upon us the importance of history as he painted the chalkboard with the grassy knoll scene.

I was afraid if he lost control of the chalk it might fly through the air and assassinate one of us.   He was animated and he was excited.   And he knew how to make an impression. I suppose that is part of what made him a good football coach. Go Tomcats!

“Triangulation of fire!” he demanded we understand.

I went straight to the library after school. I devoured every book on John F. Kennedy that the Boyd County Public Library had to offer. Through JFK I met Robert F. Kennedy. Hello! Where have you been all my life? Through Robert Kennedy I discovered I wanted to lead a life of public service, of helping others, of making the world a better place. It sounds cheesy, but Robert Kennedy changed my life and I would’ve never known about him if Coach Marsh hadn’t made JFK’s assassination so intriguing. Go presidential history!

I probably enjoyed American history more than most of my classmates. Coach Marsh’s class was supposed to be easy, and that’s why most people took him, but to me he was the gateway to my purpose in life.

So when Coach Marsh introduced Queen Liliuokalani as the last queen of Hawaii and told us hers was the most beautiful name he’d ever heard, I paid attention. Coach Marsh apparently had some insight into what made me tick and I felt I should pay attention to this Liliuokalani character. And I liked saying her name.


Liliuokalani’s name means “the smarting of the royal ones.” “Smarting” loosely means to be a pain or to experience the pain of hurt feelings. I choose to believe that Liliuokalani stayed true to her name and was a pain in the butt to those in her time who didn’t believe in fairness and giving the little folks their say. She had only been Queen for less than two years before she was overthrown by European and American business interests in 1893, in part because she wanted to restore voting power to economically disenfranchised native Hawaiians and Asians. She established trust funds for poor children and orphans. Hmmm. Where had she been all my life? Helping poor people who have no say in how they’re governed.   Assisting indigent folks in obtaining what they need to survive. Robert Kennedy, Liliuokalani. My older self is staring at a reflection of the younger me and thinking yeah, yeah! Go epiphanies!

Looking back, I wonder if Coach Marsh taught us a little about Liliuokalani’s reign and legacy, and perhaps it’s that subconscious association with social justice that keeps her name ingrained in my mind.


Had I not been introduced to a writing exercise that challenged me to write about a word, in this case a name, that I have a particular affinity for, I’d never have researched Liliuokalani’s history. I wonder how many other epiphanies are just waiting to vibrate my bones with truth if only I’d take the time to think or write about them. These connections and themes woven throughout our lives are universal; only the subject matter varies.


I don’t believe things are “meant to be” or part of some bigger plan, but finding this thread of social justice solidifies my life choices in a way that almost makes me change my mind. Almost. I’ve always believed my overhyped need for fairness and justice came from growing up poor and witnessing the fights my mother had to fight. And perhaps some of it did, but I wonder how much of it I was just born with. Maybe the mix of nature and nurture concocted this balance just for me. Experience has taught me to believe in gut feelings and intuition. We experience these feelings for a reason. They are giving us bits of information about our primitive selves that we aren’t always cognizant of.

I have no idea why this word, this name comprised of letters arranged in a way foreign to my tongue, Liliuokalani, and this memory have stayed with me the last 24 years.   Perhaps in the deep recesses of my youthful hopes and dreams I am still waiting on a life changing revelation to occur. Perhaps it just did. Or maybe writing that long-overdue letter to Coach Marsh explaining how he affected my life hasn’t been crossed off my mental to-do list yet.

7 responses to “Liliuokalani

  1. Love this post — have you ever read James Michener’s Hawaii?


  2. I haven’t. Perhaps I should check it out?


  3. I recently wrote an essay as part of a project at Le Moyne called “Why We Do What We Do.” It started similarly to your piece here, as a writing exercise that led all who participated on a bit of a journey of exploration into our roots, as well as routes, to our current place in our work. Writing that essay got me toying with the idea of a blog. Reading your work may provide a big push in that direction. Thanks for sharing. I always did wonder what exactly made you fall so head over heals for Bobby Kennedy.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I am not a big cyber-space enthusiast – it has its uses, but beyond that, it can become a huge waste of time. But, I can say with certainty, that blogging led me to writing…which has become the most honest and effective way I can express myself. I actually got to know my real self through my writing.
    So Holly, when you do decide to start one, let us know, will you?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Z…can you imagine Tom saying the name “Liliuokalani” in a kind of whisper?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mariam, yes. Yes, I can.


  7. Shelley, I remember you well. It is an honor, to a teacher, when a former student says that they have had an influence in their live.. Once I gather my thoughts, because they are many, I will email you back.

    Liked by 1 person

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