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Hawaii News | Lee Cataluna

Cataluna: Friends keep the party going for years

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    At Mabel Maeda’s home a weekly potluck is held which began with a group of 15 men who cared for her son, Lloyd, during his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He died in 2014. The gatherings have grown to include the men’s families and friends.


    A framed tribute to two friends who died: Alton Uehara, left, and Lloyd Maeda.


    “It keeps me going, you know.”

    Mabel Maeda

    On the Wednesday parties that her son’s friends continue at her home since his death in November 2014 at age 59

Every week on Wednesday night, there is a party at 92-year-old Mabel Maeda’s house.

Sometimes it’s seven or eight people who bring food, share stories and play cards on the back patio of her Aliamanu home. Sometimes it’s close to 30 people who make fancy home-cooked dishes or plan theme-night menus and sing a unique version of karaoke. The party has been going for years.

The story of Mabel Maeda’s Wednesday night dinners traces back to a difficult time and a shared experience.

Her son Lloyd, the only one of her four children who made his home on Oahu, was diagnosed with ALS about six years ago. Lloyd had been an active guy, a surfer and snowboarder, but his friends noticed he was falling down on the slopes and complaining of pain and weakness. By the time he was officially diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease for which there is currently no cure, Lloyd had been dealing with diminished mobility for years and had only months to live. He moved back into his mother’s home in Aliamanu, and his friends — his ski-trip friends, his work friends, his drinking buddies — all came every week to have dinner with him. Some took turns visiting him every day to help in his care and just be with him in that time. Lloyd died in 2014 at age 59.

“He was supposed to golf with me in our retirement, but the bugga wen depart,” said Jay Fukuda.

But after Lloyd’s death the weekly visits just kept going. It was partly in his honor, partly to look after Mabel, but also because they all just enjoyed each other’s company.

And the food was always fantastic.

Behind Mabel’s home in Aliamanu is a covered patio with an outdoor fridge, a countertop and a long table. Every Wednesday she gets ready for her guests.

“It keeps me going, you know,” Maeda said. “I wipe all the tables and chairs, set the table, cook the rice.”

Every Monday, Jay Fukuda sends out a group text. The message always starts the same way: “Aloha. Please join us at the Maeda Bar and Grill on Wednesday around 6-ish …”

The regulars are a mixed group of professional people that include an Army ranger, a bomb expert, two lawyers, an opera singer, an architect, some retirees and a personal trainer. The regulars sometimes bring friends — people who didn’t know Lloyd and don’t know Mabel, but whom she warmly welcomes to her backyard.

They’ve done Thai curry night, sukiyaki night, learn-to-make-sushi night (Mabel was the instructor) and will whip out their phones to show photos of favorite dishes over the years: uni pasta and a charcuterie upon which Fukuda bestowed the highest compliment: “Was almost like store-kind,” he said with reverence. Attorney Michael Lau described the pains he took to make a salad exactly to Mabel’s taste, blanching the warabi fern shoots for precisely 30 seconds. “Mabel likes it crispy,” he said. Fukuda talked about finding hamachi collars and other choice cuts of fish and meat for the Wednesday dinners. “Mabel likes her meat with the bone,” he said.

After dinner come card games; sometimes paiute, sometimes hanafuda, both of which Mabel usually wins and not because anybody is taking it easy on her. The gathering includes a made- up version of karaoke where everyone sings at once and the “karaoke machine” is a song playing from someone’s cellphone placed in a vintage metal rice pot meant to amplify the sound. The goofiness of this contraption only enhances the joy they have singing together songs like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and the Japanese classic “Sukiyaki.”

Leftovers are carefully wrapped for Mabel to have for dinner the rest of the week.

Carol Lau laughs at the idea that they’re taking care of Mabel. “She takes care of us!” she said. Probably, they’re all taking care of one another, but friends don’t think of it that way.

There’s a lot of good- natured ribbing and the repeated asking of “Beer or wine?”; a pan of batter-fried frog legs next to the katsu; and stories about Lloyd, a good guy who loved a good barbecue.

“I lost a son but I inherited all his friends,” Mabel Maeda said. “And they’re such good friends.”

Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or

Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect name for Alton Uehara.
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