Archive for December, 2005


When you are a child, you aren’t given the details. You have a house here, you go to a house there. You have a farm somewhere. We had a mystery farm down the mountain.

The collective we was our family. Grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins and sometimes their relatives if they came into the family via marriage or affinity. The ownership of property existed in the memory of a child and was bought with love and happy experiences.

Every joyful encounter bought more equity in family property until the time I was grown up and was free and on my own. At 21 I owned more property in my memory, more rooms were kept in my heart than I could count.

Life does this to you, you acquire memories or places and people met and they exist in untarnished perfection, ever young, needing no maintenance but the summoning from the reserves of memory like a magic lantern.

I never visited this farm. It exists in my grandfather’s letters, in plans that didn’t make it to fruition, because of the many trials of premature death, life in the tropics, changing governments and all the things that make people say it is better to live here in the USA than in the tropics, where life is very different.

Not better than here, just different, and different is good as I grow older and perhaps, ever so slightly wiser. I never knew exactly where this farm was. Down the mountain, and closer to the beach. The farm grew mangoes.

Every year in a certain month, there would be a knock on the front door and an old man in a straw hat would be standing there, with two or three very large baskets brimming with ripe mangoes.

Big, ample mangoes with the distinctive perfume. The season had arrived, thanks to the old man and his mysterious method of transporting baskets of mangoes up the mountain roads to Baguio.

We were allowed to all we wanted, while the bounty lasted. I learned how to cut a mango, feeling the seed with the edge of a sharp knife. Scoring the cheeks with a criss cross pattern. Either scooping the gold out with a spoon, or inverting the mango and eating it right off the skin.

Mangoes were a given. Expected, appreciated, consumed. Little did I know that I would miss them so much, and spend time wondering how to find ripe mangoes here in the USA.

Mostly it has been a disappointment. Mangoes bought in the 21st century brings back memories of free mangoes of childhood. Mangoes as abundant as apples in New England.

In the middle of winter I remember where I grew up and the many mysteries of daily life. Of food magically appearing and being cleared away. Of rooms cleaned and sparkling like a fairy had waved a wand. Of the endless parade of relatives and intrigues and funny stories. Of laughing like a crazy woman, bent over and gasping for air. Of sleeping soundly under blankets in the pine scented air, and waking up to mangoes for breakfast.

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Whistling for the Wind

Nemecio was an inherited driver. First he was the driver of my grandfather. Then, he came to work for us in Pampanga, where we lived off of Clark Air Base in Balibago. My parents were still young. We have some old home movies of that era and you can see a bunch of small children (running around like crazy, and yayas (nannies) in uniforms chasing after us. I was about six years old in this memory.

I was very fond of Nemecio. He had tuberculosis which I understood to be TV. We were forbidden to go near him because we might catch TV. I didn’t understand and the grownups didn’t take a moment to explain. So there was some fear and trepidation about breathing around Nemecio. Nevertheless, I enjoyed being around Nemecio. He was very brown and wiry and smoked local cigarettes – the ones with the very pretty lady with abundant curly black hair on the wrapper. He smelled like a mix of tobacco and rum. He slept in a room on the outside of the house that opened to our back porch.

One day Nemecio made us kites. He used newspapers and bamboo and made a tail of torn newspapers. Then we went to the empty lot adjacent to our yard and we flew the kites. He was an expert kite flyer and he knew just how to tug on the string. That was the first time I had ever flown a kite and I was so very pleased. He whistled for the wind. I asked him what he was doing and he said “I am calling the wind.” I can remember watching the kite rise and sail on the wind. When it was independently flying Nemecio put the string in my hands and let me fly it until was nearly out of sight. I remember the feel of the kite string, taking on a life and strength of its own as it moved quickly out of my small hand.

Ever since, I like to think that I can fly kites because of Nemecio, and now still the mother of small children at the end of my forties, I still whistle for the wind.

God Rest your soul, Nemecio. May we meet again in heaven one day.

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Christmas Memories of Baguio

There is a city in the mountains on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. It is called Baguio. We had a house in Baguio from the 1930’s when it was built by my lolo, Francisco G. Joaquin, to 1990 when it came tumbling down in an unpredicted and devastating earthquake. Ay Buhay (that means, Oh Life). Some houses take up residence in the heart. Even when you live in another country and another life, and are very happy with your current house.

When someone asks me, “Where are you from?” I always answer, “From Baguio.” City of pines and clean air and cool mornings. Very crowded during Christmas and Holy Week. A place where, at six in the evening, the Cathedral bells would sound the Angelus and people would stop walking on Session Road, and greet each other, “Good Evening”.

Christmas brought carollers. Some with dance and gongs, some little boys who came night after night, always as delighted as the first visit with the candy we gave them. See the man sitting on the stairs in the photo? I don’t know who he is, but I used to sit in that very spot and look at the sky and the clouds and dream of what life would be like. Young girls have intense powers of dreaming big dreams. I never thought I would leave Baguio, but life has a way of opening doors and I kept going through them until I landed here in New Bedford with my husband and 6 kids. So now, because someone asked me, “Where was your house in Baguio?” I went looking for this photo. Ay buhay.

I have a circle of close childhood friends, all from Baguio, and we remember Baguio particularly at Christmas time. For Baguio is a homeplace for Christmas, with its fireplaces and chilly air, and the sweet scent of pine. Merry Christmas to all.

Casa Blanca in Days Gone By

Casa Blanca in Days Gone By

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Merry Christmas!

This is my song this year: Seasons of Love

From “Rent”

525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600
minutes - how do you measure,
measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in
midnights, in cups of coffee. In
inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In 525,600
minutes - how do you
measure a year in the life?
How about love? How about love? How about love?
Measure in love. Seasons of

So grateful to be alive. So grateful for my beautiful husband and children. So thankful.

Merry Christmas to all of you. Abundant blessings upon all your endeavors. Time to live,
and time to savor.

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