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I was going through my Facebook feed and saw this essay which I knew was being written. What a delight, what a surprise! It made me cry, because it brought our old house back to life in a way only writers can conjure.

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CASA BLANCA by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo

The unseasonably cool nights we had for a couple of weeks reminded me of my favorite mountain town. So I reread this piece which I wrote about a year ago for a friend who is including it in this book he’s editing, and decided to post it here. (Details can’t be revealed yet because the project is supposed to be a kind of surprise .)

For most people, “Casablanca” is the title of the classic film from the ‘40s, set in Morocco, directed by Michael Curtiz, and starring Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart and Paul Henreid. For me, however, it is the name of a hotel, which was where our family lived whenever our father took us to Baguio City.This was in the ‘50s. And, as everyone knows, that Baguio is gone forever. However it isn’t totally gone. It lives on in memories of people like myself. As does the hotel named Casablanca.

At the top of Session Road, the road forked left and entered what used to be Camp John Hay’s main gate; and forked right into Loakan Road, where Nevada Square now stands. As I remember it, the Casablanca stood right there on the corner – a white house, two stories tall.

It was some distance from the road, so there was plenty of space for cars to park in, and for kids to play in. There were trees that provided shade, and flowers spilling from little terraces or flower beds, which were protected by low walls constructed from the multi-colored stones that Baguio was famous for.

My father liked going to Baguio in November, which may be why I have no memory of other guests staying in the hotel. (But I could be wrong about this.) We were always given the same room on the second floor: a family room, with five beds, separated by a curtain from a smaller room with a single bed. The curtain was in the same plaid as the curtains on the window, and, I think, the bedcovers. Beyond the small room was a kitchenette and a toilet and bath. Papa, Mama, and the three of us slept in the family room, and Boy’s yaya slept in the small room.

Some parts of the hotel were off limits to guests, because they were occupied by the family which owned the place – the Joaquin family – like the living room, which had a carpet, and a big fireplace with a large painting above it. I had never been in a house which had a fireplace and a carpet, and was quite in awe of this room.

I remember Mr. Joaquin as a distinguished-looking, courteous gentleman; and Mrs. Joaquin as a beautiful, elegant lady with a sweet smile and an unfailingly gracious manner. There were five children, whose names I still know today. The three older ones – Pat and Terry and Bud – were good-looking and glamorous. They seemed to have a lot of friends, who dashed up and down the stairs, laughed a lot, and held dancing parties in the basement that lasted long into the night. The youngest girl, Mary Ann, was still in school, and wore a bulky white sweater over her school uniform. And the younger boy, Sonny, used to romp about with the large family dog.

But Casablanca was just one part of the magic that was Baguio in that lost time.

I was only eight years old when I was first taken to Baguio. We went up by car, and and my kid sister, Ting, and I felt that we would never get there. The flat rice fields, which in my Geography book were called the “Central Plain,” seemed endless. My brother, Boy, who must have been only two, simply went to sleep on his yaya’s lap. But I couldn’t follow suit, because the car kept having to stop for Ting to throw up by the roadside.

The “Zig Zag Road” was an altogether different experience. Not only was it traversing terrain that was most definitely not flat, but it also appeared to be climbing a mountain – possibly several mountains – and doing so with great difficulty and at enormous risk.

Our mother was torn between gasps of admiration and exclamations of alarm. The road twisted past old trees, squeezed between enormous boulders, perched above rivers and ravines. Here and there we came upon a small waterfall tumbling down from the mountain slope into the roadside. And sometimes the road became so narrow, and bent so sharply that it was not possible for our father to see whether there was any vehicle coming toward us. Then we had to stop until the vehicle did pass us, and we were waved on by a man standing on the road, communicating with someone else through what was then called a walkie-talkie.

But all around us were wonders that we children were beholding for the first time: astonishing rock formations, trees perched at the very edge of a cliff, their branches dripping with tangled vines, enormous flowers, rainbow-winged butterflies, cascades and precipices. And, strangely, I have no memory of having to stop to allow Ting to be car sick during this part of the journey.

Baguio itself was a wonderland – a marvelous mountain town, draped in mist, smelling of pine trees, and tasting of fresh strawberries and whipped cream. We went pony-riding under the trees and biking around a lake ringed with weeping willows. We wore thick jackets and took long walks in the woods. And every night, before I fell asleep, I prayed that when I woke up, my father would announce that he was closing down our house in Quezon City and moving us all to Baguio.

When Ting and I were in our teens, our family stopped staying at the Casablanca, because a close friend of Papa’s had built a summer cottage for himself along Naguilian Road, which he made available to us whenever we wanted to use it. So our yearly holidays in Baguio remained a family tradition, but Casablanca did not.

My husband and I were to continue this tradition with own children. Even in the middle and late 70s, when we were already living overseas, we would take our little girls up to Baguio each time we were on home leave. But by then, the Casablanca seemed to have ceased to operate as a hotel. So we either went up as guests of friends, whose fathers were judges of the Court of Appeals or justices of the Supreme Court, so that they had access to the summer cottages in the Courts’s compounds; or we stayed at the old Pines Hotel or at the Hyatt Terraces. The Pines was gutted by a fire in 1984, and the equally ill-fated Hyatt Terraces, completely collapsed during the earthquake of 1990. But we simply found other hotels – like the Safari Lodge and the Concorde and the cottages in Camp John Hay – and faithfully made the annual pilgrimage to our favorite mountain town.

By then, Casablanca had retreated to the back of my mind. But many long years later, I would discover that it had never really faded away.

In 1997, the UP Center for Creative Writing, of which I was a part, decided to hold its National Writers’ Workshop at a hotel called Salome, a curious, two-story white house with a sloping green roof. Its tree house, its sun-splashed terrace with the small, white, wrought- iron tables, under gaily striped umbrellas, and the birds singing in its pine trees, made it quite an enchanting little place. Beside it were three or four other old houses which had been converted into inns. And one afternoon, while I sat at one of those little tables, sipping my cup of lemon tea, something clicked in my mind, and I realized that our hotel was on Loakan Road.

A brisk walk brought me to the street corner. And there was the familiar fork, and there was the old gate to John Hay (though it had obviously been closed down). The Casablanca, however, was nowhere to be found. I retraced my steps, and stopped before each of the houses between the street corner and the Salome. None of them even vaguely resembled the white house I remembered. For a brief moment I thought I recognized it in a particularly decrepit structure, the one closest to the corner. But, no, that shabby, unkempt thing couldn’t have been my beautiful Casablanca. What had happened to it? Had I perhaps dreamt it up?

Nearly two decades later, I was invited by my old friend to contribute something to a book that would honor another dear, old friend – and one of Baguio’s favorite sons –who was about to retire, after a lifetime of dedication to the study of Cordillera culture. It was instantly clear to me that I would write about his city… and mine. I would write about Baguio, and about something which will always be a part of Baguio for me.

So I went sleuthing once again for my vanished Casablanca. But this time I would do my searching on the Net.

The first few tries brought up nothing but duds: hotels in Morocco named “Casablanca”, or hotels in Baguio city named anything by “Casablanca.” So much for Google’s finding the answers to everything, I thought.

But I gave it another try. And suddenly I stumbled on this blog by someone called Kathleen Burkhalter. She was writing of her old homes in the Philippines which were called “Casa Blanca” (she spelled it as two words) in Baguio and “Cresta Ola” in La Union. The blogger’s name seemed familiar. A quick search revealed her to be my Facebook friend.

I dashed off a Private Message, explaining who I was, and why I was interested in her Filipino homes. Within a few hours, I received her reply. She confirmed that her family had lived “next door to the Nevadas at #4 Loakan Road,” and she gave me a thumbnail sketch of the Casa Blanca’s story.

In the 1930s, when it was built by the patriarch (her grandfather), Engineer Francisco Joaquin, it was both a hotel and the family residence. It suffered some damage during World War II, and Kathleen’s grandmother, Mercedes Joaquin, “got the Americans to repair it because they wanted to rent it postwar.” However, it was someone called Annette Krasnianska who became its tenant, and she ran it as an “incredibly successful” place called “Annette’s Guest House.” The lady kept a guest book, which she later printed, and which is now in Kathleen’s hands. During that time, Kathleen’s grandparents had gone to Marinduque “to regroup,” which, I gathered, meant waiting for the Baguio mines to be reopened.

In 1961, when Kathleen was herself first introduced to the white house, she was only four years old. The Casa Blanca, wrote Kathleen, “worked hard as a hotel in the 50s” (which was when our family used to stay in it). “Its inner architecture,” she added, “made it able to morph from large home to hotel to summer rentals and back to house.”

She was immediately “enchanted.” She lived there from 1968 to 1975. Her grandparents died in 1966 and 1969. And in 1975, the house was “taken over” by the Social Security System (SSS), which “put an ugly gray façade over the front, made of wood and painted it.”

Kathleen does not know what happened between the 1975 and 1990. But she does know that during the Big Earthquake of 1990, the house “came down” or “was terribly damaged.” And when Kathleen’s mother, Pat made the trip to Baguio in 1993, “only the front steps and the chimney remained.”

So that’s why I couldn’t find it. It actually no longer existed.

My online conversation with Kathleen lead me to other entries in her blog, “Cresta Ola,” and to her photo albums. I learned a little about her grandparents. Francisco Joaquin was from Bacolor, Pampanga, and became a mining engineer after graduating from the Colorado School of Mines. There is a picture of him as a strapping young man, standing tall on some rocks, looking like he owns the world. Mercedes Verdote de Jesus was from Gasan, Marinduqe, and there is a lovely picture of her in a balintawak, when she was named Miss Marinduque in the Manila Carnival of 1927. The young couple were married at the Manila Cathedral in 1929 – and in what must have been an unprecedented move for their respective families – moved to Baguio, where he went to work at the gold mine in Itogon.

The Loakan residents that Kathleen remembers (owners of those houses turned inns that I saw in 1997, which they must have built at around the same time as the Joaquins built the Casa Blanca) were the Domondons, the Nevadas, the Pavias, and the Montinolas. (Lourdes Reyes Montinola recognized her family’s old summer residence when she and her daughter-in-law Ging Gonzalez Montinola, dropped in on the UP Workshop, which was being held at the Hotel Salome.)

The two older girls – Pat and Terry – went to school in Holy Ghost Hill, where they were boarders during the week. On Fridays, their father would pick them up to spend the weekend with their parents in the Antamok Gold Field.

When Baguio was first bombed, the Joaquin family was in Antamok. They had to abandon the mine for Daluirip. They were given refuge by a priest who ran a mission in Itogon, Father Alfonso de Cloedt. Pat was ten and Terry was eight at the time. The Joaquins had to cross the Agno River on a hanging bridge. Igorot men carried Mrs. Joaquin and the children across; the rest of the way was a narrow mountain pass, which they climbed in single file, in pouring rain, praying aloud the whole while. (This part was narrated to Kathleen by her Aunt Terry.) After the war, Kathleen’s grandfather was to be knighted by the Pope for secretly building air raid shelters that would protect Baguio residents from the bombings.

There are several pictures of the family through the years, formally posed in the Casa Blanca’s living room, which I had found so mysterious and impressive; of the Baguio Cathedral before the war, one of its stained glass windows donated by the Joaquins; of the Cathedral’s spires in the distance towering over the ruined city after the war; and of the same Cathedral taken from the space where the old Pines Hotel used to stand, now the city’s highest point: the top floor of the SM Mall.

Kathleen was baptized, and confirmed in this Cathedral. Kathleen’s parents were married in 1955, the Baguio Cathedral, on the same day that her grandparents celebrated their 25th anniversary. Patricia Joaquin wore an exquisite Ramon Valera terno, and John Burkhalter was in a tuxedo. The photograph was taken in Casa Blanca.

Among Kathleen’s photo albums is one titled “Time Is a Wheel that Goes Around and Around.” In it is the one full frontal picture of the Casa Blanca that I have ever come across. The proud owner is sitting on its front steps.

Comments from her FB friends fill in the gaps. Martha Carmel Chanco wrote: “I remember this house so well as we passed it a gazillion times on the way to John Hay, and later PMA, as we visited my brother and went to hops.” (June 20, 2009)

Edgardo Nevada: “The basement of this house became the first discotheque in Baguio, appropriately called ‘D’Basement,’ run by Red, White and Blue, namely Rudy ‘Red’ Nuñez, Tony ‘Blue’ Verzosa and Sonny ‘White’ San Pedro.” (July 11, 2009)

Martha Carmel Chanco: “I remember D’Basement. That was the hottest spot in the early ‘70s and late ‘60s, I think. Kathleen, didn’t you tell me your folks had to add additional boarding to your bedroom floor to protect you from stray bullets in case there was a brawl down there?” (On July 11, 2009)

Kathleen Burkhalter “Yep… those were the days. Finally Mama didn’t renew their lease. Our new tenant was Sister Vincent and the Easter Weavers! From loud music to the music of the looms.” (August 30, 2009)

Patricia Joaquin Burkhalter: “That was my happy home with so many happy memories and my children will always remember.” (September 16, 2009)

Mahrz Leyco: “Nowhere Disco was the forerunner of D’Basement, right Sonny J?” (September 18, 2009)

On September 30, 2009, Kevin Engle picked up the conversation: “Drove by it many, many times, on our way to the Halfway House or the 19th Tee or the library on a Sunday afternoon to read periodicals or to play miniature golf.”

More than a year later (Nov. 2, 2010), Monch S. David wrote: “Tita Pat … so this was Casa Blanca … Ang ganda! I should have tagged along with my mom… Sayang … Lovely house!

Another year later, the comments were still coming in. From Dolly Aquino (July 4, 2011): “My sister, Bebe, and her husband Ernie Bueno had their wedding reception at Casa Blanca in 1952. Later on, my brother, Benjie, managed the pub there, which he named “Nowehere,” a hangout of my brother’s band, the Footnotes. Those were the days when Baguio boys and girls enjoyed clean, wholesome fun, and the evenings never ended in brawls and fistfights.”

And so it goes, the faded photograph of the stately Casa Blanca allowing the intersection of recollections from these old Baguio residents and their progeny.

I also found photographs of Kathleen as a schoolgirl in St. Theresa’s College in Baguio, and as a co-ed in UP Baguio and UP Diliman (where she was part of the UP Concert Chorus). And a couple of pictures of Kathleen’s grandfather (Lolo Paquito), still handsome, though much leaner, after his wife’s death. He had taken up painting and going on solitary walks, and had died himself just three years after she did. And there is a picture of Kathleen sitting by a window facing mountain slopes and pine trees, in Forest House Café and Bistro, beside Hotel Veneracion (which used to be the Salome Hotel) on Loakan Street, when she returned to the Philippines to celebrate Baguio’s centennial. It is captioned “Dreams do come true.”

Finally, I found an entry, titled “A Child’s Memory” and dated August 31, 2009, which begins thus:

“Today is the beginning of Baguio’s centennial celebration. One hundred years is a short time in history but a long time in a family. The picture taken here was from 1955, a few days before my parents were married. My Baguio story began a mere five years after this picture was taken.”

The little essay goes on to describe what life was like in the Baguio of the ‘60s and the ‘70s, from the time Kathleen was first gathered into the arms of her extended family as a 4-year-old, to the time she left it in 1975. She writes of the large stone fireplace, the scent of pine wood, the two fox terriers called “Saddle” and “Queenie;” of dinner around a long narra table, in a room whose windows overlooked the blue mountains; of a sunset that was the color of jewels; of the many dishes and platters that were carried around the table by uniformed maids; of sleeping in a room with “ivy wall paper… a carved dresser with a round mirror,” a room which had been her mother’s, when she was small, and would become hers when she returned to Baguio to live. She writes of the games she used to play, the places she used to haunt, the singing and guitar strumming and sungka marathons when her younger uncle and aunt were home from their colleges in Manila. And finally, Kathleen offers a portrait of the family.

To my surprise, I instantly recognized it, probably because I had seen it somewhere in that white house, those long-ago Novembers. The family is posed rather stiffly in the Casa Blanca living room, the parents in formal terno and tuxedo, the girls in shimmering evening dresses, the boys in sober grey suits. But the smiles seem warm and spontaneous. The picture was taken five days before Kathleen’s parents’ wedding. It was a happy time.

I’m not from Baguio myself, but through the years, I’ve come to feel a stake in it. Even now that Tony is dead, and two of our daughters have left the country to follow their own paths, I continue to make the trip to Baguio each summer. My trips are mostly work-related. When I was still VP for the UP System under President Emerlinda Roman, we would go up at least twice each year, for a meeting of the Board of Regents and for Commencement. The UP Institute of Creative Writing continues to hold its annual National Writers’ Workshops there. And now, the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies, which I head, also holds its annual National Writers’ Workshops in Baguio.

But I know that even when I am truly retired, and no longer have professional reasons for visiting Baguio, I shall be unable to keep away.

I have friends there. And I don’t mean just Delfin Tolentino and Ben Tapang, Kidlat Tahimik (who is Tony’s fraternity brother), Bencab, Babeth Lolarga and Rolly Fernandez (another fraternity brother of Tony’s), Precy and Butch Macansantos, Frank Cimatu, Laida Lim, Baboo Mondoñedo, Padma Perez, Chit Balmaceda, Popoy Saboy…

I refer also to the ghosts of Madame Chiang of the Old Pagoda antique shop; and of the shoe shine boys of Burnham Park; of the little old ladies who sold delicate, filigreed, silver jewelry and teaspoons and little rocking chairs and harps and bahay kubo, in the silver shop run by the nuns of St. Louis University; and of the band that was first called Different Strokes, and later morphed into On Call, which my fellow-UP-writers and I followed from the old Pilgrim’s Cafe, on top of the Azotea Building on Session Road, to the corner of Leonard Drive and Brent Road, to Forest House Cafe, and finally to the Manor…”

And to the ghosts of Sunshine Grocery, where my father would buy bread after having breakfast at Star Cafe; and of Bombay Bazaar, where Mama once had to get socks for us because ours had inexplicably been left at home in Manila; and of the First Cinema; and of Star Café; and of the Nevada Hotel, another casualty of the earthquake of 1990…

Those friendly ghosts will continue to haunt to me. They will continue to call to me. I will pretend not to hear them. I will suddenly turn to the friend seated beside me, or across the table from me, and complain about the pollution and the traffic in Baguio. But eventually, I will capitulate.

And each time I find myself in Baguio again, I will think of the lovely, lost Casa Blanca. I will ask myself if something could have prevented its complete demolition by an earthquake. Maybe not. On the other hand, maybe if it had been well cared for by those who had taken possession of it, in that decade before the earthquake happened, it might have been strong enough to withstand even those violent tremors.

And then I will wonder, again, why Baguio’s City’s government cannot buy houses like the Casa Blanca — houses which are a part of the city’s history — or set up a foundation for heritage preservation, which will give them the protection they deserve, as the treasures that they are.

So that we might once again walk through their tall rooms, and pass our fingers over the frames of their old paintings; or over the edges of their softly tarnished mirrors; and stand before their windows, to gaze at the sunrise, at the circle of light ascending, turning the sky silvery gold, then powdery blue, while beneath it, the well loved city begins to take shape again … as did Paquito and Mercy, and Pat and Terry and Bud, and Mary Ann and Sonny, once upon a time, in Baguio.

(My thanks to Kathleen Burkhalter, who very kindly gave me permission to quote from her blogs and borrow the picture of her old home.)

'Oh Casa Blanca. In my dreams I walk through your rooms. Baguio City. 4 Loakan Rd. Across from the Main Gate of Camp John Hay. Now, only a chimney remains.'

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Maybe, (because I haven’t been at this very long) maybe one of the bigger parts of having cancer is all the testing and waiting that happens. Today, I can honestly say that I am completely comfortable in my diagnosis and was truly ready to go get chemo. But a test has intervened.

That test will involve an appointment and a wait for results. I’ve already lined up a second opinion appointment.

So on this gloriously sunny, flower laden, song bird symphonied, maple leaf verdant day…I’m going to sit outside, talk a walk, maybe buy a replacement hammock so I can swing under the canopy of leaves that covers the back yard.

I feel terrific. I have cancer. Isn’t that funny? When people routinely ask me, “How are you?” I say, “Great!” (Because I feel great, and they don’t really need the long story.) They could find it here if they wanted!

While I wait for the next thing, I am drinking super ionized, super hero water from the health food store, jumping on my mini trampoline, eating very clean and nutritious food, sleeping, staying stress free (yes I have cancer but if you knew me you’d laugh because I really am having fun). I’m also am taking supplements and having acupuncture. Most of all I am praying for Jesus who healed everyone who asked him when he walked this earth, to cover me with His healing power and take away the cancer.

I’m also praying for guidance, for the people I need and the clarity to recognize them when they show up.

In the meantime, I have my NeuroPositive training that continues, blogging, and big family life.

Our dog, Cleo Pan de Sal is afraid of the sound the iron makes when Bud presses the steam button. She hides when the vacuum cleaner runs. She loves to sit on my daughter’s bed and bark out the window.

Our big fat cat, Tux loves to follow Cleo around and stare at her. Then they take off chasing each other.

I have a stack of books to read, and so many ingredients to cook with.

My Mother’s Day flowers are blooming like crazy.

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I haven’t written here for a while.

My dog died and I couldn’t. I got the flu the day my dog died and it took a while for it to go away. Awita’s death came after the typhoon which haunted me. Both Bud and I published books. Mine came out around Halloween, his was ready for Thanksgiving. Writing books is better than anything we’ve ever done – aside from having our kids. There’s deep joy and a sense of both fulfillment and probably because we are at the midpoint of life – a feeling that we have left a good mark.

I’ve started the next book, and I have a novel that is still waiting for me to see a place. Well, all things pitch into the future, don’t they?

But my dog is dead and I think about things I did for sixteen years. I was a mother, a wife, a business partner, an eBay PowerSeller, a Harvard grad student studying journalism, an antique collector, a cook in my own house, a teacher, a NeuroPositive Life Coach, an author.  I cooked meals and shopped and listened to children and launched children into adult lives. I heard stories and looked out my window as the seasons changed.

And in this small world of mine, brimming with family and cats there was a dog. We got her around Thanksgiving sixteen years ago. I came from a family where dogs did not live long. In the tropics, our dogs died fast. But Awita was healthy. She would run like the wind in the park across the street. She was bound to each of us with a cord of love. All of my children called her a “best friend”.

For sixteen years she was at my feet, following me around the house, waiting in the window, sleeping in the childrens’ beds like Goldilocks. And then she left us because she was old. Sixteen years went by in a blink.

My birthday came and went full of joy. Fifty seven is a nice number. It means I’ve seen life. I’ve earned the wrinkles, and I’m happy to say that my frown wrinkles are fewer than my smile wrinkles.

We are in the prelude to Christmas, a time of great anticipation. Houses are lit up with beautiful lights. Carols stream. We look forward to Christmas and I think I have a piece of advice for me, for you, for the whole world.

There are four phrases that come from the Hawaiian healing tradition of Ho’onoponopono. These could also be from the catechism.

1. I love you

2. I’m sorry

3. Please forgive me

4. Thank you.

These are phrases that I want to put at the forefront of my consciousness. They fit right in with my Positive Psychology training. They embody Love, Forgiveness, Gratitude.

There really isn’t room for anything else. Life is short, and the effects of our thoughts and words transfer from generation to generation.

Which brings me to another idea. Today while I was at the old post office in Fairhaven, Massachusetts- the sun was coming through the high windows, gilding the wood. I said, “Thank you for that sight.” Then I saw a flock of sea gulls swoop through the sky, the sun was hitting their wings turning them gold. I said, “Thank you for that.”

It occurred to me that a big part of life is thanking God and putting gratitude out into creation. It only got better. There were boats in the harbor, and the water was navy blue. As we went by the Whaling Museum the cupola was golden. All the beauty was on parade. “Thank you,” I thought, “Thank you for this.”

Then we all sat down for a family dinner. Five out of six children in attendance is a blessing. Thank you.

For everything, for every gift, for having a December birthday, for the love of that old dog, for the love of the cats who died this year, for the birds in the neighbors hedge, for my husband, for my children, for all this.

Thank you. I hope I fill a big piece of the sky with the ongoing thanks for every good thing. I hope you help me. If there is sorrow out there tipping the world, thanks will even it out again. I’m sure of it.

Thanks for reading. I know you are out there.

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When I was little, between the ages of 1-14 I had many ambitions.

1) Archaeologist

This was inspired by my brother’s dinosaur fascination. We lived in one of the barn houses near the parade ground at Clark Air Base. These old houses where built for the tropics, up on stiltsWe had a big chalk board at our house at Clark and I would draw jousting horses and he would erase them and draw dinosaurs. Then he would write “SAVE” on the board, which I had to respect because the teachers at school did that, and I didn’t think it was good form to erase. So I latched on to the interesting folks dressed in desert khakis with curious hats and notebooks in my brother’s dinosaur books and that fed my ambition.

One of my best friends studied to be an archaeologist and I always loved her accounts of going on a dig.

2. Taster at Chef Boyardee

In 1966 we moved from the Philippines to Albuquerque, New Mexico. My Daddy was in the Air Force and he was assigned to Kirtland Air Force Base. It was a very pleasant sojourn. Our big family was housed in a former piece of a hospital. Our bedrooms opened up onto a long corridor and the bathroom was industrial sized. I was fascinated with some odd things. We had a floor polisher and I loved shining the corridor and my bedroom. I loved American TV and there was an ad for Chef Boyardee that appealed to me:

Now that I look back on the ad, I understand it completely. The ad was full of children my age, it reminded me of the lively world of the Catholic Philippines that I was far from, the long table reminded me of meals with the family.

In real life, I ended up cooking for large numbers of people. As a twenty-something I embraced cooking as and easy way to have fun and make people happy. When I was widowed at 25, I lived in a house with friends and there were always  a lot of people over for dinner and cooking for everyone was a happy occasion. We shared food like a family.

Later, I had my own big family and every night for decades I cooked and fed my own table. Then they grew up and started their own kitchens and food preferences, but we can still fill a large table in a moment.

3. Philanthropist

During that time in Albuquerque, I got hooked on Batman and greatly admired the noble philanthropist, Bruce Wayne. I couldn’t think of a better or more fun profession than giving away money to deserving folks. As I got older, I always was attracted to generosity, and stories of people who helped. Robin Hood, St. Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, were my heroes.

In real life, philanthropy (albeit micro-philanthropy) is a part of life. I love KIVA and the Franciscan Family Apostolate, and Food for the Poor. I figure tossing even a mite into a plea adds up. The gospel of the Widow’s Mite is a rule of life.

4. Queen

Between fairy tales and childhood games, I always thought I would make a great queen. Princesses didn’t have enough authority and were always being married off by clueless king fathers.

The Wicked Queen in Snow White stunned me. “Wow she has power but she is misusing it,” I thought.  My sisters and I would play a game of claiming chairs and pieces of the house when we were small. “I’m the Queen!” I’d shout.

Then my sister, Lizzie would counter with, “No, that is mine, because I am the Empress!”. I lost my attempt at territorial expansion because I forgot that there was a title greater than queen.

I loved the power of the words, “I command you!”

Of course shouting that as a 7-year-old is different from a 30-year-old with an army. But……sometimes I think if people would just do what they were commanded to do, everything would work out better. Don’t laugh. Democracy (which I prefer to monarchy as a real life political system), works. But really, some people should be told what to do. Especially during a government shutdown.

Well, I didn’t get a crown, but I married a prince. When you go back in Bud’s genealogy you collide with a wall of kings and queens. I always knew he was special.

As the mother of many children I had plenty of years of telling small people what they should do. I think I was very benevolent and they love me very much so it worked out.

When I watch royal dramas the level of intrigue and nastiness is horrible. Real life is much more terrible than imagined life, so I am happy with my small dominion. My current subjects are one dog and four cats. Life is good.

4.Psychologist

When my father had his first bi-polar break that landed him in a hospital, I was my mother’s stalwart hospital visitation companion. I’m not sure in this day  it would be considered an appropriate place to bring a ten-year-old but kids are tough and I loved my Daddy so I was happy to see him in any shape.

In that world, of long corridors and vending machines (I loved to get candy bars), I was introduced to some interesting people. I met a king, a great aviator, and the smartest man in the world. In the psychiatric area of a hospital, amongst the patients there is incredible tolerance for each other. At least that is what I observed. I gained a lot of empathy for the mentally ill.

In real life, when I was very young I married a brilliant young man who had a piece of sadness that wouldn’t go away and he committed suicide.

When I married Bud and became a mother empathy for the mentally ill never went away, it only expanded. I’ve always been hyper aware of the genes that are in my family DNA and have been very aware of the necessity of kindness and stability when raising children. So far, so good. The kids are great.

After I finished my journalism masters, I threw myself into a year of training to be a licensed NeuroPositive life coach. While it is not a psychologist degree, it is in the realm of mental health. A happy mind is a healthy mind. I can see where random acts of rumination impacted people I love in a terrible way. Now I know how to stay in an upward spiral. This is something I can help people with right now.

5. Writer

Here I am, writing. It was always the idea, planted in my head by my third grade teacher long ago and far away at Wurtsmith Elementary School by Miss Jeanine Scherer. She praised a poem I wrote and said it should be printed in Highlights Magazine for children. I’ve never forgotten that moment of recognition and elation.

Louisa May Alcott, is a kind of patron saint for me. We have made repeated visits (more like pilgrimages) to her house in Concord, Massachusetts. She was an awesome role model.

Then there is the actual practice of writing. Writing liberates. The act of putting feelings and observations into words makes them real. Otherwise they are fleeting thoughts in our own heads, as ephemeral as morning mist.

From where I sit at 56, I see the importance of writing your life down. If you don’t you will vanish when you die. You will become a record at Ancestry.com, but no one will know your story. Guess what? When you are dead and have great-grandchildren, something as innocuous as “I lived here.” becomes gold. Your descendants will want to know everything about you.

You may not believe this, but it is true. Every single thing about you and what you have lived is important to people who aren’t even born yet.

6.) Nun

I wanted to be a nun because I was a devout little girl and loved my faith very much. (I still do.) I got very high marks in CCD during my school days at Clark Air Base. I loved, “The Sound of Music.” I also was inspired by St. Therese of Lisieux, and the ranks of beautiful nun saints portrayed in my saints biography books.

I was in awe of missionary nuns who lived like those archaeologists I admired, in all sorts of difficult habitats. Their lives seemed full of bravery and adventure. What I didn’t like was that nuns had to cut their hair and change their names. Those were the days. Now it seems nuns like short hair because they are so busy, and they are perfectly entitled to keep their names.

The more important thing was that I realized, becoming a nun was a calling. I wasn’t called to that life, but to a life of marriage and children. Still, I keep an eye on all the positive news I hear coming out of convents and communities of religious women around the world.

When I need prayers, I have my list of convents to email, and I always get a return email and an assurance of prayers. I always follow-up when the prayers are answered.

So rather than being a nun, I am a supporter of women religious all over the world. They are amazing.

So there you have it. Archaeologist, Food Taster, Philanthropist, Psychologist, Writer, Nun. This post started out light-hearted, and ended up serious. I’m really a serious person anyway. There is always more to the story than what is on the surface.

Whoa, 1609 words. That was easy. This is my 1,112 entry into my blog. It adds up, doesn’t it?

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Mama Bear

So my son who goes to school in Boston had this little anecdote for me. A few nights ago, he heard an ice cream truck, and wanted some ice cream. So he ran out of his dorm and followed the truck. The truck had pulled into a parking lot. My son hopped the fence. Then he realized, the ice cream truck was amongst all the parked cars. It was dark and the ice cream man was standing alone. There was one yellow light illuminating the parking lot. My son decided against the ice cream and ran back to his dorm. Once inside the dorm, he mentioned the ice cream truck. “Oh, you mean the crack truck,” said his flat mate.

After hearing this, I just shook my head and said, “Thank you Jesus, nothing happened.” This is a prayer I used to say routinely when I had toddlers, and would see near misses all the time (Like the time I watched my daughter fall toward the edge of a sharp table and miss it by 1/16th of an inch).

When I was facing the eldest child’s imminent departure for college and was burdened with terrible anxiety, I went to talk to a priest. He said, “God will watch out for your child, you know.” And I answered sincerely, “Yes, I know, but I think I can do a better job.” He laughed. I sort of still feel that way. Though my anxiety levels have plummeted (thanks to prayer and positive brain re-wiring).

In one of my daughter’s lyrics (yes, the one who moved to NYC and Nashville), she sings, ” when pigs fly and I see my Mama high” to explain an impossibility. I do not think I am better than anyone. In fact I am a deeply flawed person. But I am a very good mother. I believe I am a good mother because I experienced a lot of pain and grief prior to becoming a mother, and I have never forgotten what it is like to be a child.

So when I read the Boston news about four shootings this weekend, and hear my son talk about being warned never to walk in the Fenway at night, and
hear about the ice cream truck, I do turn to prayer.

In fact, a lot of the time I spend alone, I find that I am praying for my kids. I’ve turned into a classic Filipino mother. I just wish I had the veil, the plastic kneeler with a snap, and a bundle of novenas. I could use a church like Quiapo or Baclaran. But, being in the USA, I settle often for “God is everywhere.”

It’s odd to live in a secular country. My reality is so heavily influence by what is unseen to human eyes, that it feels rather like a masquerade at times. I’m wearing God’s ears out. “Take care of the kids, take care of us all, take care of the world. Bring back the lost, heal the sick. Help the Philippines, help the USA, help Baguio. Help my friend find true love, help our neighbor find their cat, help us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And another day is lived.

 

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