In Manoa Valley there are three things of which one can be reasonably certain.
Wait long enough and it will rain.
Wait long enough and those noisy college students next door will move out.
Wait not long at all and Barbie Kihara will appear at her usual table at the McDonald’s in the Manoa Shopping Center.
Sure enough, on a predictably drizzly Saturday afternoon in the valley, Kihara sits in the front corner of the restaurant, working diligently on her project of the day, a blue wool sweater.
"I don’t know who it’s for yet," she says, chuckling. "Whoever wants it, I guess."
The table is covered with Kihara’s crocheting and knitting supplies as well as a small wax cup containing a single fragrant gardenia, a gift from one of the many who look forward to seeing the 76-year-old crafter on her familiar perch.
Kihara has been a fixture at McDonald’s for 18 years. She comes five, sometimes six times a week and stays for up to 14 hours at a time, knitting and crocheting or teaching others how to knit or crochet. She is such a familiar sight here that when she stayed home with a broken hip last year, several patrons inquired nervously to management about whether that nice old lady who sits in the corner had perhaps died.
Kihara grew up in Kohala and graduated from Hilo High School. The eldest of seven children, she started working immediately after high school, first as a sporting goods clerk at the old Gem store in Kapalama and a few stops later as an accounts receivable clerk for Frito-Lay and Hawaii Stationery. Along the way, she met and married Leonard Takasawa. Together they raised three boys.
In 1974 she started taking lunch-time crochet lessons at a shop in Kilohana Square. That led to membership in various crocheting and knitting groups and nearly four decades of nonstop handiwork.
Kihara doesn’t confine herself to her Manoa "office." She volunteers at a nursing home on Mondays, teaches young knitters at Kahala Mall on Tuesdays, volunteers at the Waiau Recreation Center on Thursdays and volunteers at Pearl City Community Church once a month.
Kihara is best known for her ohai alii lei, which she created while working with Carole Mito. But whether it’s a custom graduation lei, blankets for the needy or beanies for newborns at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, Kihara never asks for anything in return.
"From young time I’d always wanted to learn how to knit and crochet, but it was hard without anyone to teach me," Kihara says. "Now I try to help other people so they don’t have to go through the same thing. My mother always taught us to do things on our own, help each other and help other people when we can. I still try to do that."
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.