It was Eden, our youngest sister, who brought up the idea. “We’re getting old,” she said. “Why don’t the four of us spend a week together.”
But great ideas don’t always translate into action. Not immediately anyway. Even in retirement we find ourselves unable to somehow drop what we’re doing, and simply go.
Finally, Eden and her husband Len, booked a place near Bethany Beach, which forced the issue. My younger brother, David, and his wife Elma flew in from Columbia, MO. Eden and my other younger sister Mimi drove in from Buffalo and Ithaca, NY. Elvie and I packed our Prius and we all converged in a three-bedroom house.
At last. Four siblings, born a year apart in the mid-40s, spending an intimate time together since arriving in the U.S. in the 1960s.
It’s not like we haven’t seen each other since then. Our extended family – four generations of aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces and grandkids – hold family reunions every two years. But these biennial weekend gatherings don’t lend themselves to intimate conversations.
Soon as we sat down for our first dinner, David started recalling how we all came to the U.S. By boat, as it happened, 20 days at sea. At that time an ocean liner, the S/S President Cleveland, traveled between Manila and San Francisco. It was the cheapest ticket to America.
Our parents came first, in the early 60s, as students. They availed of scholarships from Methodist Colleges in Missouri, scholarships they later secured for their four children. Miriam followed, then David and Eden. Then me.
After getting our college degrees, we each looked for jobs. When the INS found out we were all out of status, they started deportation proceedings. My parents lobbied their congressman, who filed a bill solely to keep David in the U.S. Miriam was visited next by INS agents. But an outpouring of letters from the church, where she worked, appealing to the immigration court judge made a big difference. Impressed, the Judge allowed Mimi to stay.
By this time, my parents got their green cards and could petition for me and Eden.
Hence, the trajectories of our lives changed. Rather than being sent back to the Philippines, we went on to pursue successful careers: David as a hospital administrator, Mimi as a social worker, Eden as a nurse, and me as library supervisor.
We’re still trying to connect all the dots. One constant is the frequent movement my family took to get to where we are today: From Nueva Ecija, we uprooted ourselves and moved to Mindanao, settling in such places as Davao, Cotabato and Lanao. Here in the U.S., home is wherever the family is, and it’s never one permanent place. For a few years, it was in Columbia. Then Salamanca, NY. Tired and weary of winters, our parents retired in Biloxi, Miss. Our mother passed away in 1983, our father in 2005.
Most of the stories we shared were about growing up in a farm in Davao where we learned manual labor, living with grandparents in Guimba and doing household chores, playing pranks on our grade school teachers, and marrying our significant others and how Mother orchestrated it all.
There was a lot of ribbing. We laughed a lot recalling our woes and miseries. Indeed, time heals all wounds.
We may not have talked a lot about our parents but we felt mamang and papang’s presence at the dinner table. The Old Testament shaped their outlook in life, prompting our little rebellions when we were young. But their values of hard work, a good education, service to the community and a strong faith in God continue to nurture us today.
To honor them, we sang their favorite Methodist hymns. We sang in four-part harmony, the way they taught us when we were kids. Amazingly, for a bunch of 70-year-olds, we can still hit the notes.
We vowed to do this again next year.
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