Road Trip

The road hums a wistful song, while the passing trees, powers lines, and scenery plays like an old movie in my hazy field of vision. I am safely buckled in my seat, while we whiz down the interstate. The car’s trunk is loaded, but not nearly as full and cluttered as my mind is.

My daughter and I are going on a road trip.

It is hard to imagine that it was more than 50 years ago now, when my daughter and I went on our first long trip. We went camping in a distant national park, and even though we stayed there only two nights, we packed our car full. We brought almost everything, except the house itself – the propane stove, the tent, the air mattresses, pillows and comforters, folding chair and tables, and even a portable heater.

When I fastened my little girl on her car seat when we embarked on that trip, she mildly protested. It seemed like we stopped on every rest area for a bathroom break, as my daughter claimed she needs to go. But maybe it was just her ploy to get out of her car seat. And yes, she asked a million times, “Are we there yet?”

It was a fun trip though.

It was more than 30 years ago now also, that I took my daughter on another long road trip. We drove for several hours to another nearby state. The car was overloaded with many things, like the electric fan, microwave oven, television, vacuum cleaner, a closet-full of clothes, and my daughter’s big cello. That was when I dropped her off to college.

She was so excited to go to the university and to be on her own. I guess she views it as independence. My heart was heavy all the way through that trip. Even though it was a long drive, I don’t want it to end. For I know that when we reach our destination, I would be leaving her behind and may not see her again for several weeks. Perhaps months. But she has to go and leave the nest, and make a mark of her own in this world. I get that.

Of course she made it through college. And beyond.

Now we’re together again on another road trip. Except that I am not in the driver’s seat anymore. I am just the passenger and my daughter is driving.

She said that I cannot live by myself anymore in our old big house. And I agree, since her mother left for heaven, I am really lost and lonely. She is taking me to a place to be closer to her.

She told me that I don’t need most of my stuff, just the bare essentials. For in the place where we will go, it has everything I need, she said. I don’t need much stuff anyway. The most precious things I used to have, I already lost them.

Funny that people say that my memory is getting bad. That my mind is already playing tricks on me. That I don’t remember things anymore. Like where I placed my glasses or even my dentures. Or who is Mr. or Mrs. so and so, people they say I should know. And yet, why do I remember all these nostalgic memories so vividly?

I know this may be my last road trip. For I can barely walk without any assistance anymore. I cannot even feed myself without spilling food on my lap and all over the floor. And that’s why I am going to this “big house” with all the help available, with some other old forgetful people like me. I hope my daughter will visit me there often.

It’s nice to be on the road again. To feel the wind and the sun on my face again. If only this road trip would not end.

photo taken in some back road in Iowa

(*This short story is written as a fiction. And hopefully will stay as fiction.)

Exhausting Research

Not too long ago, my son needed to do some assignment about plants in his Biology class. He asked me for some input, knowing that I majored in Biology when I was in college. But my stock knowledge and what I remember was not enough, so I told him to look it up.

If that was me doing research in high school, 30 years ago, it would entail going to the library to search for the answers. Since our school’s library may not be complete, so that means I need to make a trip to the National Library in Kalaw near Luneta. It would take me some walking and two jeepney rides from our house in Sampaloc. But with Manila’s traffic, who knows how long would that trip be?

Once I am inside the National Library, I could ask the librarian at the help desk to assist me on the subject matter that I am researching, and she could search the card catalog and give me the list of books I needed to look for. If I feel that I could do it on my own, then I would head to the area where the cabinets of the card catalogs are, and search for the numbers of the books that may contain the subject matter. Usually I would like to list at least 3 books or more.

library-card-catalogs

card catalog

Once I scribble in a small paper all the catalog numbers of the books I would like to get, which usually reads like this: SW 596 .C34 2016, then I would go to the area of the library where these books are located. I would be going up and down rows upon rows of books while looking for the specific numbered books. That may mean one book is located at one end of the library, while the other is on the opposite end, and one in a different floor.

After spending several minutes going aisle after aisle of books, only to find out that the book I am looking for is not available as somebody might be reading it, or have been checked out by another student looking for the same subject. Or worse, the book is available, but some naughty student tore up the pages that I needed to read. What a bummer!

However, if I am lucky and if all the stars align, all the books that I am looking for may all be available. Then I can take all the books, and find a table and read on the subject that I needed to research on. Or if I needed to go home and do the reading later, and if the books are allowed to be borrowed, I can go to the front desk and check out the books for a day or so.

library

typical library

Then maybe as I am heading out to the font desk to borrow the books, I would realize that I forgot my library card at home. Darn!

But wait, maybe I still can photocopy the pages I needed. So I would head out to the photocopying machine. Lucky enough I have some loose change in my pocket to pay for the xerox copies, though that means no more money for a soft drink and hopia. The photocopier is running out of ink, so the copies are so faint, but still I can read them, so that’s good enough.

All in all, to look for the particular subject in Biology that I needed to research on, it would take me at least half a day to accomplish this. That was my experience back in those days. Of course I could have just copied the assignment of my good classmate, but that’s not being a diligent student.

Back to my son, he went on to do his home work. He sat in front of our home computer and hopped into the internet. After querying  Dr. Google and after a few mouse clicks……voila! He got what he needed. It took him 15 minutes tops.

And they say doing research is hard.

(*photos taken from the web)

New Year, Old Receipts, and Memories

It was New Year’s Day. I woke up early even though I stayed up late the previous night and spent it with the company of friends, and did not sleep until past midnight to welcome the arrival of 2017.

What’s up with me? Even how late I stayed up the night before, I still wake up early the next morning. I think it is how I’m wired or just how I was trained – to wake up before the sun goes up. Though that morning, it was past 6 already, yet it was still dark. It was a Sunday too. No work, and no place I needed to go.

But since I couldn’t sleep anymore, I got out of bed, and searched for something to do. Besides, it is a new year, so better start it right. Plus in the Chinese calendar, this year is the year of the rooster. So we really should be getting up early like the rooster, right? Maybe I should have started crowing cock-a-doodle-doo or tik-ti-la-ok (that’s what Filipino rooster sounds like) to wake up the whole neighborhood.

I thought of cleaning up and vacuuming the house, but my wife and kids were still asleep, so I looked for something to do that was more quiet and muted. I found myself in the office room, where the computer and the file box of bill statements were, and decided to do the bills.

What better way to start a new year, than paying debts and doing bills?

Even though I do my bills on-line, I still keep paper bills and receipts on file. As my storage box was already bursting with old bill statements and receipts, I knew I had to get rid of some of the old ones to make room for the new.

As I was looking through the files and files of old bills, I came across the receipt and paperwork of our very first family car here in America. It was a second-hand Honda with about 50,000 miles mileage. We bought that car after I finished my training and after landing a real job. That was 17 years ago and we were still living in Florida at that time.

Having only one car at that time, and with no good public transportation system where we live, my wife and my daughter, a toddler at that time, would go with me when I go to work in the morning. They would wait in the car at the parking lot while I do my hospital rounds. From the hospital we will drive to my clinic and drop me off there. Then my wife would take the car to go wherever they needed to go, and just pick me up later in the afternoon. That way they will not be housebound the whole day, plus my wife could also do some errands like grocery shopping.

When we moved to Iowa in the middle of a harsh winter, we were ill prepared to drive in the snow, sleet and ice. And one snowy morning I ended up driving, I mean slipping, into a ditch that the car needed to be extricated. That was when I decided to trade-in our old Honda, and got myself a car with an all-wheel drive that can frolic in the snow.

While sorting old receipts, I also dug out a hospital bill from Scottsdale Arizona, issued about a decade ago. I attended a medical conference in that city, and brought my whole family along.

While in Arizona, my son who was 3 at that time, started to breathe heavily. He then also started to wheeze, that I could hear even without a stethoscope. Being a trained lung specialist, I knew that there was something wrong. That was the first time we learned that he has asthma, and that he was having a bad asthma attack.

We brought him to the nearby hospital. Not long after, he was given a nebulizer treatment (asthma medicine given via mist) in the Emergency Room. While the nebulizer was being administered with a “cute” pediatric oxygen mask that was shaped like a dinosaur snout, my son was crying. I asked him if he was in pain or if the treatment was bothering him, but that was not it.

When I continued to query what was wrong, he finally said, “It’s purple!”  He was referring to the “cute” oxygen mask that he thought was for girls. That was also the first time we learned that he does not like purple, nor does he like Barney.

I also found from my file box, stacks of old receipts from the gas company, including our very first one when they initially filled the propane gas tank of our house here in Iowa. We have gas tanks (LPG cylinders) too, when I was still living in the Philippines, but the gas tank we have here in Iowa is bigger. Much, much bigger.

Since we live beyond the outskirts of town, there are no gas pipe connection from the city to our home. So we have a large (up to 1000 gallons) underground gas tank, which needed to be filled regularly. Propane gas heats our home during winter, and powers the boiler for hot water. Even our fireplace is propane powered. Where we live, people could endure summers without air-conditioning, but would not survive winters without heaters.

When I was growing up in Manila, I wondered how could Santa Claus dropped by in a house without a chimney? I could have not thought that one day, I would be living in a house with a fireplace and a chimney, even though I don’t believe in Santa anymore. I could have not thought that winters could be this bitterly cold as well.

Even though gas was important for us, I am sure though that it was not just propane gas that kept us warm. In our home, the embers of love is much more important than the furnace and the fireplace. We have spent 12 happy winters in this house, and counting.

I was so absorbed in my thoughts that I have not noticed that the sun was already way up in the horizon. Who would imagine that a file box of bills would be such a treasure trove of nostalgia and memories?

Despite the sentimentality associated with them, I still have to make room in the file box for the new ones. Just like facing a new year – out with the old and on with the new. So I took out the old and outdated receipts, and toss them through the paper shredder.

As for the memories, I am keeping them.

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Guardians of the Galaxy: A Reminiscence

This is not a film review.

I know anybody can be a critic. Everybody has an opinion and everybody is entitled to one. You don’t have to be an expert to critique a movie. There are movies that we watched and discerned that they are good movies. Then there are those that we watched, and we felt duped and wanted our money back.

But there are films that we remember or even cherished, not because of the film itself, but because of the memories tied into them.

Maybe it was that animated movie that your whole family saw when you were young. Or maybe that romantic comedy that you saw with your crush on a date. Or perhaps that stupid action movie that you and your classmates cut class just to see it. Or maybe it was that boring drama that you watched after your girlfriend/boyfriend dumped you.

The film that I fondly remember as of recent is the “Guardians of the Galaxy.” (Spoiler alert, if you have not seen it yet.) I know a sequel is in the works and will be out by the middle of next year.

The reason I like the “Guardians of the Galaxy” was the personal events surrounding it.

guardians-of-the-galaxy

It was August 2014. I went home to the Philippines emergently to see my mother who got sick and was hospitalized. My sister sent me a message and told me that mom was gravely ill, and to come immediately if I want to see her alive.

Three days after I got the message, and after more than 24 hours of traveling, and about 8000 miles of airflight, and a ton of apprehension and jet lag, I got home.

When I came to the hospital, UERM university hospital in Quezon City, my mom came out of coma and actually was doing better. Maybe because she learned that I was coming home to see her. At least, that’s what I wanted to believe.

However, after few more days and more tests were done, it was found that her cancer from the colon, which was removed through surgery five years earlier, had come back. Now it had spread to her lungs and perhaps to other organs as well.

After evaluating all our options, we discussed with my mother asking her what she wanted to do. She firmly stated that she does not want to do any more therapy – no more surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. She decided to just wait for the inevitable to come, and she wanted to go home. “Home,” has different meanings in so many levels.

So that day we decided that as soon as she is stronger, hopefully in a couple of days, we will take her home and set up a kind of hospice-like arrangement until her days here on earth is through. It was a sad day of reckoning.

I was the bantay (watcher or guardian) that day of my mother. I know in the Philippines, it is a common practice that patients in the hospital have a bantay, to assist in every need, may it be a glass of water or help with the bedpan. Unlike in the US, a patient is mostly left alone in his/her room with just a call light to summon for help.

When my older sister came that evening to relieve me as the bantay, I really don’t want to go home, but I don’t want to stay in the hospital either, for I need to clear my head.

So I went to SM Sta. Mesa (Centerpoint) which was just a block away from UERM, to pass the time. I just want to escape from the sad reality that was happening right before my eyes.

After wandering for a while, I decided to watch a movie. The movie I watched was the “Guardians of the Galaxy.” If there would be a movie about the hospital bantays would they entitle it “Guardians of the Bedpan?”

I like sci-fi movies. So its not a surpirse that I chose to see the “Guardians.” Besides I don’t remember the other movies that were showing that time. Definitely I would not watch a drama or a depressing movie given the circumstances I was in.

I thought the concept and setting of the “Guardians” was so out of this world, that it was hardly believable. But then again, at that time and what I was going through, the farther from the reality, the better for me.

I like the featured songs of the 1970’s in that movie, music that I grew up with. I also like some of the characters of the movie. Especially Groot, the man-tree who has very unique powers, even though he can only say one line: “I am Groot!” And of course the star of the movie, Peter Quill, an unorthodox hero, who calls himself Star Lord.

But maybe it was background of the story that has a soft spot in my heart. Peter Quill lost his mother, and what remained was only her loving memory and the old songs her mother left him.

On the last scene, Peter reads an old letter from his mother, and then unwraps a gift from his mom, a cassette tape of oldies songs. As he listens to the nostalgic music, it puts him on a kind of trance. It placed me on a kind of trance as well, realizing the similarity to my own state of affairs.

I thought I was escaping, but somehow the painful reality sneaked in.

Last week was my mother’s death 2nd anniversary. It so happen that the movie the “Guardians of the Galaxy” was being shown on TV that night. I couldn’t help it. I had to watch it again.

Sure enough, it brought back memories.

(*photo taken from the web)