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Posts Tagged ‘Cresta Ola’

I could have grown up into a depressed cynic, who lost the happiness lotto because of life experience and baggage. But, deep down in me always lived the soul of a happy child and an almost boring stability. I was not particularly brave or articulate as a child, but a child nonetheless, like all the multitudinous hordes of children in the world today. As a former child, I remember what it felt like, and lucky for me, my personal stars aligned in such a way as to break the bonds of generations of sadness, and here I am, about to be 53. As Oprah says, “This I know for sure…” This I know for sure, the best things we are told are true, and only love lasts.

If you are randomly stumbling upon this blog you might want to know some of the back story. I grew up in the Philippines. Far from being half this and half that, I am 200%, Filipino to my cells, and American to my cells too. Some things I love like a Filipino, my family for instance. Don’t tell me that political dynasties or benevolent dictatorship is the only solution for my troubled heart-home. Something in me that endured an Atlantic voyage to a wild, untamed land balks at that. We can change our future. It’s un-American to think otherwise.

Which brings me, dear blog readers, to touch on a shadow in my childhood. My dear Daddy, God rest his soul, was afflicted with bipolar disorder before there was a term for it, before there was medicine. Certain things could trigger an episode, like Christmas.

Naturally, my siblings are split between memories of beautiful Christmases, and memories of sad Christmases. Christmas is a loaded time. I have found that the road of acceptance and open-heartedness is my path to a beautiful Christmas.

One time a medical intuitive who has a radio show told me that I have tried to recreate my own childhood positively. That is true. I wanted the big family, all the kids around the table. I married the most stable of men, but not before marrying one who killed himself.

Awareness is all. We don’t want to repeat what we don’t have to.

That’s enough about sad things. I always want to remember how happy my parents were when Daddy was stable. Nowadays, there is medicine, therapy, and many interventions that can give a bipolar person a long and happy life. The latest brain research shows that rumination, the reliving of sad events, messes up the brains’ frontal lobes. As my positive psychology class taught me, gratitude, faith, goals, and positive experiences are the upward spiral that counteracts the down-the-drain of negativity.

When I was little, just ten, we had a magical Christmas at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Mama decorated the house with gilded red ribbon, a parol, poinsettias, a great Christmas tree, the Belen (Nativity Scene), stockings. We all had new red flannel nightgowns sewed by our live in seamstress. We went to midnight mass at the base chapel, and home to Noche Buena (the Philippine reveillion), and opened our presents.

I remember the music, the feeling of contentment and security, how we all were together. I remember how the next morning, the hot Pampanga sun baked the flowers outside and how the arch of the acacia trees shaded our house.

That year, on Christmas Day, we piled into the car with all the kids and a yaya (nanny) and went to Manila to visit Lola at Lourdes Hospital. I won’t forget that either. Lola, with her hair down, smiling sweetly from her bed. Lolo, sitting on the bed by the window. I remember Uncle Sonny coming in with Auntie Lou. Uncle Buddy and Auntie Lynne and my sweet little cousins.

Auntie Lynne’s parents lived near the hospital on Kanlaon Street. Their house was all wood paneled and dark with rooms and corners that were a place of endless fascination for me.

A few days later, my Lola Mercy died. She had been sick for about a year, and her death was unexpected. The whole world shifted when she died. It was my first encounter with death.

Two more Christmases followed that, one raucous in Albuquerque where my cousin D. came with her parents from California. She was an only child and all her presents came with her. She shared, though, as she always did- as she shares to this day.

The second Christmas was in Hawaii, and Daddy was hospitalized at Tripler Army Hospital. That Christmas Day was bright like the Pampanga Christmas, but oh so lonely. I couldn’t wait to return to the Philippines.

In that time of waiting for my uncles to raise our airfare back, one thought gave me courage. We were going to live in the old house in Baguio, Casa Blanca. In our Hawaiian kitchen there was a box of Lipton tea, with a picture of a tea cup and a hillside. It looked to me like Baguio. I would imagine sitting in the old dining room, looking out over Mt. Santo Tomas, and conjure the safety and security of that faraway place.

I recently looked on the net and saw that our old house in Kailua is a luxury home now. I hope the successive owners were happy in that house, with it’s indoor fish pond and beautiful garden. It was not meant to be for us. I remember a sunny kitchen and how even in Hawaii, the streets outside were quiet like the rest of America that I experienced. I missed the street noise and lively parade of people who colored our life in the Philippines.

The next Christmas, 1969, was spent back at Cresta Ola, my grandparents’ beach resort in La Union. It was a happy place and through these years via the Internet, I have heard from many former children who spent holidays there with their families. That Christmas was our first there since Lola died. I could tell the difference, but still it was jolly.

Lolo handed out presents to the staff, and I remember their glee at the gifts. When they went forward to claim them, it looked like a scene from a story about a good king, beloved by his people. Lolo sat in his arm chair, and the staff- waiters, maids, grounds people stepped forward with a kind of a bowing posture and gave heartfelt thanks. While watching it, I was thinking of how hard my own heart was, at 12, there were many things I wanted, but could not have. I noted how these humble people were so grateful and determined to grasp that elusive quality they had in abundance.

A few days later, Lolo died of a heart attack and the lights went out in our big family again.

The next year we found ourselves in Baguio. If you don’t know where Baguio is, let me tell you. It was a beautiful city built during the American era in the Philippines. It’s in a pine forest called a cloud forest by botanists. On some of the twisting roads you might think you were in New England, because so many of the places were painted white with green shutters. In that place, the air is pine scented. You could sleep under many blankets with open windows and breathe the beautiful air all night long. At sunset, the geographic location and the closeness to the ocean blended the air and sky for a spectacular show.

In my Baguio, there was a green-gold light as it turned from dusk to evening. The twilights were lavender, violet, purple. The sky was as colorful as the Aurora Borealis, with the tropical clouds colored orange and red. I have read that other cities in cloud forests, at similar latitude and longitude and proximity to water have the same phenomenon.

Christmas in Baguio was Filipino with a touch of Frank Capra. The old timers in Baguio, the older folks who set the city up, were largely still there. Their grandchildren were my friends. We owned the city with an affectionate hold, feeling far luckier than the Manila folks who only knew it for Holy Week, the summer break and the dash between Christmas and New Year.

In Baguio, the firewood was a local pine, sappy and resinous and aromatic as incense. This was the smell you inhaled with great breaths, if you took a walk on a cold night.

There was caroling. Finally in high school, we filled cars driven by big brothers and made our caroling calls on family and friends. All girls, singing away with hoarse voices, we wouldn’t stop and we were fed at each stop. Who could say no when we were greeted with tables laden with special treats? I am sure that today, the sound of “Give Love on Christmas Day” brings mist to the eyes of my classmates who are mostly away from Baguio now. Such is life in the diaspora.

No matter how difficult it was for me when my Daddy had an episode, there was the surrounding bounty of the city, my friends, relatives, and general nurturing culture of the Philippines. To make things better, my relatives had an attitude of making things happy for children at Christmas. Auntie Mary Anne comes to mind. There was no family time spent in talking about the upheavals. There was lots of family time spent in support of my mother, and attention to the festivities of Christmas.

So, during those difficult times, I simply turned a switch, and if things were too noisy at home, I simply escaped into my richly colored outside world. Unlike in America where people can retreat into madness and silence, the show goes on unabashed in the Philippines. The phone kept ringing with friends planning outings, the doorbell kept ringing with friends passing by, the relatives kept their Christmas visitation schedule. Life went on, in spite of the cross we carried.

Looking at this practically, given that there was no awareness of this illness, there was nothing we children or my mother could do, except surf with it and not judge it in the long run.

We all grew up and moved back to the United States, for a spell there were trips to California at Christmastime. We moved to California. Then, one year, Daddy died leaving a hole in our extended family.

Today, my older sister and cousin are the junior matriarchs in their region. They have a tribe, and the season is kept with light, color and food. There is a lot of togetherness, and distant folks are welcome to fly in. They keep the feast and have given their children an unbroken stretch of years colored by stability, bounty and family.

Our Christmases here in Massachusetts are happy ones. Always, there are the six children and their pets and their friends. There is music and food. No matter what twinges of memory there may be, I remember that I loved my Daddy dearly, and all that is best in my family culture, I owe to him.

Because of his illness, he was larger than life. He loved my children intensely, and that deep attachment shows in how they have taken pieces of him for their permanent selves. At my bravest I am my father’s daughter. At my most optimistic, I am his student of positive thinking. At my most stubborn, I am the one who will not compromise on that-which-cannot-be-bent. When he was dying, I spent so much time with him and made peace with all the past.

Two nights ago I dreamed of my sister, Lizzie who died in 2000. I miss her so much, not only because she was delightful, but because she was stalwart, faithful and true.

Last night, I was going through boxes in the basement and found stash of letters she wrote to me from Oxford. She wrote me every week, and I daresay I was the only one of our siblings she wrote that often, because at the time I was widowed and she was watching over me from afar. Her letters are funny, and full of her ganas. After she died, I sought to fill her void with my other sisters. They are so different from Lizzie that it is impossible. I love them but Lizzie and I spent years together with a shared vision.

I continue this road without her, grateful for the time we had together, and secure in the faith that she watches over us all.

In my dream, she was carrying her youngest child and looked so happy. She looked as she was in real life when she carried that baby. One of the treasures of this internet era is that I am in touch with her friends who share memories of her that are in perfect synchrony with mine. She made friends wherever she went, and was beloved by people. I daresay that if someone had a problem with Lizzie, there was something wrong with that person.

So this is how it is, at this age dear blog readers. All my Christmases are rolled into a giant ball of life. It is more jewels than coal. But for as long as I can remember, Christmas is the stretch from my birthday to December 25th. It’s an ongoing feast of memory and nostalgia, and missing and relishing. It is full of my babies, who tower over me, and their memories of Bud and me, and all our pets and this old house.

I still miss Baguio come Christmastime, but pine firewood is for sale in New Bedford, and we are really lucky we’ll have some snow during the season. God’s birthday is celebrated all over the world, and from where I type, grateful for my family and friends, that is a good thing.

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Mi Hija Mayor was Here

Our oldest came home to record country music with a songwriter who is going to Nashville. So, for a snippet of time, we had all the kids in the house.

I went to sleep hearing her singing somewhere in the house, just like old times. We had such a great family time. We did all the regular things, cooking and talking.

Music was blaring and on top of that video games were going and cats were meowing, and the dog was barking.

I was filled with contentment. Everything was as it should be.

I don’t think often about how it is that the kids are all growing up now and will be all in their own lives. I do pitch ahead to fifteen years from now when they will be solidly in their adventures.

Last night we started watching, “Beach Red” starring Cornell Wilde. It’s a war movie about World War II in the Philippines. The interesting thing is that it was shot along my seashore in La Union. The cast and crew stayed at Cresta Ola of yore. This filming took place the year we were not there.

When we came back, my uncle pointed out that the fisherman’s net that was hanging in the restaurant with glass balls in it, was hung by Cornell Wilde.

So all these years I have wondered about this movie, and finally rented it from Netflix. There was the beach, there were the rice fields. There was the sea with that familiar rolling.

Oh, what a bloody movie. How grim and violent war is. There are no words. It was uncommonly odd to see the beach covered with the look of desolation and war.

I will watch the rest tonight. I am hoping for a beautiful sunset, but am not sure what will happen. I don’t really like war movies. I just want to see this one because I wanted to look beyond the gore and see a beloved place on a sunny day. I’m looking around the story, looking at what is real as I remember it.

It’s an odd exercise in nostalgia.

In the meantime, we drove to Boston today. We left New Bedford in driving rain, which changed to heavy snow as we approached Boston.

I left mi hija mayor with her lovely friends at a cafe, then we went to the Harvard Coop. Then home we flew in lifting weather.

On to the campus, where we retrieved the college kids, and home again full of jollity and reports of the day’s idiosyncrasies.

I know I am as lucky as they come. Plus, my little baby is the best cookie baker and she is baking every night.

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Scott Hamilton writes from Texas:

I also have the fondest memories of my childhood tied up in Cresta Ola. My parents joined the faculty of the Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary in Baguio when I was eleven in 1965.

In my memories, I still walk those streets of Baguio, relive my days at Brent School and Burnham Park, and ache to return to the Cresta Ola I remember in all its splendor. Because of it’s peaceful and relaxing grandeur, the view from the top of your grandparents’ circular stairway leaves pale those I’ve compared from the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty or anyplace else on earth.

Perhaps I met you and surely them there on occasion. I thank your Lolo and Lola now (By the way, that’s what my American parents, now living in Texas after 26 years in Baguio, have their grandchildren and great-grandchildren call them) because your grandparents welcomed us into their world, bringing God’s heavenly creation into my world.

Scott Hamilton, Waco, Texas, December 3, 2008

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She likes books…

Books are almost as important as food to me. Certainly more important than clothing. After the basic necessities of shelter and warmth, food and drink, books come next. At this point in my life, I have thousands of books in my house. They are like inanimate friends. I find it close to miraculous that a bound volume can impart an idea, a dialogue, tell a story.

It was not always like this. Once upon a time books were nice but not necessary. My early childhood was full of books, from my parents, particularly my father, and the base library. My father unleashed me in the base library, and when I had finished the children’s section, he showed me where the religious books were, particularly, “The Screwtape Letters”. Alright, perhaps that was a tad precocious for an eight-year-old. He pointed out with his broad, clean hands, where to find the imprimatur. Daddy had a way of letting you go where you could, intellectually.

A small digression. I had a hard time learning to read, because I was so traumatized by the whole process of going to school. (That’s yet another story). Now I know about Highly Sensitive Children. Back in those muddleheaded early sixties, I was put in a low achievement reading circle where I could feel the disdain of the grumpy teacher. My mother then embarked on teaching me to read, and it clicked and my life changed miraculously. Mind you, I was five and in first grade. I didn’t really even know my own last name, and every day was a wrench to leave my home and get on that blue school bus full of exhuberant American children.  I would look out the window and feel lost, until the end of the day when the school bus would deliver me home again.

By the time I was on cruise control regarding reading, it was time to go back to the States.

Then we had a year in Albuquerque, New Mexico and a part of a year in Kailua, Hawaii, then we went back to the Philippines.

When I lived in US Territory, (that meant Clark AFB and the USA), books were of average importance. I remember television was more important than reading.

The first year we were back in the Philippines, we lived at the beach. I was turning 12, I’m not sure what month we arrived, but I feel it must have been February because my cousin, Carissa, was a tiny baby, and she was born in January. The grown ups were still buzzing about her birth story.

The circumstances of our return were somewhat traumatic, but ultimately a gift. We were passing by the beach, on our way to Baguio where an empty house stood waiting for us. But, once we were there, really and truly at the beach, at Cresta Ola, then how could our mother make the decision to send us up the mountain?

So we had a superb interlude at the beach. The only things lacking were books. It was after all, a beach resort. After a week of being overwhelmed with my good luck of being back, I started to look for something to read.

I found the Sunday Magazine that carried a beauty on the cover. There was the daily newspaper. In a drawer in the office I found some Pentecostal magazines that showed snake handlers, then, another travel magazine covering accupuncture in China. There was one copy of “Old Yeller”, and so I read that.

Soon, there was a trip to Baguio and into the big old house I rushed and went straight for my Lolo’s library. Three walls of bookshelves surrounded me, with my baby pictures along the top and an old statue of St. Martin de Porres. He had an extensive library of Catholic books, and so I started reading about mystics and miracles, and dire predictions.

The following year we moved to Baguio full time, and my access to books was limited by what was carried at CID Educational supply and the small library at St. Theresa’s. Still, I marshaled on and discovered Louisa May Alcott and Lucy Maud Montgomery, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Then we had access for a while to the Base Library at Camp John Hay. I loved that place.

One summer in pursuit of books across the attic, I stepped on a board and went right through the ceiling, landing 10 feet below in the middle of a dance floor in the restaurant rented out from the house. But that is another story.

During the school vacations, we would often head down to the beach. One year my Auntie Mary Anne was teaching at St. Louis College nearby. They had a small library, made up mostly of donations from the American era. There was a collection of girl’s literature, stories of American girls headed off to school in the 1920’s. Set in a specific time and place, these stories filled my head with images of ice skating, and tobogganing, taffy pulls and bonfires.

I remember sitting in the living room of the beach house feeling the sweat pour down my face while reading of snow.

Back in Baguio, we still had a US post office box, so we received magazines and newspapers. Women’s Wear Daily, Seventeen, American Girl, Vogue, Boy’s Life brought images of life on the other side of the world. There was Time and Newsweek and even the Wall Street Journal.

Still, we didn’t have access to that universe of books that I knew was out there.

Then, martial law was declared and the free-wheeling Philippines press was shut down. Our post office box was taken away. Here, my book access flowed to a stop.

From 1972-to 1978, I never had all I wanted to read. Sometimes I would go to National Bookstore and stand reading. I never got my fill.

And then, dear blog readers, I returned to the USA, and started my own book collection. I haven’t stopped, nor do I want to.

I love books, the heft and the print and the feel of the turning page. Like a child who didn’t get enough to eat, I didn’t get enough to read and I’m still filling the void.

Now that spring is coming, we are about to embark on the best of New England traditions, the book sale. Under tents and in halls, in church basements and libraries themselves, thousands and thousands of books will be offered for cents. Oh the thrill of the chase. Oh the victory of the found volume.

New England is a reading intensive and book-full region. For this I am so grateful.

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