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So long Graham, you made the best neighbor

June 16, 2017 - 12:05am

Graham Ellis is the smiling Englishman you’ve seen on the front page of West Hawaii Today lately. He’s leaving after three decades of giving his heart and soul to our island.

I will miss the happy-go-lucky fellow. We all will. He always had a smile like he was glad to be wherever he was, especially Hawaii.

He’s a joyful human being and that is a rare thing. He brought much light to our lava-encrusted subdivision down in Kalapana when we were neighbors.

To know Graham you must enter his world.

It was a patch of cleared-out lava down in Puna known as Seaview Estates. He carved out a little village in the ohia trees there. I lived in a wooden home not far away.

What a land of magic it was. Nowadays, it’s morphing into a boring new suburb. But back then it was a freewheeling place of hippie shacks and flower-painted school buses tucked in the jungle.

You would turn off the Red Road and there was a King Arthur castle with towers, flags and a big wooden door. Driving into the subdivision off to your left were two Indian teepees, and real live smoke-emitting hippies sitting around the council fire.

Further on was Charlie’s plywood fort, a four-story, shaky structure made entirely of plywood pounded together by Charlie. A bizarre house of cards, boards flew off in a good wind. He was a volatile Vietnam vet so no one messed with him, including the county. He was exempt from all permits.

And way in the back, hidden in the trees was Graham’s magical world, Bellyacres, home of his famous Hiccup Circus. It seemed to be protected by an invisible aura, like a place in Middle-earth.

I got brave one day and drove into Bellyacres, without a passport or a wizard’s pass. To my surprise it was a clean, well-built bunch of houses, nice as you please.

All around were young people tending the garden and old hipsters playing guitars, and talking story. A ’60s-style commune, most idyllic. And there was Graham, carrying a board to patch a house, working happily with his people. A leader who led with a smile.

He came over and said hi and welcomed me to stay and join in the whole venture.

At night lying in my open-air bedroom I looked past my feet at the orange glow of the volcano, and fell asleep to the pounding of conga drums and roars of laughter erupting from Bellyacres. He really cast a spell.

Another time with Graham came one day at the Pahoa Christmas Parade. He was prancing down the main street in his diamond-studded pants, his shirt of colored ribbons and his black top hat, waving his bandleader baton.

Following behind was his kazoo-blowing circus of elves. He danced by, whistle in his teeth, and waved to me like he was on top of the world, passing out joy like candy to the crowd.

And now our pied piper is skipping back to England, leaving Hawaii a happier place.

Farewell, Graham, you’ll live in our heart forever.

Dennis Gregory is an artist, writer and musician who mixes truth and humor in his biweekly column. He can be reached at

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