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Posts Tagged ‘Bell Family’

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daughters

At the top is the wedding picture of my grandparents in the late 1920’s. This is where the narrative of my family as I know it, began. Then you see the wedding picture of my niece, my sister Maria’s child, Catie, my namesake. She married her Centurion this weekend. As a family historian, and a writer, I saw a thousand things that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

All things work to the good of those who love God.

So, we went to the wedding. We climbed on the night flight and I sat with white knuckles, I breathed, prayed my rosary, held my fingers (Jin Shin Jyutso) and had a glass of wine. Six hours later the lights of the Bay Area shone through the darkness. We arrived at my cousin’s house before 2 a.m.

The gathering of the clan had begun. We arrived in bits and pieces but by 2 p.m. on Saturday, the 18th, we filled the front pews of the church where Catie was baptized.

It was a gorgeous and splendid wedding. Later, we went to the reception and my niece Stephie, the bride’s sister, gave a moving speech that rendered us weepy. Her pivotal words were, “And then we grew up”.

Sometimes people ask me where I was in the 1980’s and 1990’s after I married Bud. I spent two decades having and raising my babies. During this time, contact with my old friends was sporadic. Telephone calls were expensive.

In a stroke of destiny, Bud got a job in San Francisco and I was able to see my sister Lizzie and brother Johnny every day.

In a continuation of that cosmic good luck, we moved to San Diego, where I had two more children, and lived with my parents and my brothers Mike and Johnny, and had my sister Mimi for a neighbor. She had four children by the time we left. My youngest brother Patrick came by several times a week.

There were times, during those years when everything was an outing for the children. Trips to Long’s which was down the block, beach afternoons, ball games in the back yard, endless cheez nooz (macaroni and cheese) and soup noos (ramen). There were years of diapers and years of Christmas and years of cousins. The children dominated those years, as they should.

Then we moved East and I had my last baby. We weathered Lizzie’s illness and death. Then more years passed and the kids started growing up. Stephie,Catie, Casey, Aaron, Tina and Carmen came to visit at different times.

Time moved more quickly and they started graduating from college and then moving out! Oh! Time went too quickly and I was standing at the kitchen window with a heart so full of love for all the children and wondering how I was going to make it without seeing their precious faces every day.

I had a brush with death because I was not paying attention. I fought back with all my might because I wanted to get back to Bud and the children. I realized so clearly while I was fighting, that all I wanted in life was to be with them.

Then, I “got a life” and went back to school. The prospect of the children all having their own lives seemed like a victory for me. We would simply expand our lives to grow into the new phase.

In an ordinary year, we got the news that Catie was getting married! The months flew by and suddenly it was time to go!

Going into my cousin’s house, I saw my sister, Mimi and her daughters, Carmen and Tina beside her. After hugging her, I beheld tall blue eyed Tina, and lost it. I couldn’t believe she had grown up. That moment would be repeated many times more in the next day.

When I saw Casey, Aaron, I felt this sense of true elation. The baby names I called them, came out of my mouth like a lost language. I saw my dearest sister Lizzie’s boys! Jimmy and Tommy were so tall and handsome. It had been years since I had seen them. Suddenly none of that mattered, because there we were, all together.

Then, there was the wedding. It was magical, beautiful. What can I say? Time stood still and I could feel the blessings raining down.

At the reception, there was a moment after the speeches when all of the grandchildren were on the dance floor. We all were whirling, jumping, spinning, and in that moment, timeless joy set in.

It was a moment that I will remember forever. We were together, we were happy. All the past had fallen away. This is what happiness was, I told myself. We were love in action. We were a tribe bound by history and we had risen above whatever it was in the past, the Japanese invasion, the Civil War, the Great Depression, the family traumas, the loss of property, deaths of family members. That night, we had prevailed.

I felt such a surge of hope, and looked into our long and happy future in the family. I could see more weddings, more babies, more beloved new relatives.

stcclassmatesAround the dance floor where some of my childhood friends from Baguio and I danced away with such affection for these ladies who had shared my mornings and afternoons in a vanished world. Here they were, strong and successful women. My heart was overflowing with affection.

melrozzaOld friends traveled from faraway places and stood and cracked jokes as though we were as young as the newlyweds.

bkrehearsalAnd through it all, of course, was Bud, who has been my happy companion for more than 25 years. He took my hand in my time of great sadness and turned my lonely heart into a beloved’s heart, and then into a mother’s heart.

This was richness, to have come through so much living, and to watch my mother, dancing away with her grandchildren. My Mama, who had survived World War II, and so much more, was having the time of her life!

And the bride and groom! What beautiful people, what happiness they exuded!

All weekend long, we lived as though we were back in our childhood. We stayed at my cousin Desa’s house, her mother’s house, was across the street. My sister Maria’s house was ten minutes away. Every night was a party, and we invited more friends to visit. We saw Pamela, we saw Paul. We all trooped into San Francisco to hear Mercy Bell sing. We walked to a taqueria for a late dinner.

We had one more dinner and my dear friend Batchoy and her husband JV, and our compadre Paul came over. Time ran away and before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye again. What a wonderful night! Desa’s husband George made us the best spaghetti I’ve ever had. I asked him what the secret ingredient was and he said, “Lots and lots of love.” I understand. Oh, the generosity of these cousins who opened their home to fourteen guests on short notice! What a class act they are.

n579533923_1427275_5537-1Then, it was the last day. Sitting in my cousin’s back yard, looking over the estuary that backs up to her house, I realized something. We had been restored. Tragedy had not vanquished us. Time had not made us strangers. We were the same children in that picture of the long dinner table. And now we were so much more.

I am so thankful for my big and lovely family. I miss them. I pray that we can all be together soon.

One of the great happinesses of this wedding was seeing the fruition of Catie’s life, and meeting her husband, Cent. It’s so wonderful to see them embark on their great adventure.

We said our tearful goodbyes and went to the airport. We waved at our oldest, waiting at her gate to JFK. Another bonus had been spending all the time with our Bell family all together.

Looking out the window as we flew east, my daughter said, “Look! It’s the Northern Lights!” A band of light danced on the horizon over Wisconsin. We landed at dawn in the old city of Boston. Those old buildings spoke of hundreds of years of living. What a contrast to California’s newness! We flew home past the woods, past the saltmarshes, past more forests until the air changed, infused with salt.

Our house on Maple Street stood watch, the upstairs windows like big eyes. The maple tree leaves ruffled in the breeze. The tiger lilies had bloomed. Inside many cats came forward to claim their owners. And that was only yesterday.

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In the kitchen

westwynde

Yesterday, we were in the kitchen at Westwynde, the farm in New Hampshire.Standing next to the refrigerator, Bud’s mother told us that her brother, Uncle Don, was going into hospice care.

The news came as a surprise, for I have always thought of Uncle Don as the strong shoulder. He is a tall man, with a football star face and shoulders to match. He’s been dealing with cancer for more than a decade.

I turned and looked out across the fields, covered with wildflowers and thought that this was a moment between then and tomorrow, a moment that is transformed with news.

I consider my husband’s family. Stable, comfortable, dependable in their ways. From a distance like a tropical jungle or a midnight emergency room, one can imagine just what they are doing because their world runs like a Swiss clock. It’s a New England trait amongst families who show the best of this culture. It took me years to appreciate it, but now I do. It’s a beautiful thing.

I thought of my mother-in-law, who has weathered more storms than humanly possible, burying two children within months of each other, yet, managing to keep her faith and her kindness intact.

When Bud came into the kitchen and heard the news, his eyes filled with tears, and so did my daughter’s. Uncle Don has weathered a lot of loss too, the death of a young daughter decades ago, the death of a granddaughter recently.

I thought of an old fairytale called the “The Destiny of Catherine”

Long ago there lived a rich merchant who, besides possessing more treasures than any king in the world, had in his great hall three chairs, one of silver, one of gold, and one of diamonds. But his greatest treasure of all was his only daughter, who was called Catherine.

One day Catherine was sitting in her own room when suddenly the door flew open, and in came a tall and beautiful woman holding in her hands a little wheel.

‘Catherine,’ she said, going up to the girl, ‘which would you rather have-a happy youth or a happy old age?’

Catherine was so taken by surprise that she did not know what to answer, and the lady repeated again, ‘Which would you rather have-a happy youth or a happy old age?’

Then Catherine thought to herself, ‘If I say a happy youth, then I shall have to suffer all the rest of my life. No, I would bear trouble now, and have something better to look forward to.’ So she looked up and replied, ‘Give me a happy old age.’

‘So be it,’ said the lady, and turned her wheel as she spoke, vanishing the next moment as suddenly as she had come.

Now this beautiful lady was the Destiny of poor Catherine.

I think of this fairy tale often. I started pondering it when as a widow of twenty-five I looked into a future as concealed as thick fog. As the years have gone by, I see how we are given what we can handle, because we couldn’t if we knew, yet we do handle it. Yet, here is the other part. There is so much joy in life. Natural joy- falling in love, having babies, watching them grow, relationships, laughter, friendships, marriage. The hard parts are mostly temporary, jobs get found, money stretches, the right doctor shows up. The hardest parts God helps us carry.

Then I thought of my mother-in-law and Uncle Don, and how we just don’t know what the future holds. But then, as my Georgia grandmother always said, “We know Who holds the future.”

Then , my favorite memory of Uncle Don. He drove me to the church on our wedding day. In the car on the way to the church, Uncle Don had a gallant ease, and set my nerves at rest. That was nearly twenty-five years ago. I got into his car and we drove the few hundred feet to the beautiful church. When I came up the stairs, I saw Bud at the altar, and the church full of people. I took off down the aisle with winged feet. I walked myself down the aisle, there was no procession. Just me and my sister’s wedding dress and my mantilla from Spain. On that happy day, I remember seeing Uncle Don and Aunt Syl, and marvelling at their wedding gift, which was a mirror with an antique frame. I love it still.

On our wedding day,  their life was full of happiness, around the corner, their grandchild, Abby,  would be born with a disability long and grave, they would carry that beloved cross until her death 22 years later. On that wedding day, there was not a cloud in sight.

Here we were in the kitchen again, in 2009. Moments passed as the hard news was swallowed, digested and absorbed. Then we heard the children calling to us to walk down to the river. The farm is the favorite childhood home of Bud’s mother. Her mother, Nana Effie, and her grandmother, Nana Maude, spent all their summers there. We walked past the stand of hydrangeas that gave us the flowers that bloom in front of our house in New Bedford.

Then, we walked through the field, marveling at a country garden. Bud snapped fresh asparagus and picked me some wild blueberries. The dog ran ahead and through the forest we went. My husband grew up in that place, and knows it in his sleep. We walked through a grove of ferns, interspersed with pine, maple, linden trees. It was not hard to imagine life long ago in those woods, within the woods, nothing changes bu the seasons, and the curve of the river according to the winter’s storms.

For years, I felt it was curious that his life  should have such stability of place, and artifacts ,and I should have had a past that holds only because of staunch memory. No doubt, I am the most interesting change in the recent history of the Bell family. When I blew in like a typhoon and shook up the family tree, they didn’t quite know what to make of me and my storytelling ways. I have given them six gorgeous grandchildren whose abundant love for their grandparents is better than any dream they had. Bud is so lovable, and his life’s blessings are now my life’s blessings.

Down at the river, the dog retrieved her sticks, one after another. The dear thing who quakes at home when given a bath was swimming like an otter. Seeing her so happy, set our hearts at rest, for she will be on vacation while we are in California.

On the way back to the farm house, Bud and I walked through the cemetery and visited the graves of his siblings, Donald and Cindy, and his grandparents. After all these years, it is stunning to see those vibrant names on granite. Donald and Cindy had unforgettable personalities. We said a prayer, Bud and I, and I watched him make the Sign of the Cross and he stopped and asked me for the Catholic prayer for the dead. “Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon them. I thought of how this Yankee boy was kneeling at his siblings’ graves. I put my hand on his dear head and thought of all the years and thought that of course they saw us and could hear us.

I thought of my sister, buried in Montana, my father buried in San Diego, and my grandparents at the Santuario de San Juan in Manila.

That’s just how life played out.

Today I think that it is a dear friend’s birthday, as well as the anniversary of the great Cordillera quake that killed so many Baguio people. Growing up, we never even knew the fault was there. It was also the last shake that took down our house.

Losing a house is nothing like losing people. Houses can live in memory, but we miss the daily interaction with those we love. People are portable and can thrive in new places, human hearts can love new houses. Memories of old houses actually are better in some ways than the reality. We can occupy those houses in dreams.

But we miss our people, we really do.  For those who suffer loss, there is nothing that bridges between the life of the unscathed and the life of the bereaved. You have to live in the land of loss, I believe, to achieve true compassion. Our losses measure how strong we can be, and how human our hearts are.

So  we made our way back hom to New Bedford, where our son was holding the fort, and all the cats came out to greet us. We missed our puppy, and noticed how strange it was without her, but it will only be for a few days. California and all its surprises await us. I look forward to my tribe.

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malasadasSummer in our corner of New England is beautiful. Sunny temperate days, festivals, book and rummage sales, gorgeous scenery.

Look a this is a special treat that I cannot eat, but it is so good. It’s Malasadas, a Portuguese treat. Fried dough tossed in sugar. We used to have them when we lived in Hawaii in the past life. Interesting isn’t it that the cultural threads I found in Hawaii, that of the ocean bound Yankee and seafaring Portuguese, define this city of New Bedford. I believe anything can happen, because it has.

It’s possible to have a day trip to see our daughter and come back with her, laughing and singing in the car. It’s possible to walk into the house and find a box of books from a dear friend in Virginia.

It is completely possible to be on the way to a book sale and find a Quaker rummage sale near an old ancestral stomping ground. Past fields and stone walls bordered with tiger lilies, past bales of new hay and little farms, on such a trip it is completely possible to find a treasure.
sideboard1

Twenty-five dollars and we have the perfect piece of furniture for our busy dining room
sideboard

Then off to the book sale and oh the delight of books! The ghost of Marcos and his book miserly era is vanished in this country where books abound and book sales astonish with their bounty. I found everything I wanted and more.

books

What a lovely day. And as the evening fell, the long shadows fell across the Reed Estate across the street. The house was full of music, and the kids were singing, and dinner was stupendous. All of us around the table, and me, with a heart full of thanks.
lastshot

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malasadasSummer in our corner of New England is beautiful. Sunny temperate days, festivals, book and rummage sales, gorgeous scenery.

Look a this is a special treat that I cannot eat, but it is so good. It’s Malasadas, a Portuguese treat. Fried dough tossed in sugar. We used to have them when we lived in Hawaii in the past life. Interesting isn’t it that the cultural threads I found in Hawaii, that of the ocean bound Yankee and seafaring Portuguese, define this city of New Bedford. I believe anything can happen, because it has.

It’s possible to have a day trip to see our daughter and come back with her, laughing and singing in the car. It’s possible to walk into the house and find a box of books from a dear friend in Virginia.

It is completely possible to be on the way to a book sale and find a Quaker rummage sale near an old ancestral stomping ground. Past fields and stone walls bordered with tiger lilies, past bales of new hay and little farms, on such a trip it is completely possible to find a treasure.
sideboard1

Twenty-five dollars and we have the perfect piece of furniture for our busy dining room
sideboard

Then off to the book sale and oh the delight of books! The ghost of Marcos and his book miserly era is vanished in this country where books abound and book sales astonish with their bounty. I found everything I wanted and more.

books

What a lovely day. And as the evening fell, the long shadows fell across the Reed Estate across the street. The house was full of music, and the kids were singing, and dinner was stupendous. All of us around the table, and me, with a heart full of thanks.
lastshot

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n579533923_1427275_5537-1Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a faraway land, there were summers to remember. Not that I don’t remember my summers now. But now, I am the activities director. In my childhood, I was beneficiary of the grownups’ ideas.

Lucky for me, they had great ideas, like sending our cousins up from Manila for long, long visits. They also thought it necessary to pack us off to the beach for long visits where we lost track of time, but not of mealtimes.

This is what would happen. My mother didn’t believe in giving us lead time to expect our cousins, as oftentimes plans would change. We would just know that, “The Panchitos are coming!” or “Desa is coming!”.

Then, the Panchitos would arrive with their yaya, Irene, or Desa would appear with her parents who would wave goodbye after merienda.

There we would be, the grandchildren of Paquito and Mercy, or Frank and Mercy Joaquin. I gathered memories in Casa Blanca, the house they built and raised their children in. The house had somehow managed to survive World War II and the carpet bombing of Baguio. But the story goes that it was just a shell at war’s end. In a classic story about Lola, she was approached by the top brass at Camp John Hay with a request to use the house, as it was right across Loakan Road from the Main Gate of Camp John Hay. She agreed, on the condition that they repair it.

At Cresta Ola, the beach resort they built, we lived a childrens’ dream. What a thrill to wake up at Cresta and have the run of the place, and people to watch, and cousins to talk to. We could play in the miniature golf, that had a little castle and a little bridge, or run around the flagpole circle, or run down the long driveway, under the acacia trees. I could read in a narra wood reclining chair in the hotel lobby and watch the guests check out. There was a lovely crunch of gravel as their cars would leave. It  made me feel good to know that their children had fun.

We could be as noisy as we wanted if there were no guests for lunch or dinner, but had to behave when there were guests. We could go up the stairs to the penthouse, that was at one time Lolo and Lola’s special flat, or go even higher into the Crow’s Nest and behold the world.

Or we could sleep the afternoon away after a big lunch. My favorite was when we were occasionally billeted in the hotel, and we could take naps with the double lullaby of overhead fan and ocean waves.

One day, one year, I woke up early and went onto the beach. I saw a vinta, a boat in the Moro style, with colored sail up on the beach. It took my breath away. Were they fishing so far north? Why not?

In Baguio, we would eat long meals at the long table, awash with giggles, while the sunset blazed across the blue mountains outside the dining room window.

Late in the evening they would embark on Monopoly marathons and drink coffee to copy the grownups. Did we even know we were drinking Benguet coffee the stuff of future memories? In the morning there would be pan de sal, and longaniza, eggs, and pancakes, waffles and sinangag (garlic fried rice).

Then there would be walks, no romps all over Camp John Hay across the street. There would be bowling and vending machines that dispensed Snickers and Three Musketeers (not readily available off base). Eventually there would be pony rides from the eternal little stable on the bend to South Drive.

When Desa was there, we would be up all night talking and painting our nails. Then the nail polish would bubble and be perfect for peeling. Then we would start again. Desa was like a sister, being the only child of my mother’s closest sibling. Uncle Sonny and Auntie Lou and their sweet children lived in the compound and added intense cuteness.

In those days, I noticed the difference of siblings and cousins. We were all from the same source, yet individuals in our own families. I could feel the power of the clan.

One night, but according to Desa this was at New Year’s, we were all sleeping and a tremendous racket broke out upstairs. Ghosts, she said, from the war and the time of atrocities.

As we grew older, we got to know Desa’s friends, who were added to the table and the fun.

The second act of the summer was the migration to Cresta Ola. We’d settle into the large cottage, and divide ourselves according to age, to squeeze into the rooms. Oh, the fun we had! We swam all we wanted, we ate unabashedly. I would look at my cousins’ required doses of Scott’s Emulsion Cod Liver Oil, and feel lucky. Never did anything that looked so creamy and sweet taste so strange and fishy! They submitted to it every night without a squabble, for Irene was not to be disobeyed!

We watched the romances bloom between the yayas and the waiters. We watched the Brent kids and the Wagner High kids come in for a day trip and dance with abandon to the tunes of the band (we called it a combo, then). No one could belt an exhuberant “La Bamba” like Tony with his slick pompadour and pointed boots. Elvis could not have ruled a stage better than the combo on that cement half moon.

In the hot still midweek days, with guests gone and none arriving until the weekend, Auntie Mary Anne, who seemed to me to have the most interesting life, would take me to the library at St. Louis College in San Fernando, La Union. In that small room, a shelf of donated books called and I read them because there was nothing else to read at the beach, because I had read it all. I immersed myself in a genre I have not found again. In the early 1900’s there arose a genre of girl’s adventures that revolved around young romance and everyday adventure, amidst high school and college themes. I would sit in the heat of the cottage, with rivers of perspiration coursing down my face, and watch a snow fight in far off New England.

I don’t remember having television or radio. The music was live, and the storytelling was vivid. We would often go onto the beach and sit around a bonfire while kamotes (sweet potatoes) roasted. Sometimes, if Uncle Sonny were there, he would play and we would sing. Oh, the hilarity of one of his favorites, “I Don’t Know Why Nobody Don’t Like Me.” He would insert our names into the song and we would double up laughing.

Then sometimes there would be ghost stories, but I would not look into the distance for fear of seeing ghosts.

Then we would go to sleep and reconvene for breakfast in the restaurant, which we called the dining room. Julie, our dear cook who was with us at Clark Field, would make pancakes and tell us about life as we looked across the pool at the ocean. I was listening, if no one else was, I listened.

It was, after all, about being together and delighting in each other’s companionship. Life is short but childhood lasts a long time.

In New Bedford of 2009, my rules are simple. Sleep late, eat well, daydream and be together. Look out those windows, sit on the porch, watch those cumulus clouds blow in. Walk on the beach, eat summer corn. Build up the memories of being together, for tomorrow comes too quickly.

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