Pops spreads a little aloha on my birthday

I’m one of those people who gets annoyed when people make a big deal out of my birthday and even more annoyed when they ignore it. So yesterday when I got an e-mail from Babs, a friend in California, wishing me happy birthday, I  thanked her by whining about how the night before, for dinner, I’d gone to the ABC store and bought a bottle of Meridian Merlot and a box of Chip & Cookie Hawaii chocolate chip cookies. “It will be tough to top that for a birthday celebration.”

I know. What a martyr, right?

So Babs writes back, “Well, happy depressing birthday! This is your assignment today—to get someone to sing a Hawaiian version (or any version) of ‘Happy Birthday’ to you.”

Yeah, right. I’m going to ask some stranger to sing happy birthday.

Anyway, I’m out at the KoAloha ukulele factory and I’m just about to leave when the owner, Alvin “Pops” Okami, tells me how his son, Paul who is the company luthier and makes KoAloha’s custom ukes, is in San Francisco on business, which makes Pops a little sad because it’s his birthday and birthdays are a big thing for the KoAloha ohana, or extended family, and Paul is going to miss that and so is Pops.

Well, would you believe, I tell Pops, that today is my birthday?


photo by David Lansing

photo by David Lansing

I pull out my driver’s license and show him. Which is when Pops grabs a ukulele off the wall and spontaneously starts singing “Happy Birthday.” And his wife, Tricia, and a couple of KoAloha employees join in. I felt like I was coming down with something all of a sudden because my throat got all tight and my eyes started to water.

“You ever play the ukulele before?” Pop asked me.

“Not really.”

“You should learn,” he said. And he handed me the ukulele he’d just been strumming. As a gift. I didn’t even know what to say. But I think it may have been the nicest birthday present I’ve ever gotten. And it came from someone who was basically a stranger.

True aloha.

 Totally by coincidence, a documentary film maker from Philadephia, Gary San Angel, had been filming while Pops was giving me a tour of the factory and he caught the whole Happy Birthday ukulele serenade on tape. So here it is. Just so Babs will know that I’m not making this stuff up. And that her birthday wish for me really did come true.  

David Lansing at KoAloha Ukulele on his Birthday from Gary San Angel on Vimeo.

Tags: , , ,


  1. Angeline’s avatar

    Well this certainly beats the birthday dinner from the ABC! Happy Birthday.

  2. Charlie’s avatar

    I am stuck on the mainland in Boston for the third BIG storm this winter and I am thinking, how could anyone feel depressed in paridise? Really! Just thinking about visiting Hawaii makes me smile. So here I sit, sheltered from the storm, playing my very own KoAloha, strumming the winter blues away. Happy belated birthday.

Comments are now closed.