Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Day 11; Forty Day Writing Challenge: Father

I'm glad I was the youngest daughter for 11 years, (then my youngest sister Sami was born). Being the youngest was a double-edged sword. Dad was easier on me, but my brother and sisters considered me the lowest in the rungs of the family.

But that was okay because my siblings loved me and I always had Terrie to play with. Alice made me feel special and Irene told me lots of stories that struck me as "sophisticated" because she was the eldest. My brother was nice to me. He often took me out on his bike, and we'd go to school together or he'd take me to a restaurant. I always felt safe with my brother.

Every afternoon Dad took his nap. While he slept Alice was in charge of pulling out his grey hair. Terrie and I had to walk on his back. I didn't know then that it's a common Asian therapy, but the walkers are usually grown women.

On other afternoons Terrie and I had to sleep on his arms. We never slept though, but he did. Sometimes Terrie and I would play on his tummy. We'd make our hands little walking people and walk around his tummy making up games and silent conversations. I wonder now if he liked that, if maybe he pretended to sleep a bit longer so we could make our hands go all over his tummy with the games we played.

I never asked for things that I wanted because mom always said no. There was a time we'd go to a market, and there was a bahay kubo. the sign said, "Make your child happy, give him a house of his own". I'd stare at that bahay kubo every single time. Then one day, Dad and mom picked us up, and mom said, "We have a very nice surprise for Mona". I was shocked when we came home to see the bahay kubo. It was the most wonderful gift I ever had in my whole entire life.

I used to always ask Dad if we could have a dog, and he always said no. So I'd say, "Okay, get me a cat" and he'd just keep quiet. Finally, he said "Mona, no dogs, and no cats". But one day my Lola Nanay Feling gave me a puppy. I was scared that Dad wouldn't let me keep it, but he came home, saw it, saw my face, and smiled. He said nothing at all.

Shortly after that, a stray cat came to our house. Terrie and I fed it, but we never expected it to come back every day. Knowing Dad's stand on animals, we tried to chase the cat away with a broomstick, but the cat was stubborn. For two weeks the cat kept coming. One day we were having supper, and Dad and Irene and I were looking out at the garden beside the lanai and besides which was our dining table.

We were talking about how nice and still the day was and how our garden was so lovely, not overly laden with plants, nor was it sparse. All of a sudden Terrie ran across the yard with a broom, chasing the cat away. Irene broke out in laughter and Dad looked at her and was amused. I didn't think it was funny because it was what Terrie and I did with that cat all the time.

But after that, it seemed as though Dad accepted the cat, which ended up living with us and found space in a storage room to give birth to kittens.

One day we lost our dog, and I cried and cried for days. Then one morning Dad woke me up very early. He brought me to the lanai, and there were 50 birds of different colors and shades in a very large cage. Dad loved to surprise me.

It seems that I never asked for things as much as possible but Dad would anticipate what I wanted, and he'd give it to me. When I finished college and pursued my career as a writer, Dad sent me to Boston University to get an MS degree in journalism. Dad was a great believer in education, from the time that we were small. Nobody is a perfect man. He wasn't a perfect man. But he was a good man.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Day 10, forty-day writing challenge, Dramatic Experience

I rode a jetski. I was in Cebu with Ed. We went to a resort that day. We were supposed
to go to a place where you can swim beside the whales. However, my cousin Mally said
that it was very smelly there, and Kat felt it was cruel to the whales because it prevented
them from taking their usual course through the waters as they normally do. And so we
were in a resort where I was disappointed by the small sharks, although we did have
a nice buffet.

I had wanted some very strong interaction with water animals, and I was just looking
down at the little sharks in a pond. Ed was grouchy as usual. I saw that a jet ski could
be rented for a full hour. I doubted that Ed would ride the jet ski, but I took a chance
and reserved it for one hour. We lay on the beach, put on sunscreen, and I walked
to the jetski.

I think the guy who rode the jetski had never had an experience quite like me. All I could do
from start to finish was scream. A jet ski isn't like riding a bike. The waters have waves, and
a wave can go any direction, from left to right to forward and backward, all at the same time.
Jetskiing is more like riding a motorcycle on an unpredictably movable road. And I am a
senior citizen and I didn't think about trying to understand the waves so I could just mow
through them. Instead, I just screamed.

To calm myself down, I sang “Magellan” by Yoyoy Villame. you have to sing
it with a deliberate Cebuano accent. "Martch seexteen feefteen hundred tweyntee
wan. Win felepeen was descobered by Mahgehlaaaaan. Dey were sayleeng
diy and night acorss dee big oh Shawn, until dey rich de smol Leemasawan
I lan."

Then I looked far down the waters and saw an island. I asked the man if the jetski could
take us to the island but he said no. I asked him to sing a song, and he said he knows
only childhood songs. I asked him to sing one and he wouldn't. He seemed however not
to like my singing because as I sang -- shouted was more like it -- he tended to interrupt
me with a question. I'd answer the question and then sing again.

With time I became more confident of my jetski skills although I was still frightened. I sang
Spiderman, the old fashioned version of the song which was my new anthem of
empowerment. This was the song when Spiderman was just a cartoon and there were no
Marvel movies then. Spiderman, Spiderman, friendly neighborhood Spiderman. I saw a
collection of red boulders with small water lanes between them, and I told my guide, "We
can go in and go out on the other side."

I realized, however, that we could possibly hit a rock and injure his jet ski, which is
his livelihood or injure myself or him. He calmly said, "Okay ma'am, let's go that
way" and his hand turned right -- opposite from the direction of the boulders.

I was a bit miffed, but it was my first time in a jet ski, and it was his jetski.
After 30 minutes Ed still refused to ride the jetski, and I didn't think I could
take anymore. I barely was able to get off the jetski. I had to wait a bit to do
it very slowly, then I walked straight to my chaise lounge and slept.

I heard him talking quietly to his other friends in Cebuano. I know he was amused
by the tone of his voice. What was he telling his friends about our historic and
cultural and enigmatic ride on a jetski? I wonder if he still remembers me now.

Here is the song of Magellan:


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Day 9: Forty-day writing challenge "Picture"

I'm exactly who I never wished to be. I'm one among a crowd of displaced people who were forced to leave their homes because of the war. The smell of sweat, of unbathed bodies around me, the dust that the wind spreads on our bodies, the pain on my feet and legs and shoulders, the tiny hands holding my skirt, the little one whose face gives me hope despite its unnatural stillness, all these forms the scenario I would never have wanted to be in.

It would have been less difficult if my husband were with me. I won't think about that. I can't have the convenience of remembering how wonderfully he looked in his long, uncut hair, his fine clean scent after a bath, the strength and largeness of his body, his loving arms around me at night. I won't remember the last look on his face before they took him away. I can't hope that we'll find each other again. I have to stay in the here and now.

I have two daughters, aged 6 and 4, and an infant in my arms. We have walked for three days. We started near the front of the crowd of people and slowly kept falling back, more and more. When someone offered us space on a rickety old bus, I was grateful. I could have walked forever for the sake of my children, but they wouldn't have been able to walk much longer. So by the time the bus had come along, it was like my husband was still keeping an eye on us somehow, being protective, as always. 

And here we are on day three, in a place where we're safe and thankful for temporary shelter. I see reporters, sympathetically walking around, looking for a story.  I used to be one of them. I used to work in a newspaper. But I didn't cover disasters. I wrote about restaurants, music, and fashion. Things of that nature.

Cameramen are looking about. My two daughters hide behind me. I hardly notice that they took our photograph. I'm looking around me, hoping that there will be food. My daughters are tired and hungry. My infant is extraordinarily still. If I eat something, I can breastfeed my infant.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Day 8: Forty Day Writing Challenge "Object"

Have you ever seen an object for the first time and felt so drawn to it that you would never forget how it made you heave and sigh and feel warm inside despite the snow of winter? That's how I felt when I saw that pine cone, the giant one in the bathroom of my sister, Terrie, who lived in Kansas with her family. That's when I fell in love with pinecones.

I like to think I'm scientific and sensible, even if sometimes I know there's more to this world than science, and that things unproven or declared a fantasy may be true. But I think I felt so mesmerized by the pine cone because there was some sort of airwave that made it touch my pineal gland, the gland in the brain that's named after pinecones.

The pineal gland produces melatonin, which helps us sleep, rest, and dream. And I have very vivid dreams. Sometimes my dream seems so real that at a certain point I feel distressed. Then, I walk my brain backward, realize I'm dreaming, and resume the dream reassured. At other times my dreams are so strong that I wake up thinking it must be nighttime. Or, I forget my address because in my dream I lived somewhere else. It's all a lot of fun when you think about it. Reality is good, but dreams can make reality interesting and exciting.

When our family went to Virginia, we lived in the house of our niece, Kara. She had a pine tree in front and she said Kat and I could get the pinecones. Of course, I didn't plan to get every single pine cone, but my then nine-year-old daughter kept telling me "this one" and "that one" and the needles pricked my hands and arms and before I knew it, we had every single pinecone from the tree.

When I remember that story, it reminds me of how she is now. She once told me a story about her and her travel buddy. When they visit a country, she wants to see all 22 temples that the country has. Her travel buddy wants only to see the top three. So they negotiate and may end up seeing eight temples.

I ramble. Because what I really wanted to say is, the pinecones were placed in a box and we brought them to the Philippines. When we opened the box, a magnificent aroma emanated. And I noticed when the pinecones are wet they close. But place them under the sun, and they open again, still fragrant. I still have some of those pinecones from 20 years ago. Recently, I told my maid that they would close when wet and open when dry. She was doubtful, so we wet a few and left them under the sun. Yes, 20 years later, the pinecones are still opening and closing.

When I was in New Zealand, I saw a huge pinecone in a chocolate store. However, it wasn't for sale. A few days later we went to a vineyard and then crossed to a field lined by giant pine trees. And there, on the ground, was a giant pine cone that was reminiscent of the first pine cone I saw followed by an airwave to my pineal gland. All at once, I remembered the first pine cone I fell in love with in the bathroom of my sister's home in Kansas. In fact, I found three of them that day and felt particularly blessed.

The other day I held the pinecone, the size of my hand, and placed it on my lip and nose, and inhaled. It was absolutely lovely.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Day 7: Forty Day Writing Challenge, "Aging"

As a child, I looked at old people and felt great pity for them.

They looked very different. Their faces were wrinkled as were their fingers and the skin on their arms and legs. They had false teeth that they put in a glass overnight. In those days, old men became distinguished with age. Old women seemed to be ebbing. I thought that beauty is probably important at every stage in a person's life. And so I felt sorry for old people, never at that time imagining that someday I, too, would grow old.

As a matter of fact, I'm a senior citizen. I have false teeth that I wrap in tissue. I have a double chin that I try to hide with my fat fingers by putting my digits on my chin. I continually gain weight and the clothes I love to wear don't fit like they used to. I'm currently in lockdown because the COVID virus is all around. Although many are susceptible it's the old people who die, those with preconditions like, in my case, asthma. My husband, on the other hand, is diabetic and a cancer survivor of his thyroid. So we choose to stay indoors even when the government is loosening up on lockdown. We want to wait two more months to see if another recurrence will occur.

I love being old. When you are old, marriage is lots better. You understand each other and can read each other's emotions as they are particularly predictable. You learn to negotiate and you can assess in advance what you can negotiate for. If in the end, he says no, you can decide if you will get away with sneaking that negotiating issue through anyway. Sometimes I slip it through and he turns his eyes away. Other times he gets really, really mad. But in the end, we are okay because we love and trust each other. If you don't have love and trust in your old age,  I feel very sad for you. Because it's when you're old that you're supposed to be relaxed and well settled in your ways (with room for the occasional adventure or two). It's the age when you should care for each other the most because you are both most vulnerable.

As of now, I'm 64. I'm considered "young old".   I still have friends my age and older. But I have two friends in their 90s. One is named Rupert, who is 92. The other is Tita Babes who is 94. I wonder if they have other friends who are alive and also in their 90s. I wonder if there are any entertainers of their age who are still alive as well. I wonder what it feels like to be that age and to have lost most of the people you know and love. I wonder what it's like to depend on your children. 

Day 6, Forty Day Writing Challenge "Fiction"

Mommy came from behind my back as I was looking out the window. "Don't look," she said. "Don't pay any attention." Then she led me away from the window.

It was the living room window that looked out at the garage on the side of the house. There were two cars there. One was our pretty, blue Buick. The other, a Cadillac, belonged to the Hellmans next door.  It was 6 a.m. and I was looking at a four-year-old child walk past the cars to a tiny home in the back. I was the same age. Mr. Hellman's tiny home was a dream house that seemed just right for me. I wanted to go there and play house with Mr. Hellman and Jessica, the little blonde girl who went there every morning. But mommy didn't even want me to look at Mr. Hellman's house.

Every day there were three children who visited Mr. Hellman. Jessica always stayed for two hours. She had blonde curls and lovely grey eyes and a smile that was rare but precious. I don't know why she always went there, but I presumed it was perhaps because her mother, Mrs. Fowler, who lived further down the road, needed someone to watch her daughter so early in the morning. I would wait until 8 am, then go to the window again. Always, Mr. Hellman stood at the door, letting Jessica out while holding his index finger to his mouth. Jessica did the same. Once, I managed to overhear what he told her, "Remember, it's a secret. Don't tell anybody. Promise." And Jessica would put her own little index finger on her mouth and make a solemn promise.

The second girl, Oasis Robinson, came at lunchtime. She was African American. Her mother, Birdy, worked as a maid to Mrs. Garcetti who lived across the street. Oasis, 5, wasn't allowed in Mrs. Garcetti's home, but Mr. Hellman very kindly offered to watch over Oasis while Birdy worked from 1 to 5 p.m. When Oasis entered Mr. Hellman's home, I would hear the clink and clack of dishes and cutlery. I imagined that Mr. Hellman and Oasis always had lunch together, and then spent the afternoon indoors in silence.

I wanted so much to knock on Mr. Hellman's door, look at his house inside, and play with Oasis, but my mother wouldn't let me do that either. Mommy taught me how to cook and made sure I did my cleaning chores. I loved the chug-a-lug of our laundry machine, and the sight of the clothes swirling round and round mesmerized me. Afterward, we went grocery shopping together. And every day, mom let me watch cartoons on TV.

After school hours, the most beautiful girl I saw, Valerie Ann Jones, would visit Mr. Hellman. Valerie was 6 years old and she had been visiting Mr. Hellman for two years, according to the neighborhood talk. At first, her mom would bring Valerie over. One day, we heard, Valerie's mother came early to pick up her daughter. She barely stayed a minute. She yelled and screamed and said, "You'll never see Valerie again."  Despite her warning, Valerie continued to visit Mr. Hellman alone without her mother's knowledge, or so the neighbors said.


"It's a strange arrangement" I once heard mom say. She was talking on the phone to Mrs. Garcetti. "His wife Sybil lives in the front house with their daughter Dorothy and their son Maynard, and he lives alone in the back house. The children never visit their father and Margaret acts as though he doesn't exist." Mommy was curious because we had lived in the neighborhood for only one year, and she was aware of the children that came to see Mr. Hellman. They were always other people's children, never his own.

Later that evening, over dinner with Daddy, she told him of the comings and goings in Mr. Hellman's home in the back. She sternly warned me to always keep away from him, because we didn't know him and he never bothered to befriend us despite our being neighbors for one year.


Mom and Mrs. Garcetti became fast friends. She also came to know Mrs. Hellman because her son, Maynard, went to the same school as my brother, Todd. They were both 10 years old. Maynard was a loner. He didn't talk much and wasn't friendly with anybody in school. He ate lunch alone and during recess, he stayed in the library. He walked home with his 8-year-old sister, Dorothy. They were close, and they were both very retiring.

Mrs. Hellman was the exact opposite. She was very active in parent-teacher activities. She was voted president of the PTA and held the position continually for the last five years. She organized bake sales and field trips and school carnivals. She was familiar with every teacher in the school, and she made every parent feel like they were important to her.

One day Mom decided to invite Mrs. Hellman and Mrs. Garcetti to our home. Mom baked a cake, some cupcakes, and lots of different finger sandwiches. She kept a bottle of wine in a bucket of ice. There was also hot tea and a pitcher of cold water.

Mrs. Hellman greeted mother and Mrs. Garcetti with a firm handshake for each of them. Her voice was delightfully musical.  Dad came out to greet the guests. He told Mrs. Hellman, "I've yet to get to know your husband," to which she replied, "Oh, don't you even bother." She flipped her hanky as she spoke and added, "He's like the children. A homebody."

"Well," Mom said, "I think it's wonderful that he gets along well with children."  Mom was shocked at the pure hostility that suddenly covered  Mrs. Hellman's face. But the hostility immediately changed into a wide smile, though her eyes were taught and hard. Mrs. Hellman said, very musically, "Yes, that's like him. He doesn't go to church with us, but he believes that children are God's flowers on earth.

"Children," Mrs. Garcetti asked, "Who are these children?"

"All children", Mrs. Hellman said. "On the few times he goes out, he goes to the playground to watch children play." Her musical voice suddenly seemed quite strained, so Mommy immediately changed the topic to something that Mrs. Hellman felt safer with -- the pending PTA bake sale to raise funds for charity.


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Day 5, Forty Day Writing Challenge "A room full of details"

In Los Angeles, as a child, I had my own bedroom. But I often preferred to sleep with my Nanny, Insi Dosing. I loved Insi because she talked to me and took care of me. She was my friend in the daytime when everybody else went to work or school. She would give me a bath and dress me up and take my picture. She allowed me to take a picture riding a horse in our back yard. Sometimes we went out. I thought she was very pretty. She'd wear nice pants with a top and a hat and sunglasses and sandals. Sometimes a man would come over and talk to her. The man would call her Dolores. I didn't know if they had prearranged the meeting or if they really met just then. I didn't know as a child that many times Filipinas worked overseas as maids hoping to marry an American who could give them a good life. I don't even know how old Insi was when she took care of all of us in Los Angeles. This was way before the OFW days. On those days when we went out, we'd always get back home before others in the family would. Insi also had her times of being angry, the way all people do, but at night she'd tell me stories before we'd go to sleep, usually about a man she was in love with. I remember at least two boyfriends that she loved very much. One came after the other.

I loved Insi's room. It was an attic room, very snug, and perfect for a child like me. I suppose she liked it too because she was poor and she would never be able to afford to live in a house like ours and sleep in such a lovely attic. I don't remember the furniture but I remember that I was always happy sleeping with Insi.

Sometimes she'd fall asleep before I did. At other times I'd wake up in the middle of the night. That was when I would see lights in the room. Little dainty lights like fireflies, only they were fairies. Usually, it started with just one fairy. Then there would be two, three, and more. They would dance for me, their lights blinking of different colors. Then there would be so many of them. They were like a carousel for me. I loved how they put on such a lovely show. They danced silently but beautifully. Today, I would compare them to a scene in Beauty and the Beast when the dishes danced for Beauty singing, "Be my guest". Only, the fairies never interacted with me, they performed for me. One time I woke Insi up in the middle of the night. "Look", I said. She awoke briefly and I pointed at the fairies. She said "There's nothing there" and went back to sleep.

But I knew they were real. I still know that they are.