In Memoriam: Ang Tandang at si Uncle Tom

I am re-posting an entry I wrote not too long ago, in memory of my American uncle who passed away yesterday.

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Ako ay may tiyuhin na Amerikano. Siya si Uncle Tom.

Tatlong dekada na ang nakalipas nang isa sa aking mga tiyahin ay nagka-penpal ng isang Amerikano. Uso pa noon ang ballpen, magsulat sa papel, at maghulog ng sulat. Matagal-tagal din silang nagkasulatan, at dumating sa yugto na gusto nilang magkita. Wala pang Facebook at FaceTime noon, kaya’t nag-planong lumipad papuntang Pilipinas ang Amerikanong penpal ng aking tiyahin.

Dahil kami ay may bahay naman sa Maynila, at para na rin tuluyang makaliskisan, este makilatis pala ang ibig kong sabihin, ang kanyang penpal, kaya pinakiusap ng aking tita na sa bahay na namin tumuloy ang Amerikano.

Itanggi man natin o hindi, marami pa rin sa atin ang nagnanais na makakilala ng isang banyaga, at mapangasawa ito. Dahil sa isip natin ito ang ating magiging pasaporte para lumisan ng bansa. At kung tayo ay medyo tag-hirap, ito ang ating pagkakataong umunlad at makaahon sa buhay. Darating kaya ang panahon na ang mga Pilipino ay hindi na mangangarap na umalis ng bansa?

Kaya nang dadalaw na ang Amerikano, hindi kami magkandaugaga sa aming paghahanda sa kanyang pagdating. Para kaming naghanda sa isang official state visit, gaya nang dumalaw si President Trump sa Pilipinas. Kulang na lang ay umarkila kami ng banda ng mga musikero at magpa-piyesta sa aming kalye sa pagsalubong sa kanya.

Lumuwas pa ng Maynila ang aming lola mula sa probinsiya at nagdala ito ng mga buhay na manok, para raw ipanghanda sa Amerikano naming bisita. Siyempre, mas masarap pa rin daw ang lasa ng native at free-range na manok. Organic pa at siguradong hindi sinaksakan ng growth hormone at antibiotic.

Isa naman sa aking tiyuhin ang sumundo mula sa airport. Hindi na ako sumama dahil puno na ang sasakyan at baka wala pang maupuan ang aming bisita. Pagkasundo sa airport, ay sa bahay na namin sa Sampaloc Manila tumuloy ang Amerikano.

Sa aking silid pinatulog ang bisita. Malaking tao pala itong Amerikano. Hindi ko alam kung paano siya nagkasya o kung naging kumportable siya sa aking munting katre. Aaminin ko medyo masikip ang aking silid, pang-Petite (Palito?) size lang ito at hindi pang-Jumbo size. Hindi ko rin alam kung naglagkit sa init ang aming bisita, dahil wala naman kaming air conditioner. Pero may bintana naman at bentilador ang aking kuwarto.

Kahit payak ang aming bahay at masikip ang aking kuwarto, ay siguro naman ay lumutang pa rin ang aming pagiging hospitable sa aming panauhin. Kung tutuusin hindi lang ang Amerikanong penpal ng tiyahin ko ang banyagang natulog sa aking munting silid. Minsan ay nagkabisita kami ng galing Papua New Guinea na tumuloy din sa aking kuwarto. Marami ring kaming mga bisitang lokal ang nanuluyan dito. Kaya puti, itim, o kayumanggi – walang kinikilingan ang aking silid.

Balikan natin ang mga manok na dala ng aking lola. Isa dito ay puting tandang, pero hindi ito pang-sabong. Dahil hindi lahat ng manok ay ihahain kaagad, kaya’t ang iba ay hinayaan munang buhay. Kasama dito ang tandang na itinali sa veranda ng aming bahay.

Unang gabi ng aming bisita, maaring pagod na pagod sa biyahe ang Amerikano, at may jet-lag pa, kaya hahayaan lang sana namin siyang matulog kahit tanghaliin pa siya ng gising. Subalit may ibang balak ang puting tandang.

Photo by Leonardo Jarro on Pexels.com

Bago pa magbukang liwayway o maaninag ang liwanag ng umaga, at bago pa magsipag-byahe ang mga traysikel ay simula nang tumilaok ang puting tandang. Walang patid at masigabo sa pagtilaok ang pesteng manok. Pumwesto pa ito malapit sa bintana ng aking kuwarto.

Hindi nagtagal ay nagising ang aming bisitang Amerikano. Galit at mainit ang ulo nito. Masama ang pagkakagising. Sino nga bang hindi mauunsiyame kung mabulabog ka sa iyong mahimbing na pagkakatulog.

Paglabas niya sa kuwarto, ay ako ang kanyang nasalubong. Sabi niya sa akin: “Where is that #&*@^! rooster, I’ll wring it’s neck!”

Sa halip na sa ilang araw pa sana kakatayin ang pobreng tandang, noong araw rin na iyon, naging tangahalian na namin ito. Nahimasmasan naman ang init ng ulo at natuwa pa ang aming panauhing pandangal, nang matikman niya ang masarap na luto na inihain namin sa kanya. Tinolang manok!

Nang malaon na ay nagkaigihan naman ang aking tita at ang kanyang penpal. Sila ay nagkataluyang magpakasal, at siya ay naging aking Uncle Tom. Hindi na nagtagal pa ay nakalipad na rin ang aking tita papuntang Amerika.

Maaring sabihin na dahil kay Uncle Tom, ay naging masuwerte ang aking tiyahin dahil siya’y nakarating ng Estados Unidos. Kahit man ako ay nabiyayaan din, dahil ang tiyahin kong ito ang isa sa tumulong sa akin sa pinansiyal nang ako’y nag-a-apply na papuntang Amerika para sa aking Medical Residency Training. Dahil sa ako’y natanggap sa isang academic hospital para mag-training, ito naman ang naging daan para ako’y makapangibang-bayan.

Noong nakaraang Pasko, maliban sa aking pagtawag sa mga kamag-anak sa Pilipinas, ay tinawagan ko rin ang aking tiyahing ito na naninirahan na sa California. Siya ang pinakamalapit kong kamag-anak dito sa Amerika. Ang California ay mahigit na tatlong oras na biyahe sa eroplano o dalawang araw na drive mula sa amin dito sa Iowa.

Sa pag-uusap namin ng aking tita ay nabanggit niya na medyo lumulubha na raw ang kalagayan ni Uncle Tom at nagiging makakalimutin na rin ito. Sa katunayan, may mga ilang taon nang may sakit si Uncle Tom. Salamat na lang kay tita na tunay na nagmamahal sa kanya, at hindi niya ito pinababayaan. Isa pa, dahil nurse ang aking tiyahin, naaalagaang lubos si Uncle Tom.

Sa aking tingin at palagay, kung naging masuwerte ang aking tiyahin, mas naging masuwerte si Uncle Tom dahil nakilala niya ang aking tita at ang aming pamilya. At hindi lang ito dahil sa nakakain siya ng tinolang manok.

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Post Note: Huwag naman sana niyang pagdisketahan ang tandang ni San Pedro. Good night Uncle Tom, see you in the glorious morning.

Field of Dreams

A couple of nights ago I watched a rerun of the 1989 film “Field of Dreams” on television. My daughter watched it with me too. It’s been quite a while since I saw that movie. In fact the last time I watched it was when I was still in the Philippines. I had no clue at that time that one day this film would parallel my life story.

As you all probably know it, that movie was filmed in Iowa. It’s about a farmer who turned part of his cornfields plot into a baseball field. Many of his friends and family thought he was going insane converting a profitable agricultural land into a playing field that nobody would come to as it was in the middle of nowhere. Then to his surprise, famous dead baseball players came to play on his field.

MLB Confirms Field of Dreams Game Pushed to 2021 – KCHA News
scene from the movie Field of Dreams

The site where it was filmed which is in Dyersville, Iowa, was preserved just like it was in that movie and it remains a popular tourist attraction to this day.

The film starred Kevin Costner, Earl James Jones, Ray Liotta, and Burt Lancaster in his final film role. It was interesting that both then-teenagers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, were extras in one of the scene at Fenway baseball stadium.

The movie featured Iowa cornfields and baseball but I believe it is more than that. Honestly, when I first watched it years ago when I was still a smog-inhaling, jeepney-riding inhabitant of Manila, I did not really dig it. However, after living in the US for more than 25 years now and understanding more the American way of living including baseball which is ingrained to this culture, I have a better appreciation of the film.

The movie though has a lot of symbolism that went beyond baseball. I believe one of the takeaway from the film is about pursuing your passion and your dreams even though how unreasonable it may seems to other people that they might think you are losing your mind. And this to me, took a somewhat personal connection.

One of the iconic scenes of the movie is when Ray, the main character who built the baseball field, and who had regrets that he did not spend much time playing baseball with his father who played for the Minor League, saw a younger version of his departed father, John, who came to play baseball on his field. The scene had these lines:

John Kinsella: “Is this heaven?”

Ray Kinsella: “It’s Iowa.”

John Kinsella: “Iowa? I could have sworn this is heaven.”

Ray Kinsella: “Is there a heaven?”

John Kinsella: “Oh yeah. It’s a place where dreams come true.”

Ray looked around at his field and at his home nearby where he saw his wife and his daughter happily playing at the porch, finally answered back:

Ray Kinsella: “Maybe this is heaven.”

When we moved here to Iowa, after residing in America for 10 years, and living in New Jersey, New York City, California and Florida, some thought we were making a wrong decision. Why move to an “obscure” land of cornfields? We were asked questions that went like this:

Iowa? Where is Iowa? Why Iowa? Are you thinking right?

But after living here for 16 years and counting, and having my dreams come into fruition here, maybe this is really heaven.

photo taken at Selfie Museum in Des Moines, Iowa

May the Force be with You

Our daughter like Star Wars. As you already know, we homeschooled her until highschool. During our private highschool graduation ceremony she picked her own music for her graduation march. It was not the conventional “Pomp and Circumstance.” It was Star Wars’ “Throne Room” (song played when Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and Hans Solo marched to received their heroes’ medal).

A couple of months ago she graduated from college (see previous post here). So our Padawan (apprentice) is aiming to be a Master. Yes, for real! She is pursuing a Master’s degree.

Were you thinking as a Jedi Master? Maybe that one too. Someday.

We are currently helping her move and settle to a galaxy, far far away. Well, not really for it is a city that’s only about 130 miles away. But to us it feels like that’s lightyears away.

So as a send off as she leaves once again for a higher school and training: May the force be with you.

(*photo taken after her college graduation pictorial. Her lightsaber is her cello bow.)

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Post Note:

During the day we helped our daughter move to her new place, a fast moving storm (Derecho Storm) with high winds exceeding 100 miles per hour (equivalent to category 2 hurricane) plowed through the area. It came so sudden that one minute it was all sunny, then the next minute the U-haul truck was swaying that we have to stop unloading and run for shelter inside.

The strong storm downed many trees and blew off some roofs around the area. It knocked off the electricity too that we had to use the stairs instead of the elevators when we resume unloading, making it really labor intensive. On our way home, we even saw three 18-wheeler trucks on the highway that were overturned by the strong winds.

Be careful what you wish for. The “force” was with her alright.

Amazing Grace

When I was asked to give a message to my home church in the Philippines via Zoom last month, they also asked if my daughter can give a special music for their virtual church service. We recorded her playing the piano and send them the video. Friends from New York and New Jersey also asked for this video and played it in their virtual worship services.

I’m sharing it here too. Blessings to you.

(Music piece is “Amazing Grace,” piano arrangement by Joel Raney.)

Fleeting Fireflies

I am re-posting “Catching Fireflies,” an article I wrote nine summers ago. It was a time when my son had a fascination of capturing fireflies. He has outgrown that. After working in a summer camp as a “Nature Director,” he even now forbids us to keep our porch and driveway lights on through the night, saying that the bright lights will prevent the fireflies from finding their mates. Time have changed.

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Fireflies. Also known as lightning bugs. There is something in these twinkling insects that fascinates us. And kids, or the kid in us, wants to catch them. Maybe we think that if we capture them, we will hold magic in our hands.

Catching fireflies has become a summer tradition for my children for the past few years. My son had his container with perforated lid for catching fireflies, prepared way back in February (late winter) this year. He even labeled his jar with a hand drawn picture of a firefly.

When June rolled by and there were still no fireflies, he became impatient. He asked me when will the fireflies come. I jokingly told him that maybe all the fireflies migrated out of Iowa, since they learned that there is this boy who wants to catch them.

When we came back from our California visit on July 4th (we flew back home on Independence Day), my son got very excited when he looked outside our window and saw glittering bugs hovering above our lawn. Fireflies! In fact, he was more excited to see the fireflies than the fireworks that were firing in the sky.

(photo from shutterstock)

My son hurriedly took his jar and ran outside. I also went outside to enjoy the summer’s breeze, and shoot some hoops in our driveway basketball goal, while my son catches fireflies. Though there were other bugs, aside lightning bugs, that hovered and buzzed in our ears and feasted on our arms and legs. We did not catch those bugs -we swatted them.

While we were outside, our nearby neighbor had a “private” fireworks show in his yard. We did not need to go very far, just in our driveway, to watch the fireworks. Yes, it may pale from comparison to the fireworks show in New York, but I thought it was entertaining enough.

My daughter also came out, not to catch fireflies, but to watch our neighbor’s fireworks display. Perhaps she was past the fascination of catching fireflies.

My son proudly showed me his jar with a few fireflies that he caught. He placed some blades of grass inside the jar, and asked me if fireflies eat grass. I told him, I don’t know what fireflies eat that make them glow. Maybe fire? Or sulfur? Or kerosene? But I told him that even if we feed them, they will not last very long in his jar.

The stunning fireworks sparkle for few moment, but fade in the dark. The alluring fireflies flicker, and then grow dim. This beautiful summer will also soon disappear, as well as all the fireflies.

And that is true with everything in life.

I know not long from now my son’s childhood innocence will wane and he will be off to chasing other fancies. My kids will soon be going to college, and to their own lives, pursuing their own dreams, and we will be left with an “empty nest.” I also know that my life’s summer will soon (I hope not too soon!) fade into autumn, and my strength will decline, and I will not be able to shoot hoops anymore or chase fireflies.

But for one magical night, I soaked it all in, while it lasted. And now I hold them in my memory forever………. or at least until my memory fails me too.

As for the captured fireflies? My son set them free into the fleeting summer’s night.

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Post Note: I still can shoot hoops in our driveway basketball goal.

Added Feature:

Our neighborhood’s Independence Day fireworks for this year 2020.

With Great Distinction

My daughter sat hunch over on a bar stool, and her eyes were glued to her MacBook sitting on top of our kitchen center island. She was watching her university’s President give the ceremonial address on-line. At the end of his speech he conferred to all the graduates, who were watching at their homes, their respective batchelor, master, and doctorate degrees.

It was sad that the commencement ceremony end up in this manner. No marching of the students with their cap and gown on a large auditorium. No roll calls announcing the names as they receive their honor and diploma. No adoring family and friends applauding as their graduate walk up the stage.

The ceremony culminating the hard fought four years of college was a letdown, and I felt sorry for my daughter that her graduation rites came to be this way. Damn this corona virus pandemic!

I certainly know the awful feeling of not being able to march for your graduation, for I myself was denied of that opportunty when I finished my medical school. Though the circumstances in mine was totally different and I have only myself to blame. The memory is still painful up to this day, but that’s a different topic for another day.

However, despite the bittersweet turn of events, there is a momentous achievement that cannot be denied.

Seventeen years ago when our daughter started her formal schooling, we had serious fear. This is a girl who did not speak until she was past the age of four that we even consulted a speech pathologist. When she was about to be a kindergarten, she only speaks in words and sometimes phrases, but not sentences. It’s not that she’s unintelligent, at least that was what we want to believe, she was just different.

We knew that if we enrol her to a conventional school she would be labeled by her teachers, and most likely be bullied by her classmates. But most of all we were worried that she may not develop into the fullest potential that we know she is capable of. That was when we decided to homeschool her. And it was one of the best decisions we ever did.

I commend my wife who did the heavy lifting in homeschooling our kids. I know that there were days that it was a struggle. Yet we pressed on. We were always looking for ways to tap their strengths and fortify their weaknesses, especially in our daughter, hoping to unlock her abilities. But more importantly, we asked for heaven’s guidance in all our undertaking.

Math came easy for her, but language and communication was her Waterloo, and constructing even a 2 or 3 sentence essay was a difficult endeavor. Thus we chose a curriculum that was literature heavy and had them read 20 to 30 short story books or classic novels per school year. One bright thing that happened was when we introduced her to music, it became her language and she found her voice.

We homeschooled her until highschool. Besides the education we had at home we also used tutors to prepare her for college. This included lots of music activities as well. And as she entered college, we were again uncertain of how she would adapt to conventional school. Did we educate her enough? Did we train her enough? Did we equip her enough?

Four years of college had gone by. It went so fast like a blink of an eye. Our daughter did not just survived college, she thrived in it. She got scholarship and maintained it throughout. We were relieved and we felt vindicated.

For any of you my readers, who have a child or know of a child who may be struggling in school, I want you to continue to believe in them. I am convinced that there are no dumb kids. They only have different and individual ways of learning, and we as parents and educators just need to discover their potential. Invest in them, including your time, and if you need to take over their education, then do so.

On this occasion of epic magnitude, our joy is magnified. With magnificent pride and with magnanimous love, we present to the world our 2020 graduate. And she even did it with a Latin honor of Magna Cum Laude.

our graduate

We thank all our family and friends who supported us through this journey, and to God be the glory!

(*She missed Summa Cum Laude by a very slim fraction. But we are not complaining. Magna Cum Laude translates as “with great distinction.”)

A Silver Lining

They say that in every dark cloud there is a silver lining. I totally understand that what is going through our world today with this pandemic is alarming and quite nerve-racking to many, yet maybe there are some lessons we can learn from this time of crisis.

I read from one blogger from Italy, a nation that is hardly hit by this COVID-19 pandemic, on how he have learned something from this calamity. He said that he has a “bad” habit of going to a coffee shop 3 to 4 times a day. But since many establishments are closed, coffee shops included, he now brings to work coffee from home in a thermos, and he realized that he was wasting lots of money before. An eye-opening reality.

A day in Florence Italy, before COVID-19 scare

I agree with his realization. Do we really need to go to the coffee shop several times a day? Do we really need to spend lots of our time and money in clubs and bars? Do we really need to eat in a restaurant every night just because we can? Do we really need to go to the mall to buy that 100th pair of shoes?

What we might think is important before, may not be so important after all. This changing times changed our perspective.

I have a friend that posted a photo of a store where uniformed police officers standing guard to a huge pile of toilet paper. That may be extreme, but I believe they were trying to enforce a limit on how much a buyer could get. Who would have thought that we will see something like this, for all we know is they guard only valuable things like gold bars and jewelries. I guess you cannot wipe your behind with your jewelries, nor could it make you clean.

In time of crisis we determine which ones are needs, and the rest are just wants.

It is also interesting in this crucial time that we now have deemed the healthcare workers, (from doctors, nurses, to even the ones that clean and sanitize our hospitals), and the farmers who provide our food, and the grocery workers that stock our food, and the truck drivers that keep the pipeline of essential supplies going to where it is needed, and the police officers that implement the law of lockdowns and curfews – are people more important than movie actors and actresses, pop singers, professional athletes, and other famous people we used to treat as gods.

I have nothing against famous people. What I am against is how we view them compared to the people around us that give us valuable service. Let us give these “regular” people their proper due.

Since we are advised to do social distancing, I encourage all of us to do our fair share of this. I know some of the recommendations by the health authorities may not be feasible to some. Like there is a recommendation that no group of 10 or more people should gather together. But how about those people in very densely populated cities where there might be 10 people already sleeping in one room? How can you do social distancing of at least 6 feet apart, if you already live like sardines?

As we are forced to stay home, let us just be grateful to spend time with our own family – our children, our parents, our siblings – the most important people in our lives that we barely spend time with before. Even though we are not in a beautiful vacation resort or in a cruise to an exotic place, may we find this opportune time with our families, inside the four walls of our home, precious and productive.

It is quite sad to think that it took a pandemic for us to set straight our priorities in life. I know that this crisis will also pass just like every problem we have, but I hope that the lessons we learned from this, we will not forget.

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(*Photo taken during our visit last year, way before the travel ban and lockdown.)