Cheryl, Cayenne and Carla

Carla, Graham, Cayenne, Cheryl

In the U.S.A. well over half of all mothers are single – double the amount in the U.K. – and the number is rising. This percentage is even higher on the Big Island of Hawaii where I lived with three separate families headed by super empowered single moms. I’ve loved the children of all my partners and I’ve felt blessed to be a part of raising happy and healthy kids but being a stepdad can be extremely challenging and can put a huge strain on even the best of relationships. It eventually did that with me and Cheryl, although we definitely had other issues, and regretfully we lacked adequate communication skills to resolve our differences. Sadly, ending my relationship with Cheryl meant I also lost my close connection with Cayenne and Carla. Such is the tragic life of a stepdad!

Shannon Rudolph

It all began with my first ever blind date in November 1989. I had just returned to Hawaii from a year long trip that took me through Canada, U.S.A., U.K., Italy, India, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia and Bali. I’d had lots time for reflection on my past relationships and decided that I was done with playing around and was finally ready to find someone with whom I could settle. Then I met Cheryl. The introduction to my first ever long-term monogamous relationship came from Cheryl’s best friend – and one of the Big Island’s most prolific political activists – the wonderful Shannon Rudolph.

I lived together with Cheryl and her lovely daughters Cayenne and Carla for six years and I have much to be thankful for. Cheryl taught me lots about what it means to be in a committed relationship, the girls accepted me as a stepdad and they all joined me on the journey that led to the formation of the HICCUP circus and to the initial development of our Bellyacres community project. I also learned how to live in a family with nine cats! No kidding’………

Cheryl was renting a tiny sugar shack in Hilo Town near the beautiful Wailoa State park and I moved in with her until she was ready to move to rural Bellyacres. Being with Cheryl and the girls really grounded me and I settled enthusiastically into my new family life. I towed in a charming gypsy wagon that Cheryl decorated and the girls used as a bedroom. I also bought a wood fired hot tub which we all enjoyed on those chilly tropical nights and built myself a small office adjacent to the house. It was in that office that I got to practise using my first computer, set up our Bellyacres administration, wrote the applications for our two non profit organisations and started a family business.

Gypsy wagon, house and hot tub.

Together we travelled around the island, camping, visiting friends and attending festivals. I rarely missed a good band and fondly recall taking Cayenne to see Jimmy Cliff which was her first ever major concert. With her big brown eyes staring wide at the ecstatic dancers she squealed, “I never knew that adults could have so much fun.” Cheryl trained and qualified as a professional massage therapist and both girls started attending the Malamalama Waldorf school in Puna. Life was good and we always had a lot of fun.

Soon after we met I decided to see if I could get work as a performer and started a company called Circus and Clowns Unlimited. I booked talent for festivals, corporate events, birthday parties and baby luaus. At first I was hired as a solo artist myself but I quickly saw the opportunities for offering a troupe with other circus skills. Cheryl was a talented artist so I taught her to juggle and enticed her into becoming a very proficient face painter and balloon sculpturist. The girls became my first circus students to walk on stilts and then learned unicycling and we often performed gigs around Hilo as the Jingles family.

That was the motivation for me to begin teaching kids circus skills and I soon had weekly circus classes at Malamalama school and in Hilo at the YWCA and at Wailoa State Park and the County Bandstand. The HICCUP program was blossoming, we had our first summer camp and I’d booked our first off island gig in Honolulu for their First Night celebration. We went with my mum and dad and a whole bunch of other kids and parents and began a long and exciting tradition of off-island touring for the HICCUP’s.

It took quite a while for Cheryl to move to Bellyacres. She was a natural introvert and as a result of her relationship with the girls dad I believe she had a strong distrust of men. It was a slow process for her to build up enough courage to make the commitment to live in my world and to accept me as a trustworthy partner. It was ok because I also needed time to work on the land, complete the bulldozing and some building structures. Once I had constructed the Hobbit House and a two story Yurt for the girls bedrooms she agreed to move to Bellyacres and lived there for about six years. During this time I encouraged her to become an official member of our crazy jugglers community and she has remained an active participant even after moving out.

Cheryl agreed that the move to Bellyacres was a good decision but it was not easy for her. She knew that some of our community members were super protective of their liberty to live bachelor lifestyles and saw kids as an impediment to their freedom. It caused her considerable anxiety but she needn’t have worried because the girls easily won the hearts of the members and were always welcomed and thoroughly entertained in the communal kitchen. It was an experience that Cayenne told me she remembers as one of the best times of her life. Carla became one of the original performers touring with our prestigious “Naturally High” show while Cheryl became quite a proficient juggler and helped me develop the HICCUP program by making costumes, painting faces and decorating props.

Grand Pooh Bah

Cheryl went on to become an important member of our annual Festival organising team, unofficially called the ‘gang of five’. In 1997 her confidence had grown enough to accept the position of Grand Pooh Bah, the top dog. She did a really great job and was acknowledged by all the members of the “old boys club” which gave her a huge esteem boost and an extra big smile.

Cheryl had found her voice, was fully empowered and went on to build her own career, eventually buying a house where she still happily resides. Cheryl had to evacuate in 2018 when lava from the Kilauea Eruption flowed extremely close and threatened to burn down her cherished home. We all collectively breathed a considerable sigh of relief when it did not disappear under twenty feet of molten black rock like so many of her neighbours. Phew !!!

Today Cheryl enjoys landscaping, art projects and playing ukulele but being a mum is most important to her. She still maintains contact with my own mum who is overjoyed to receive her annual Xmas card. I have sadly not been able to maintain an active stepdad relationship with Cayenne and Carla through our family separation, my later marriages and now thousands of miles of distance, but from time to time I get a sweet and warm greeting and that means a lot to me. I embraced them all fully when we were together, greatly appreciate them taking the renegade ride with me and will always love them dearly.


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Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

3 thoughts on “Cheryl, Cayenne and Carla

  1. Hey Graham
    Joe here, I enjoyed this post which jeannie shared with me. i hope you are doing well in “merry old E”. we made it to the Belly last winter for the 1st time in 5 years but had a nice visit, did some repairs, and shows and made it home just before Covid hit. Regards to deva and others you see on that side of the Atlantic. take care.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Those were very sweet days. Cayenne and Carla were great kids and really helped Graham develop his circus training skills. They were so enthusiastic!

    Liked by 2 people

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