Editor’s note: The Garden Island is proud to announce that Pamela Varma Brown will be writing a column for TGI that will be published every other week in the Sunday Lifestyles section. Enjoy.
Robert and Winona Romero are two of the nicest people I have ever known. More than a year ago, this couple who delivers The Garden Island newspaper to our home every day, taught my partner, Lincoln, and me what true kindness tastes like – and that was before we ever met them.
One morning Lincoln cut down a stalk of 182 bananas from one of the trees in our front yard and placed most of them in a box at the end of our driveway with a sign that said “FREE.”
The next morning, when he reached into our daily newspaper receptacle he found not only our paper but six freshly baked mini-loaves of the most delicious banana bread we have ever had along with a note from the Romeros thanking us for the free bananas.
Delivering newspapers – and the occasional baked goodies – is a natural extension of the Romeros’ bubbly personalities.
Both in their 70s, they love their job of bringing news in print to nearly 500 homes on most days.
“People don’t know how wonderful this job is,” Winona says. “We get to ride around together. We sing sometimes. We get to see the sunrise. One morning we counted 38 meteors during a meteor shower.”
Winona says her daughters ask her why they don’t retire. “I say, ‘And then what?’ We’d be couch potatoes. Why would we want to do that?”
No couch potatoes here. The Romeros are constantly on the move. They have to be at Lihue Airport at 2:30 a.m. to pick up the newspapers when they arrive from Oahu. If the plane is late, they nap in their car until the plane lands.
They drive about 30,000 miles per year delivering papers and their gas bill is $650 per month even though they have economy cars. They even purchase their own plastic bags to ensure their customers’ newspapers stay dry from Kauai rain. (They welcome people to save and return the bags so they can re-use them.)
The Romeros’ route has grown over time. Now, in addition to The Garden Island, they deliver the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and USA Today and must remember who gets which papers.
When they first were learning their route 14 years ago, it took eight hours to finish their rounds. Over time they have become amazingly fast, delivering 467 papers in 31⁄2 hours.
“We start in Sun Village where we live and deliver 67 papers in 18 minutes,” Winona says. “Then while he drives from Lihue to Wailua, I’m wrapping papers and I’m stacking them in the car. Now we get it all done in 3 1/2 hours. I don’t know who is helping us – the Universe or somebody.”
Winona credits Robert, whom she met only 18 years ago, with making the job extra fun. “He loves to tell me jokes. He has me laughing all the time. Sometimes we pass cars of people we know and later they tell me, ‘Boy Winona, I saw you laughing. Your mouth was so wide open.’”
Robert, a musician who plays alto saxophone and clarinet with The Starlighters – he’s played Big Band music with them for 58 years and is their oldest member – smiles broadly when he recalls the moment he first set eyes on Winona working the coffee cart on the second floor lanai at Wilcox Hospital 18 years ago.
“I was thinking what page I would be on of her list of suitors,” he says. “She’s so beautiful, I’m not going to be number 10 on the list, I’m going to be some pages later.”
Both recently widowed, they soon began dating, now permanently the only ones on each other’s suitor list.
A romantic clearly still deeply in love with his wife, Robert says when he is playing music with The Starlighters at 7 p.m. on the third Friday of every month at Kukui Grove Center Stage with Winona dancing nearby, “I cannot watch her dance otherwise I lose my place in the music.”
“And because we’re happy like that,” Winona says, “we want to make you guys happy.”
• Pamela Varma Brown is the editor of the book, “Kauai Stories,” a collection of 50 joyful personal stories told by Kauai people. The book was a finalist in the national 2013 Indie Excellent Book Awards. Read the details of the “banana bread with your newspaper” story in “Kauai Stories,” and about the Romeros’ romance in Brown’s forthcoming new book, “Kauai Stories II.” Visit www.kauaistories.net.