Tell me a story and welcome home.

It’s been a cold stormy weekend in San Diego. Left the unseasonably warm weather of Chicago for my cousin’s retirement ceremony from the United States Marine Corps. That was yesterday. Today, we’re celebrating my aunt’s 70th birthday. Relatives and friends have arrived from all over to celebrate both milestones.

I’m hoping that the palm tree filled landscape and the Hawaiian themed function rooms in the hotel would help warm things up, but somehow the chilly 55 degree air is winning, although the island décor does take me back to my recent trip to Honolulu with Aunt Millie in late February. My memory of tropical breezes and the sandy beach is the closest thing to a heat wave.

My last day in the island was my most vivid memory. It was pouring rain outside that afternoon when I left the hotel and got in the Island Express van to head for the Honolulu Airport.

“One more stop,” a voice darted from the driver’s seat. It didn’t really matter to me as I was in no rush to leave Waikiki. The sun kept us company every day of our week stay and blew warm, gentle breezes especially in the afternoons as the sun was setting. The sound of the rain as the van sped on the highway slowly changed into the sound of the surf that I left behind just minutes ago.

Aunt Millie had an earlier flight that would take her back to Sonoma, CA. She visits Hawaii frequently and, once a year, the entire family always awaits news of the lucky soul chosen to be her traveling companion.

“You seem to be buried in work all the time. You need a break, and I’m giving it to you,” Aunt Millie said to me in the fall 2011. TA-DA! I had blocked off an entire week in February before you could say ALOHA!

Since I’ve been to the islands and did the tourist rounds years ago, for this visit we chose to explore the one passion we share to no limits — food! Local fare is truly a melting pot of largely Pacific Asian cuisine including Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Polynesian. We ate our way through Waikiki and savored every minute of it.

What I enjoyed most was listening to her reminisce as we enjoyed the garlic crab and ahi tuna, chicken with teriyaki sauce and pork grilled over a fire pit. Having been raised in a large home with her mother, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins, Aunt Millie’s storytelling rolls out a rich tapestry of relationships with intricate nuances and depth – family secrets revealed! When blended with the colorful palette of flavors served in front of us, time simply stands still.

I saw her off as her van left the driveway of the hotel. But not before saying her goodbyes to Todd at the reception desk, Bernard at the bellhop station, RJ at the tour desk, and Daisy at the souvenir shop.Then it hit me — these were the same folks who greeted her one week earlier with the words, “Welcome home, Auntie!”

Suddenly it was as if someone had opened the floodgates letting her stories come flowing through like a motion picture in my mind, this time with Todd, Bernard, RJ and Daisy adding their own vivid hues.  I realized with undeniable clarity that Aunt Millie’s stories not only revealed the ties that bind in my family, but also created new ties with people that welcome her back like family, time and again.

If you want to make someone feel at home, tell them a story. After you leave, they can’t wait to welcome you back.