Lance Michael

I do not know what my brother was thinking when he named his firstborn Lance Michael but I thought it was a combative name ever bestowed on a baby boy.  Why, I only recall uttering “lance” in prayers and that goes something like “pierced with a lance.”  And Michael, of course, he is the prince of the archangels!  He drove evil away from the purest heavens. And he did it with a lance.

And  my nephew was so named.  My mother sometimes call him Lancelot.  But my brother just call him Lance.

I  met Lance two times.  First when he was a toddler discovering walking cum running.  His mother brought him from California and we had a chance to play with him for an hour.   I ran after him and he ran away from me.  He held  forks with puto in each hand.  I was afraid he might trip and hurt himself with the forks.  But he was sleek and evaded me all throughout.  We ran around the sala in circles and I didn’t catch up.  All the time I was yacking “Lance, be careful!”  But after half an hour, he suddenly stopped and looked at me.  He gave me the forks with puto.  I was so surprised and said “Why, thank you!”  And then he looked beside me, took a feeding bottle from the nursemaid, slouched on the waiting couch and drank his milk.  What could I say but “Oh Lance!”

The second time I saw Lance was in ’04 when he came for a brief vacation with his brother Louie.  This time, he was a young boy full of energy.  He played with his cousin Adam without inhibition. He dove to the floor to hide from him.  He enjoyed pizza and malls.  And he was an ace in computer games, finished one in a few hours while muttering the entire script of the Hunchback we were watching.  My first lesson on multi-tasking, huh!

Lance was a happy child.  He laughed when I showed him the naked “Oblation” posted at the entrance of the university.  I told him it was his dad’s school and he marveled at the thought.  He would have enjoyed our walk in the lagoon had I not made the mistake of stopping the taho vendor from pouring in more taho in cups.  Louie, I think, was counting, and the tantrum burst when I said enough.  Louie pinched me many times and Lance turned into a concerned elder brother taking care of Louie.

Lance prodded me to drive faster because his mother drove fast.  I showed him the unruly Filipino pedestrians jaywalking all over the streets.  And he was shocked.  I also showed him the tree in the middle of the street.  And his eyes widened.  So he learned about the Philippines!  He asked me how to close the window of the L300 and I told him he had to manually roll it up.  He smiled, quietly admonishing himself for not figuring out.  Well, had I grown up with push buttons, I definitely would not have known.  So I said “Sorry Lance, this is the Philippines.”  He never commented.  He just smiled.

Lance is a binatilyo now, so his maternal grandmother said.  She was here for Christmas.  I talked to her in her home in Quezon City.  And he is the best brother in the world, she said.  When I told my mother about that on the phone, my mom related how Lance would slice the meat before eating so Louie would not choke.  And he would usher his brother to the bathroom for toilet needs.  And how he would abandon everything he is doing just to see that Louie is all right.

What is a brother?  The answer is Lance Michael.  His name spells it all.  He is the overseer and the protector of his brother, no matter what.   God bless him for that.

And so I say my special prayers for our Lance.  So young and so dutiful.  So caring and so loving.  No doubt that is why he is called Michael, our prince!


Today is Ninos Inocentes Day!  It had been quiet all day.  Tish was busy with her sig sheets and Jean downloaded and uploaded whatever….!  I tended my garden in the morning, had a tit for tat chat with Mr. Young on the telephone, cooked carbonara which is the only fill our refrigerator has, and reread my journal… a fitting way to while the time whilst waiting for the new year.

Yesterday was Holy Family’s Day!  Fr. Eymart, our new parish priest (oh well, he had been here since September but I just forgot to write about him because I had not heard him say mass till yesterday) expounded on the meaning of each one’s role in the family. He explained why Jesus remained in Jerusalem during the Passover feast and how Mary and Joseph searched for Him for three days.   Gosh!  I had forgotten how Fr. Eymart  related the importance of family (and it was just yesterday) but I believe I was impressed by how he delivered his homily… very close to the heart.

But if there is one thing I do remember, it is the Christmas reflection of Fr. Jerry Orbos on tv.  He said the we celebrate the birth of Jesus who was born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, surrounded by sheep and cattle, visited by shepherds and three magi who believed in His majesty.  The Babe turned into a boy who helped His foster father Joseph with carpentry till He was thirty.  Then He lived a solitary life heeding to the Father.  He was without family preaching beside His apostles.  Many people listened to Him even if He had no credentials.  He had no school grades nor a college degree.  Yet His teachings penetrate our hearts at this very moment.  He had been hanged on the cross, but he continues to save us this very moment.  Jesus walked the sand-filled desert.  He never had a limousine to transport Him.  Yet He is hailed to by the world today as the Messiah!  Jesus had given us the Supreme Sacrifice.  It is our turn now to ease that a bit.

Our Family’s Christmas Story

My family had always welcomed Christmas with much merriment.  I remember the week long preparation of marketing and cooking.   My grandmother Natividad Manalac Caraos had made sure her children and grandchildren, her sister Conching and her brood, converge in her humble home along Ivory Street and gather for an annual celebration of the Lord Jesus’ birth.  Lola Naty would have her roasted rice and minced peanuts for her kare-kare ready by Christmas eve. The salad comes in three forms: the traditional fruit salad with buko or coconut flesh, chicken macaroni in mayonnaise, and my favorite diced potato with carrots in mayo.  But of course the festive table includes much more than that.  We have rellenong bangus, arroz valenciana, embotido, morcon, diniguan at puto,  soup, pancit bijon, spaghetti, ham, queso de bola, ube, leche flan, apples, bananas, watermelon and cantaloupes.    Then, on command, the children sing and dance.  Prizes come in the form of crisp, clean bills. The parlor games and the exchange gifts drew the fun and the laughter just before the adults subside into their kwentuhan in chavacano.  Just when everybody was about to feel tiredness, then Lola Naty would shower the whole sala with her peso coins.  Young and old would dive the floor in frenzy.  And when the last coin had been retrieved, Lola Naty would require everyone to fall in a single file for her aguinaldo.  The amount usually depends upon the necessity of the recipient.  Those who need more blessings receive more.  Nobody questions that.  Everyone is just happy for all the bounty.

As it is, time has traveled fast.  Lola Naty is just a memory.  And so is Uncle Tony who provided much of the financial support.  Some families had also hopped into the other side of the world.  A new generation had grown up knowing just the names of their relatives.  Aunts and uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces are but mere images in photographs.  With Facebook on the internet though, the ties are currently being renewed.

This year, our family had our mini party at Cabalen’s eat-all-u-can. The treat is courtesy of my mom and dad in California.   My parents are very grateful to the Lord for blessing Tami and Tish  eighteen wonderful years.  So the two debutantes invited the family not just to a Christmas gathering but to their debuts as well.

The following are some snapshots taken at the megamall.  The quiet toddler on my lap is Julia.  She has slight fever.  The bubbly girl is Audrey who believes she is a grown-up like the legal ladies Jean, Tami and Tish.


The University of the Philippines, aside from academic excellence, is quite famous for two December events, the Oblation Run and the Lantern Parade.

The Oblation Run is also known as the ritual dance of the brave.  That is so because the participants, neophytes actually of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity, run the Arts and Sciences corridors in total nudity.  The origin of the rites, someone told me, started as a way of protestation to the martial rule of the 70’s.  One student was impelled to run naked to portray hubad na bayani or naked hero, implying that there must be no obstacle to human rights and governance must be transparent to the naked eye.  Through the decades, the same sentiments had been sent to the president  in power and the placards the runners carry spell the grievances of the common tao. The issues depend upon the story of the times, like VFA ibasura which literally translates Visiting Forces Agreement put in the garbage. And the tradition, I was told, also became some sort of initiation for aspiring frat applicants. One must be brave enough to carry on with whatever task there is to do, even if one has to expose bushy curlicue strands that are better off shielded underneath the pants.  The runners also carry red roses and are free to hand the flowers to the girls they like.  As it is, with the coverage of the local media, the homosexuals had come in throngs and  obscured the path to the giggling shy girls.  Shy girls means freshmen indoctrinated to the harsh realities of university life.  The upperclass girls had had their view and would rather attend to more pressing reviews for impending long tests. What’s with the run, one prim coed quipped, those things look disgusting!  True, my dear,  beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, ha ha!  Just click the shutter!

The Lantern Parade is the culmination of all university activities for the year.  It brings the entire student body right at the two kilometer  university oval for a procession of their respective college lanterns.  The artworks are mostly illuminated symbols of Christmas like a star, or a belen.  But through the years, characters and issues had dominated  the creative presentations of the idealistic youth.  Gigantic replicas of boxing legend Manny Pacquiao and his adoring mom Aling Dionisia elicited the most joyful comments in last night’s pomp and circumstance.  The alumni, grey-haired but still dashing, enjoyed the White Mammoth and the Blue Dragon.  The traffic enclosed the peripheral jurisdiction of the academe and the parking lots had been filled to the brim.  But not one sighed a complaint.  Families graced the occasion even if the babies were too young to appreciate the show.  The glittering lights  and extra-ordinarily loud music  was enough preoccupation.  The concessionaires were busy, too, with a  hamburger priced at a hundred and fifty pesos and a small piece of native bibingka at forty-five pesos.  And a bottled water costed thirty.  Nay a murmur, everyone was just happy to eat and walk and watch.  If one ain’t got money for chocolate crepe, the banana cue and fishball peddlers were unbelievably ever present.  An incredible display of  fireworks closed the merriment.  As it is, the students felt obliged to assemble again next year, and the next after that, and the next, till that age when one comes back to reminish only the days of being once a student of this campus called UP.

Kuya Allan’s Homecoming

On the eve of typhoon Ondoy’s devastation of the National Capital Region, our family was comfortably seated at McDonald’s party place in Katipunan.  We had another dinner date with Kuya Allan, the eldest cousin of the brood.  He was home for a brief visit.  He had migrated his entire family to Vancouver, Canada in ’03.  This was his first journey home.  We already had one lunch date at Dampa, Libis, but as in any Filipino family, despedida makes the blood bonding complete.

McDonald’s was SRO.  The rain was heavy which surprised every motorist.  The natural instinct was to seek refuge at the fastfood centers and avoid the looming traffic.  But it was on every one’s mind.  The tables were all occupied and the counter queues extended to the space outside the entrance doors.  Since our entourage counted twenty, the manager opened up the balloon filled menagerie for us.  As luck would have it, we had the entire nook to ourselves and we had the most enjoyable evening of kwentuhan at bidahan.  As cozy as we were chatting and the children busy with balloons, no one was wary of the impending doom that would befall many just down the stretch of the highway.

Jonjon initiated the talk, commenting on the college girls’ noses perched on thick textbooks.  He said that he had topped most of the exams he took and he did not have to bury his face on the pages.  The trick is to study whatever is needed beforehand, review when necessary, and do not teach all the formula to your classmates. That elicited a good laugh and started the ball rolling.  Jonjon related his frat initiation and blamed Kuya Allan for turning him black and blue.  Had Kuya Allan not allowed himself to be paddled ages ago, then they would not have wondered what could that be.  Boys will be boys , I guess.  Glad the few men in our women-dominated family still stand tall.

And our discussion flowed to the adventures Kuya Allan had in his adopted country.  Needless to say, the ache pinched the hearts as the eyes controlled the tears.  Kuya Allan was an electrical engineer and he had a good job at the Philippines’ foremost electrical company.  He had a decent home in Lagro, another pad for rent, a van for traveling, and another utility vehicle for spare.  His two elder children were in college, the first one about to earn her degree.  The youngest was in grade two.  And his wife, Ate Cynthia, was a nurse at the waterworks.  Yet, Kuya Allan wanted to make his dream of venturing the world come true.  He did not foresee the obstacles that would make the realization painful.

At first, his relatives on his father side, received them well.  They were allotted a comfortable shelter in an unoccupied room.  But as days turned into weeks, the romancing ended and the harsh reality of surviving gripped the entire family.  The burden was heavy on Kuya Allan’s shoulders.  He was the head of the family.  And he was shocked to know that even blood ties mean nothing in an alien land.  The relatives gave him the blank stare and shrug the shoulder treatment.  One has got to do it on his own – alone!

Kuya Allan accepted his fate and swallowed his pride.  He endured eight hours of smoldering by day and dishwashing by night. He rotated his head 180 degrees and willed to make life begin anew.  And he did.  While stretching his stiff neck from smoldering, he glimpsed at some people walking from a distance.  When he asked a fellow worker what  institution they had  for a neighbor, he learned that it was a home for the mentally handicapped.  Without hesitation, he applied to be a volunteer.  When the interviewers asked him what experience has he got with mental patients, he related the sad story of our lone uncle, Tony Caraos, who lost his sanity in the war, and yet lived a full life with us because we treated him as normally as we can. And Kuya Allan was accepted immediately.  Little did he know that a routine as easy as caring for someone mentally deficient would give him the money he needed to sustain his family’s needs.  All he did was usher the patients to their next activity, like watching television.  Or he would sling his arm on the shoulders and bring them somewhere to walk and talk.  Most of the time, he did the talking telling the patients I am Allan Garcia, I am an engineer…etcetera. Before he knew it, they would have coursed kilometers on end and all he did was practice his lines for future interviews.  And so Kuya Allan cried, remembering  Uncle Tony who seemed to be with him every inch of the way.  And he drove the van with the mental patients to all the parks around the area.  And Kuya Allan had his grand tour of this side of Canada. He uttered a prayer of thanks to Uncle Tony for never deserting him in the greatest trials of his life.

Kuya Allan was given an engineer’s job not long after.  But he continued to spend a free night or two at the mental institution, watching tv with the patients, just sort of keeping them company. Or he would sleep the long night to serve as the patients’ night guard.  It was a way a paying back for the blessings he received. That gave him a sum to enable his wife Ate Cynthia and youngest daughter Yanna  a journey home in ’07.   The eldest,  Tata,  had married and born a beautiful girl called Sophie.  Ico came home in June. And Kuya Allan had his six years after leaving this beloved islands which, he said, could never be forgotten.

I received a text message from Kuya Allan the afternoon of September 26, during Ondoy’s heavy downpour.  He asked Kamusta kayo? And I said Lakas tubig pasok bahay. And he knew that tragedy had struck.  My other cousins’ homes were penetrated by the muddy flashflood.  That left us a night of total darkness and fear.  Little did we know that many had perished and many more had been clinging to dear life.

Kuya Allan had boarded his plane back to Canada as scheduled the following day, a Sunday.  I was unable to communicate with him anymore because the cellphone batteries were dead.  And nowhere could the gadgets be charged because of the power blackout.  I was also making my route checking on who needs help. Some nephews and nieces had been stranded in schools.  Nephew Adam was trapped somewhere in Katipunan and walked his way home the morning of his birthday, September 27.  He was able to capture images of the flood waters in his cellphone.  But the sight of dead bodies left him sleepless for so many nights.  I also spotted canine carcasses and some marines carrying an unknown corpse in a stretcher, but I swiveled my head to the mounting garbage instead.  I do not like the sight of the dead in my memory.

Long after the calamity, I thought about Kuya Allan and my prodding him to write his stories in a journal.  He said Ikaw na lang. I said okay. It is sad that I had to write his story alongside the most devastating typhoon that paralyzed our country.  Yet, if I recall right, Kuya Allan always leaves with a bang.  When he departed for Canada in ’03, the Trillanes group sieged Manila Peninsula Hotel in order to topple down the incumbent government.  This time he left again with another bang, much grimmer though.  But that is Kuya Allan.  Godspeed, wherever you are!

Photographs and Memories

If there is one thought that makes me sad this Christmas, it is my mom having a difficult time alone.  Mommy had been a fighter ever since her miserable existence as a child of the war. But she made life better by selling kakanin while her friends troop the queue to the classroom. A quarter late for her grade level, she still emerged with honors and was always accelerated to the next level till she graduated valedictorian.  With innate intelligence for clerical work, she became the admirals’ favorite secretary.  Not only was her stenography errorproof, she also served as editor to the commodores’ command, wah ha!  From the Naval Supply Depot to the Blue Cross of America, mommy’s typing speed and tact work had left indelible marks to both bosses and co-workers.  Not to mention the natural camaraderie she created just by being truthful and sincere.

But that had been in a time long past.  Mommy now takes care of my ailing dad in a nursing home.  And she attends to my nephew with special needs.  At 74, she had to give up her home in Palmdale so she could function with the people she loved.

Mommy sent me forex boxes with her evening gowns and pajamas, bath robes and pant suits, shoes and treasure boxes of framed photographs and memories.  My brother’s LA flat had been filled with her things and these must occupy the pedestal of my closet and my sala.  I turned a bit emo and senti while unraveling the items from the large, brown balikbayan boxes.  I never realized how my mom took much time trimming the pictures of her family and framing them in precious picture holders.  They were all done with love, I’m sure.  Our family photo circa 1981 now hangs by my front threshold.  And so does the frame of the grandchildren when they were small.

The world has so many cares and woes, but I keep a special prayer that God takes good care of mom.  She deserves an angel to make things lighter for her.  Please God, help my mom!

In My Diary 10 December 2009

Mist had covered my view of the Sierra Madre Mountains as I passed by the Tumana bridge four times this morning.  Sigh, when the tough gets going, the going gets tough.  Jean woke up late for her 8 o’clock call time and demanded that I bring her to school without her sister who had been dillydallying pending her 10 o’clock class.  I conceded, of course!  What can I do?  She needed to be in school.  But I couldn’t prompt the other one who just took a bite after a long night’s romance with her lab review work.  Gosh!  And it’s human rights day today. Should have been mother’s rights day, too.  But as the mists shielded the silhouette of the majestic mountains, so did my penchant for complaining disappeared.  Instead, the mists reminded me to research for God’s creation with the ones visible to the naked eye.  So I sang my favorite tune… Glory to the Father, sing glory to the Son, glory to the Spirit, glory, glory everone, glory on the earth He made it, glory up above, glory glory everybody we have seen the Father’s love. And I felt better.

Jean turned 19 yesterday and I am glad she  turned out to be such a fine, young lady.  Although she still likes a little glamour on the side, she sticks with the simple taste when it comes to clothing and make-up.  Sigh, though, no matter how I sweep the front yard, no one yet comes to woo me for my girls.  I guess I should make a personal transformation.  Must lose some weight and must fix the hair.  Children most likely turn out to be like their parents.  I must make a drastic change if I want suitors knocking on my door…..

Tish and her PMHS org bagged the 1st place award in the College of Science Carolfest last Friday.  Their rendition of Pasko Na Naman  obviously had the best interpretation and their cute presentation of TL Ako Sa Iyo made it easy for  the judges  to give an overwhelming unanimous decision of their choir as  not only  best in vocals but in costume and choreography as well.  But there was also the Rockhounds, an exclusive male org, that is worth remembering for hilarious entertainment.  No feather in their cap but they would live in the memories of those who witnessed their gag.

I almost forgot…Carie came to visit Winnie and me.  Nomie was supposed to come , too, in our impromptu reunion but work got in the way.  I therefore conclude that jobs are really detrimental to friendships, ha ha.  I was glad Winnie was able to snatch a couple of hours for lunch break.  And Nick gladly opened up his home for our hurried hustle.  Carie brought home-cooked adobo from the far away Batangas.  There was also puto and kutsinta courtesy of her Kuya Rene, and our favorite pasalubong, panutsang mani.  But most important was seeing Carie again.  She put on a little weight but as hearty to see as ever.  Suplada at kuripot, yet as thoughtful and as gracious in her tiny presents and kwento as always.  Nick and Winnie’s Christmas decorated home served as a lovely backdrop to our gossip, and we talked about Nomie  of course, aside from our own inuendoes.  I am glad I have friends I keep no secret with.  And when we see each other again, no matter the span of time, we could always relate our heartaches and our joys.  God must have loved me for giving me Winnie, Carie, and yes, Nomie, even if she was absent, for friends. Makes life sane even if we talk about hot flashes!  Ugghhh!

Gotta cut this short.  Forex has arrived!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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