Friday, May 25, 2007


I parked next to a white Kia at the farthest end of the library parking lot. I needed a place to hang out while waiting to see if my Guyana boys can get me in and fix my car. Raj said to come back later that day or bring it in on a weekday. "Today is just too crazy" Mahesh said with an embarrassed smile. Mahesh and Raj are brothers who work the shop while going to college. Mahesh also sells real estate on top of all that. Both boys are so so polite. I love them, I want them to succeed but I fear that if they get their college degrees they might not fix my car anymore. Who can I trust then?
The sun has not come out and it was starting to rain. Not wanting to go in the library and not wanting to go home, I decided to read the Dalai Lama's biography I had carried in my bag. I would read a page then I would close my eyes, romanticizing the few raindrops that escaped into my left arm. Oh, the raindrops! it transported me back to my childhood when I would sleep on top of the pile of the newly harvested corn which occupied our little house. The tin roof had holes and rusty too-the rust would fall with the raindrops. The corn without the husks, felt cool on my little body, but it was the dribble of the raindrops on my skin that left me poetic.

Then the rain stopped. I looked towards the Kia and I noticed that there was an elderly couple sitting inside. The woman in the drivers seat was reading a newspaper and the man was slouched on the seat with his eyeglasses on, asleep. I continued reading for another 20 minutes then decided I should leave and check on my Guyana boys, but something about the couple on the Kia made me reflect. Sadly. She was no longer reading the paper but was staring out. Her head cradled on the headrest, she would move her head once in a while then stare out again. The man was now awake but they were not talking. He, too, was staring out but comfortably. So why don't they go home?
I lingered because I needed answers. Then I remembered. For the same reason why Don and I did the same thing before. So many times.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

My need to reconnect

I have a special attachment to foods or memory of foods. Before science found a way to spoil my dinner, foods really tasted like food. I say this with nostalgia because I remember my childhood in Cebu. Our house was surrounded with fruit bearing trees and they grew and produced without any aid of fertilizer or pesticides. I remember fruits oozing of the ripe smell. We had several mango trees and to make them bloom, we would burn fresh tree leaves under them. To protect the fruits from insects, we wrapped them individually with used newspaper. We bought the newspaper from the rich people. When it was time to make the mangoes bloom, my dad and I would hike up to the mountain to cut down some trees for burning. We dry the lower trunk and use them for firewood and the upper trunk with fresh leaves to smoke the mangoes. I learned to transport them with my bare hands and pull them efficiently; hold on to the biggest trunk and piggy back the smaller ones on top. Those were special times with my dad because he would buy sweet bread for my lunch while his is the poor mans meal of rice wrapped in banana leaves. Also, along the way he would let me climb and pick up some wild berries. One particular berry is the "lomboy". It is violet with white flesh and a hard seed. When ripe it gets real dark in color, plump and sweet, but leaves your tongue dyed in black-purplish color.
Now, everytime I am in Cebu, I would try to find them in the street market but I seldom find them and when I do, they are not plump nor are they sweet. So are the mangoes. I look for them not to eat, but mostly out of longing for the past. The "lomboy" has become almost extinct, while the mangoes are now grown abundantly and made to produce commercially.
A lot of grocery stores in Dallas sells mangoes, but I don't usually buy them because they are not the same variety as the one's I was used to--they are fibrous and does not turn yellow orange in color. The Asian market carries the Philippine variety but they are expensive and I only want it more out of nostalgia than wanting to eat it.
I like to take long walks by the creek behind my apartment. Thick cluster of trees and bushes with berries unfamiliar to me meanders with the creek. I look up to God, thank Him, and I smile to myself. The sight is my opiate for the day -regardless that I come home with swollen eyes and raw nostrils from the allergens.
Whenever I pass by the display of mangoes in the store (even when I am not buying) subconsciously I always stop- to stare or to touch. It is nostalgia, but, I have this need of wanting to romanticize the past.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Any Number will Do

"We know how old Martin was when the Japanese killed him" my uncle said it almost without emotion, "but the rest of us, we don't know our birthdays." My uncle was referring to his siblings. Martin is their oldest brother who was killed by the Japanese during world war II. My mom's name is Valentina , she told us her birthday is on Valentines day. When we asked how old she was she would give us an approximate. No one bothered to question her, because we don't celebrate hers or her kids birthdays anyway. I sure did not remember celebrating my own until I had a job. In the Philippines, the birthday celebrant is expected to treat people to food, unlike in America.
"Money is so tight to just spend it in one day" she would explain. She would inculcate in our heads to be glad just to have food on the table every day.
In our household Christmas and birthdays were just the same as any other day. Last August, I gathered my aunts and uncles (2 aunts, 2 uncles living) and I asked them about their birthdays. All four of them don't know! "How old do you think you are?" I asked in disbelief and amazement. "Well, our parents told us to count 2 years apart from the oldest and 4 years to the youngest one." I said that is fine, "but what year do you start with?" They believed Martin was born in 1911. As we were talking, I was amazed at how unimportant or unsymbolic their birthdays meant to them. Since nothing special is done on anyone's birthday, why care? "So how old was my mom when she died? " All four of them started talking at the same time and giving their best guesses. Their best guess was what they had come to accept. So we figured 80 is about right. She would have been 39 when she had me. I am the youngest of 5 siblings and I came 7 years after the 4th one. They did not expect to have another baby. Make sense why I was called a "precipitate" in the family.
"So how come my mom knew her birthday is on Valentines day?" I pressed on. "It was later in our adult years that we made it up, because her name rhimes with Valentines day." They said matter-of-factly. My grandparents did not believe in them sitting in the shade learning how to read and write when they should be growing food in the field. None of them were born in the hospital and none of them went to school, so that eliminated the need for a birth certificate. They did have a baptismal certificate because every Catholic baby has to be baptized or the witch will snatch the baby away from your house. My grandparents were not church-going people but the long arm of the Catholic law had a chokehold on them.

When I first got married a baptismal certificate was required as I did not have a birth certificate. I went to the church registrar where an old lady flipped through this black book with yellowed pages and edges that looked like it was chewed on by some bugs. She could not find my records so I told her when I was told I was born and when I was baptized. (Catholic baptism) Back then, before computers, a bribe was cheaper. It did not bother me that they could not find my records. I never was one to put a special meaning on birthdays anyway- my parents attitude must have rubbed on me.
But lately, as my 50th birthday is approaching, I ponder. Not pondering because I suddenly think birthdays are special, but because ,I feel turning 50 is. Also, after my sister died at 45, every year after I turned 45, I considered it to be a bonus from God. I used to question my being born at all, but now I am confident that I have a purpose built in me by God. As He told Jeremiah in the Old Testament, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you." So before they carve my tombstone and inscribe my date of birth and my date of expiration, I want to make sure I fill in the dash. Not with wishes but with accomplishments. And 50 is as good as any number to start with.