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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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america

This is America. These friends of my family have roots in Nepal, Philippines, Portugal, Ghana, Seychelles, England, Sicily, Portugal, Ireland, Jamaica, Sweden and many other countries!

My cousin in Georgia once told us that America started with an idea. This is my optimist’s musing about the good old USA.

The thing I love the most about the Fourth of July is that a bunch of commoners said, “No We Won’t.” and had a grand idea that all people were created equal. Americans don’t grovel to kings. It is when we remember that we started as rebels that the spark lights up again and we feel the power of being able to choose our own paths, our own destinies. That’s the American spark. We dream big and achieve great things. That’s the American optimism.

Americans come from all over the world and from America itself. It’s a big melting pot. To maximize the happy American vibe, people should get over their ideas of division, superiority, race, religion and all those things they learned at home and from nasty neighbors. Think about what Jesus would do, and do that!

As an American with roots and history in the Philippines, I love both countries dearly. Americans can do that. Embracing people from other lands is a very good thing to do. Spread the love.

When I was at Harvard for grad school in journalism, (I have two Harvard degrees – it is the only university I have ever graduated from, but not the only one I attended, but I digress). For my Harvard capstone I wrote about the Wampanoag People, the Native Americans who met the Mayflowers folks. We should all learn about the amazing gifts of all the Native American people who were the first folks in this land. Learn about them, and learn about yourself while finding the things that resonate.

A really good tip for having a good American life is to become a positive person. There are lots and lots of things to do to change yourself. Be a good American.

No matter who you are, where you come from, you can always start over. I’ve started over multiple times. Don’t like the school system? You can homeschool somewhere. Don’t like the commute? You can work from home, be your own boss. It’s easy in America. You just have to find your way to do it.

One of the great things about American life is that you can find out who you are and live your life without other people controlling you. Finding out who you really are is something that not everyone gets to do. The gift of being different is that you can step back and think about why you think this or that. I am a left-handed mixed race person – I know what it is to be different, and in America that is OK. Embrace the difference, be uniquely who you are. It’s much easier in American than in conformist places.

The past disappears into dream land and this great country is big enough to have a place for any of us. Like liberal ideas, there’s Cambridge and Berkeley and many more places! There are maps out there that show where people live. There’s something for everyone in this huge land. More of the conservative sort, well, there’s lots of room for you in lots of places. Need to go 24 hours in a sea of diversity…there’s NYC, need surf, sand, laid back living? There’s a HUGE coastline. Need roots, wings, forgotten real estate and so much ocean? Well, there’s this little city called New Bedford.

I’ve lived in many states. Georgia, California, New Mexico, Hawaii, New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. They all have wonderful and unique aspects and treasures to enjoy.

Most of the things I have achieved since I’ve been an adult have come to me thanks to my American citizenship. It’s fun to live in a free country. I don’t spend much time looking at the downside, and don’t read negative commentary or listen to dire political or religious media.

I look out the windows every day, see mostly blue sky and maple trees. I go to the library to pick up books that I requested over the internet. We walk at night in safety, and live on a quiet block with people from many other countries. I can choose which of many masses I want to go to on Sunday. We have freedom of religion. The government, while unwieldy at time, does a good job providing us with affordable healthcare.

Think about that for a moment. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May, and have gone to many appointments, treatments, have had one surgery and will have another next week, will have more surgery in the months to come, and radiation and it is all covered. Thank you Affordable Care Act. With our last health insurance company, our deductible was $5,000 and we were paying $1500 a month.

Here is a short list of some of the things I’ve been able to do because I live in the USA.

Homeschool

Become an eBay powerseller

Open a small press

Publish a little magazine

Ditch the rat race (my husband did this)

Buy a 1910 house for 130,000.

Graduate from Harvard twice

Be a very devout Catholic

Have all the kids I wanted without government interference.

Do what I want most of the time.

Publish books

Be who I am

Have lots of pets

Have dependable power, water, roads, health care, access to information and education

Become a Licensed NeuroPositive Life Coach through the Applied NeuroScience Institute

Travel easily to other countries

Meet people from all over the world and eat their food and enjoy their culture

Really, we are all only limited by our beliefs in this country.

So, I’m a happy camper this Fourth of July. I’m proud that my ancestors and my husband’s ancestors all fought for Independence. It’s a beautiful country, a grand place of amazing opportunity. God Bless America. Be who you were meant to be. Spread the Love. Think Big, Be Optimistic. It’s a great place to call home.

If you want to learn to live a more positive life, get in touch with me. I have a lot to share.

 

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manaoag

We went to a healing mass in Attleboro, Massachusetts, at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette. The ride out was glorious, the forests were green and along the way fields and farms stood out in prim New England style. Stone walls, graveyards, corn – blue skies and cottony clouds fed our eyes and spirits all the way there.

There was a good crowd at the shrine. People of every nationality and infirmity were there. Father Andre Patenaude (Father Pat) took up his guitar and sang with a beautiful tenor. We all sang along. I felt like we were being “softened up” or made to be more comfortable.

The mass was solemn and beautiful and he preached a fine sermon on Sts. Peter and Paul and their personalities. After the mass was over, those seeking healing were invited up to be anointed and prayed over. It is a very simple and ancient thing. I was surprised at how many people there were. Was I really one of those asking to be healed? Oh yes, I was. Illness is a great equalizer. It is something to pray for a job or a house, another to pray to meet the right person. But to be healed is a deep human request.

I felt quite vulnerable. There was a lady who stood behind everyone as Father Pat made his way down the line – she was there to help people if they fell. I didn’t feel like falling, and wondered if I needed to. But no, I am too repressed and proper to let go that much in public. I began to wonder what it all meant, and how it all worked. And then….

And then Father Pat was in front of me, anointing my forehead with fragrant oil, and praying over me. I guess it was one of the ancient formulaic prayers of the Catholic Church, one of those in the Ritual. I couldn’t discern what he was saying. But I heard the words, “Through Jesus Christ Our Lord.” Then he had move to the next person.

I moved away from the altar steps and walked over to where three women were praying over a lady who seemed to be recovering from cancer. Her hair was short, as though it was growing in again after chemo. She looked frail. I waited until she was done and took a seat between two of them, with one lady behind me.

One of them asked, “What is your name?”

I said, “Kathleen”.

She said, “Kathleen, what is the matter? What can we pray for?”

I started to cry. “I have breast cancer, I have six children, I’ve been married to my husband for 30 years this year.” I felt this huge load of emotion pour out and they began praying with urgency. Suddenly, Bud was in front of me, grabbing my hand, his eyes full of tears. I said, “This is my husband.”

One of the ladies smiled and  said, “We figured as much.”

Then the leader said, “Give her the oil”.

I was handed a bottle of oil with a label that said, “St. Raphael’s Oil”.

“Put some on you and pray every day.”

I know that St. Raphael is one of the archangels, the agent of healing, happy marriages and meetings.

I said, “Thank you.” I felt as light as air. Off we went to get ice cream and to look at the beautiful, beautiful afternoon.

***************

This afternoon a small package arrived in the mail. I looked at it, and saw gold. I thought, “Fireflies”. I always remember the miracle that happened to my mother and her family during World War II. During a dramatic do or die moment, as they were struggling up a mountain path in the pouring rain, next to a raging river, my grandfather cried out to Our Lady.

“Cover us with they mantle O Blessed Mother of God, that we may be saved from every evil and temptation, every danger to body and soul”.

Suddenly the fireflies appeared. Our Lady’s Mantle, they said. And they made their way to their destination in complete safety. The story has been told again and again and it has fed me personally my whole life.

But never more than at this time, when the stakes are high and I am calling for help.

“Cover me with your mantle.”

So this afternoon as I looked quizzically at the package, I couldn’t figure it out. Then I read the note. It was from my dear friend Rose, in the Philippines. It was a piece of the mantle of Our Lady of Manaoag, from a shrine in the Philippines, close to my ancestral land of Pampanga and my childhood homes of Clark Air Base and Bauang, La Union. The crowned image of Our Lady has had many custodians through the centuries, and this piece that came to me, came from a private collection of regalia used in the 1950’s.

Our Lady’s Mantle came to me.

Tonight we went for our usual walk up and down Maple St. It is an easy mile and absolutely gorgeous on nights like tonight, with the crescent moon rising against a Maxfield Parrish sky. Right before our block I saw two fireflies. “Oh let’s go see the fireflies at the zoo!” I said.

Minutes later we were down at the zoo where a piece of lawn backs up to the woods. All through the woods, the fireflies danced high up in the trees, down amongst the shrubs, around the lawn. It was a spectacular little show.

Fireflies, Our Lady’s Mantle, the Healing Balm of the Church…. All shall be most well.

 

Link to the Official Site of the Manaoag Shrine:

http://manaoagshrine.org

 

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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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Daddy

My father died twenty years ago today in San Diego. He breathed his last in a room with a view surrounded by his beloved wife and eight children. We were praying the Divine Mercy chaplet, the rosary and reciting the psalms we used to say as children long ago and far away.

He died of pancreatic cancer. Diagnosed on Fat Tuesday, he died on Easter Sunday. I have written before about what a beautiful death he had. The thing that merits repeating is that we were far from a perfect family.

Daddy had bipolar disease, aside from the times he was hospitalized, there was no treatment. It is just now being treated and talked about.

Know this: Bipolar people are brilliant. You probably know some. They are the ones who can burn through days of creativity, who seem drunk with fire, who have an essential energy that makes them ALIVE. They are charismatic and volatile. The are exciting to be around.

And this: Bipolar is hereditary.

Now this: It is treatable.

Nowadays there is no reason to suffer alone. Get help.

So imagine being a brilliant bipolar person, essentially misunderstood, most of your life. Imagine having eight children. Imagine the weight of history, of growing up in the segregated South with the campfires of the Civil War still glowing. Add some extreme idealism, true love, great imagination and drive, and an endless search for answers.

That was Daddy.

Add in an impossible temper and hyperbolic gift for description and comedy.

He was a major in the Air Force, but he didn’t know that for about twenty years. (That is another story). He spent most of his life looking for answers.

In the 1970’s he stumbled upon the work of Norman Vincent Peale and put up vision boards, we called them motivation boards then. Most of his dreams came true.

When I was widowed in 1982, he was my personal coach. I could feel his concern and love across the miles. He understood some of us more than others. I was lucky that he understood me.

At the end, and twenty years later, what is true is what remains.

He loved my mother and his children. He was a wonderful grandfather. He sought the truth. I am sure he is behind my discovery of the positively wired brain work I am immersed in. He never looked at women in a lascivious way. He was charming and funny and one of a kind.

Because he was bipolar with all its attendant adventures and misadventures, I never looked at him with any kind of awe or pedestal admiration. He was my Daddy and I loved him. No one could impress him, and because of that, no one impresses me.

Growing up in a world both here and there that is so invested on where you live, how much you make, what the brand of your watch and car – well Daddy never strove for that, so neither have I.

He gave me a great example of the road less traveled, and if necessary the capacity to travel it against opinion and without validation.

There was one thing that could have broken him, the death of his dearest ones. So he beat us to that finish line.

When he told me that his prognosis was not good, he cried. We were on the telephone. ‘I’m so sorry honey, I’m so sorry I won’t be around for the grandbabies.”

I said, ” That’s OK, Daddy, I know you will be with us. You’ll see it all. I will tell them about you. They won’t forget you. We will see you again.”

He said, “I’m sorry I didn’t get to fly more.”

“You will fly in heaven.And you will get to see everyone, all the ancestors – you’ll be talking to them every day.”

One day he called me and said, “I just wanted to hear your voice and say I am so lucky to have a daughter like you.”

He understood me. “You are good and quiet like your Aunt Lib.”

When he carried Mercy, my first born, he burst into tears and said, “I never thought I’d ever love a blue-nosed Yankee!” He took to calling her Peanut. One day he was dancing in the dining room in La Jolla with her and said, ” Peanut, one day men will try to make you dance backward. You show them! Ain’t no one gonna make my Peanut dance backwards!”

I could go on and on, but there is only this. He loved his family. He loved Jesus. That is what remains.

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