Friday, December 10, 2010

December 10, 2010

Home visit, part 1

I'm not used to this. To be home and not working, with no deadlines to meet. I am a working stff who doesn't know how to relax. But I've also gotten used to my space, my privacy, my solitude and this has been intense family time for me. One of these days, I'll get Poch to kidnap me for a day, just to gete my bearings back.

It is also an odd arrangement to have Edmund around all the time. And he hasn't exactly been pleasant. Plus, my money is running out fast. In fact, everyone's money is running out fast.

But I am actually happy to have Monica home with the kids. It is a good thing they have a condo to stay in -- thanks heaps, Ed Morato! -- or it would be really be a tight squeeze here at home. It already is, most of the day when they're all here.

Tomorrow, we're going out, I still don't know where. We'll take a drive somewhere pleasant. Thanks to Poch Lozano, we have access to a large van so we can travel together in one vehicle.

Maya is such a delight. A patient, happy child, the smilingest little girl in the world. I love it when she sleeps on my chest. Its the sweetest thing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

24 November 2010

Yesterday, I was in the presence of goodness and it affected me so deeply, I was teary-eyed all throughout.

It was Howard Dee's 80th birthday, and I was privileged to be there. Viel texted me on Monday afternoon inviting me to the mass and lunch the next day. I dropped everything to be at San Jose Seminary for 11:30 am mass followed by lunch.

It was such a loving celebration of a life lived fully and well by a man so humble and compassionate, and who is so palpably close to God. Fr. Arevalo spoke of Howard Dee's five friends -- God, Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Joseph, and his wife Betty. Such a wondrous life he has had, totally dedicated to his God, country, people and family. And I am so privileged to have known him and worked with him and learned fom him for the past 18 years.

At the lunch, Betty Dee told us about the life of her husband. He was the fifth of 11chldren, not born to wealth and of poor health. When he was courting her, he said, he had spent the first 20 years olf his life learning, and would spend the next 20 working. And the rest of his life, he would spend in the service of God and country. And that is exactly how he has lived his life.

Betty spoke about the three women in Howard Dee's life, according to the late Cardinal Sin. He said the first was Mary, the second Cory, and Betty only came third. She laughed saying, it's ok as long as I'm not number four! They've been married 52 years and this was the first time Howard had so many people come on his birthday. And the only way this could be possible was they kept it a secret from him.

It was good to be there -- hearing mass at the chapel in San Jose, listening to Fr. Arevalo, and just watching Howard Dee sit with his head bowed, his eyes closed tight, as if in struggle with himself whether or not to accept the kind and admiring words of his friend at the pulpit. It was just what I needed. To be in the presence of such goodness was to be refreshed, to quench the thirst that was killing my soul, to be in touch with that part of me that has been lying dormant, unreachable to my cluttered mind and heart.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Howard Dee in my life. And for others whom You have allowed me to encounter and who have brought me closer to you -- Gasty Ortigas, Fr. Arevalo, Cory Aquino, Rapa Lopa, Sister Andy, Fr. Joel Tabora, Eva Galvey. There are many others You have sent my way just when I needed what they had to give. By their presence in my life, I know that You love me.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

22 November 2010

I woke up at 4 am. I knew this would happen since i went to bed at 930 last night. I tried to read but I couldn't finish a page. Didn't even bother to turn on the TV. I just drifted into sleep.

And when I woke up, my mind was full of details -- bills to be paid, budgetting for the holidays, my meetings this week, and preparing for Monica's arrival on December 4. Bring bed sheets to borrowed condo, buy toiletires and breakfast food. And the logistics of moving her brood about -- she's arriving with a baby and two young boys, with stroller and luggage. Should I try and get a pass to help her get through the baggage area and customs? Details. Details. Am I a worry wart or what?

Call Rapa to ask Bodet for a NAIA pass.
Call Ed Mo to ask for key to condo.
Tell Poch we're picking up his van at 3 PM on December 4.
Finish all my deadlnes before December 4.

I have listed down all my immediate tasks, hoping I can get them all done in time. Before Monica arrives, I have to get the PBSP write-ups and Bei's request, and the Bayan brochure out of the way. I'll gt them done. I work best on a deadline.

Meanwhile, its getting light outside. In Mandaluyong where I live, the cocks start crowing at around 2 am. But strangely, they quiet down at around 330 until 430. Then the chorus resumes. I've gotten used to it. The crowing no longer wakes me. It is a given in a neighborhood as tightly packed as this.

It is the yapping dogs that I cannot stand. I think if you own a dog, you must see to it that it is comfortable so it doesn't inconvenience your neighbors. One morning, I awoke to the incessant yelping of a dog who was obviously in need of some attention. It was the dog of the neghbor downstairs who was left outside for the night. I wouldn't kill the dog but I could see myself strangling my neighbor for inflicting such cruelty on an animal.

Speaking of dogs, I have just realized that I love Ice Tea, our scrappy little Aspin at home. In Sydney, I fell in love with Jack, but it was some kind of forbidden love since he was under disciplinary action -- meaning he was undergoing strict training under my son-in-law with rules of behaviour that I tended to violate -- and he wasn't bathed too often and so I got really dirty and smelly when I played with him. But Jack is a handsome black lab, Ice Tea is not. He's a common dog, wih traces of some pedigree watered-down through several generations of cross-breeding, probably in some back alley. His body is overly long and his front paws toe in. But its his dopey ears that get me every time.

All my life, my experience with dogs has been negative. I hated -- make that feared -- dogs. All dogs. Cute ones, handsome ones, ugly ones, freindly and fierce ones. I'd cross the street when I saw a dog on my path. It didn't matter that it wagged its tail in friendship. I just hated those yappy critters.

But now I seem to be hooked. Ice Tea comes up to me and puts his paws on my lap, asking to be petted and I stop whatever I'm doing to oblige him. I have a feeling I know where this is going. I see myself and my need to be tactile in Ice Tea. Now I know why a lot of people need a dog. They're lonely. They need to touch and be touched. And there's no more loyal, more dependable creature on earth than a dog.

On that note, allow me to say, Good Morning World, and start my day's work.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I must, i will write something everyday

Thursday, November 18, 2020

So this is what it feels like to be dry. I am bored with my work. I have no conversation. I cannot find the words for my thoughts. I am so distracted, I can’t finish writing a sentence.

Instead of chatting, I tend to whine. I am so boring. I have no original insights. And I can’t even be funny anymore.

My soul is drying up. I thirst for a shot, of what, I don’t know.

Listened to a writer talk about writing last night. For a moment there, I was high. He spoke a language I understood completely. And I just wanted to cry.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Another unproductive day, work-wise. But I did write a short blog this morning. It was not great but I liked that it was easy to write. It flowed quite easily at 5 AM, and I kept it to 300 words. I should write something short every day. 300 words. A small story. A single insight. An exercise in thinking, in stringing words together, in writing. Tomorrow, I will write again for an hour in the morning. Then I will go into my work. No TV, No FB. No Internet. I can do it. I will do it. Get the work out by Monday morning. There is much to do next week. Meetings, meeting, meetings.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Good morning, world!

Last night, I went to the TOWNS Christmas Party. I’ve been avoiding going over the years because going to TOWNS affairs always costs. But this year, Mel Tiangco offered her home and had the party catered. And there was no exchange gift. Just come and enjoy the sisterhood.

There were issues that hung in the air --- political, professional, personal – but they didn’t get in the way of people expressing their strong opinions and still having arousing good time. There was laughter, empathy, brilliance, gratitude, generosity, camaraderie – and compassion. Egos were in check as most of us girls just wanted to have fun.

I came in a t-shirt with a plunging neckline, carefully made-up and in uncomfortable heels, fully aware that I had dressed up for the women, which is something I do not do as consciously when I’m out with men. Why is that? Am I that competitive? Or is it that I don’t go out much and it was fun getting dolled up? Or perhaps it is because it is ‘safe’ to live out my fantasies in the company of women.

Whatever. Now it’s back to reality. Focus, focus, Meiling. You will meet your deadline TODAY.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Glenmore Park, Sydney, Australia

23 September 2010

I've been here five weeks. I didn't think I'd survive four, but at the end of five weeks with ten days to go before I leave for home, I find that I am settling in very well to the life here. Well, to the life here in Monica and Edge's house. I haven't really been out there navigating through Aussie society. I've just been home helping with housework and caring for Maya. I've cooked, cleaned house, done laundry, even sewed bed lnens for Maya's crib and made her two body pillows. And I've enjoyed myself immensely.

I keep telling myself that I am ejoying myself because I know it isn't forever -- that I will go home one day to resume life as I've always known it -- which is an endless stream of writing assignments. Pure drudgery, but it brings in the bacon.

I realized being here and truly enjyoing chopping onions, hanging up laundry, picking up sfter the boys, and sewing and darning, that I can do these very well and I am happy doing them. the reason I never did them was because I was always busy making a living and doing anything that was not work as I've known it has always made me feel guilty about 'wastng' precious time. Even reading books and watching movies on dvd have been anathema since these are non-producive pursuits.

Which has made me realize how much I've missed in life -- the small joys of home making, the ability to relax and have 'me' time. Now I can't wait to retire and live my twilight years pleasing myself and my grandchildren.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Me and my APO

31 May 2010

Watching the third to the last APO show at Music Museum last Thursday, I saw my adult life pass before me, in slow motion and in vivid color. As expected, the experience was as tearful as it was laden with laughter.

Actually, it began when I was in college and Jim was in high school, just learning how to play the guitar. With siblings Gabby, Raffy, Tictac and Lory, we sang folk songs and Beatles songs with Jim groping for the right chords on his Lumanog that Tictac bought for him on his 12th birthday. We sang at home around the dining table, in the car during long drives, and later, on stage -- this time just Lory, Jim and me -- after we were noticed by Sonny Joaquin at a bonfire in Cresta Ola, his family's resort in La Union.

Jim was young and generally cooperative, but he had his tantrums and his idiocyncracies. A full moon, for example, could mean any of two mishaps -- he would have a bum stomach, or he would mess up his chords. And on our very first gig in Baguio, he almost walked out when he saw the handmade posters announcing our participation in the show as "The Paredes Sisters". Although Lory and I were having too much fun and we tended to ignore his angst, Jim was the all-important third wheel in our trike without whose guitar-playing we could not perform.

When Jim was in high school, he had this big barkada who hung out a lot at home. Gus Cosio, Sonny Santiago, Chito Kintanar, Butch Dans, Lito de Joya are just a few of the big gang of Ateneo high school kids who, like my family, would spontaneously break into song. I remember them signing "Satin Doll" in many voices, plus choreography. They were delightful.

Somehow, their number whittled on four or five regulars and when I got married in 1970, I asked Jim of he could get his group together to sing at my wedding. At the rehearsals the day before, Jim, Danny, Boboy, Lito de Joya and Chito Kintanar practiced the mass songs they knew from being members of Onofre Pagsanghan's Dulaang Sibol. Fr. Joe O'Hare, SJ, who was the officiating priest, suggested they do "Let it Be" to introduce the Gospel. I loved it. The wedding ceremony went without a hitch, the music was wonderful, I was so happy. Until the end when, as Ed and I went down the aisle, the group broke into a spirited "Suicide is Painless" from the movie MASH.

Since then, I have not been shocked or awed by anything the APO has ever done.

They soon needed a name and my brother Ducky suggested Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society, which was ironic enough for the Seventies generation.

APO has since been a large part of my family's life. Ed, who was a TV director, got them to perform a political spoof in the Gridiron on TV, using songs from Jesus Christ Superstar to pan Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos. They mounted small shows in my Mom's backyard, where the ruins of what was once a set for LVN movies was the perfect setting for moonlit concerts where they performed with the "Two of Us", and other up-coming singers of the day.

When the APO held their first farewell concert at the Meralco Theater in 1972, they asked Ed to be their director. They had graduated from college and Jim was leaving for Turkey as an exchange student. But the APO already had a following and they had to say goodbye. The theater was full on both nights.

Oh, they were great entertainers, four cute guys singing covers and their first tentative compositions and doing gags they have become famous for. Lito de Joya's "What's a G, man" is an enduring memory. The boys were young, good-looking, smart, wise-cracking, talented, and they did the entire show in English. They were Ateneo boys, after all.

A very welcome bonus was the intermission number by the George and Raffy Black Gang Clique -- a rather spontaneous faux circus act by Danny's brother George and my brother Raffy who brought the house down with their stunts.

I watched on the two nights of the show, marveling at how they had recycled and expanded on family jokes and gags from our childhood for the audience to appreciate. On the second night, when most of the family came, I was seated with my Mom and my cousin Nani. I thought they would pee in their pants from laughing. I remember wishing Jim wouldn't leave. It would be sad to see this end. I also wanted George and Raffy to be an enduring partnership. They were so funny.

Well, Jim never got to leave. And the APO continued to be. Martial Law was proclaimed and Raffy went underground. So much for Geroge and Raffy. But the APO endured, with a few glitches here and there, one of which was a letter from the chief martial law censor, Kit Tatad, who said that the band had dishonored the name of a national hero. So, since then, they called themselves the APO Hiking Society.

My children and nieces and nephews grew up thinking Danny and Boboy were their real uncles. When the APO recorded "Love is for Singing" and needed children's voices, Ana, Gina, and Tina Quirino were drafted. And when my daughter Monica, then a first grader at St Paul's in Pasig was asked if she could get her uncles to perform at a school fair, she asked us to bring her to a taping in Broadcast City where, with full sense of entitlement, she asked Danny, Boboy and Jim to say yes, they would do it, for free.

My Mom's 75th birthday party became even more festive, especially for Mom's PWU high school classmates when the APO sang a few songs. And they did me a favor in the early '80s when I asked them to perform at Odette Alcantara's Heritage Gallery in Cubao for the Women Writers' in Media Now's first anniversary party.

At the Music Museum, watching Jim, Danny and Boboy perform for the last time, I sang along with every song and watched people's reactions as I anticipated their punch lines. Although I knew all their jokes and memorized all their musical arrangements, I laughed out loud again, as I have done in every APO show over the past 40 years. Every song they sang brought back a memory -- of a happy shared childhood; of long drives to Baguio and La Union and magical nights singing folk songs at the beach around a campfire; of my hopes and dreams as a young married woman; of births, weddings, anniversaries, home visits by siblings, and deaths in the family; of the children running around Mom's large grassy backyard with its large mango and santol trees; of surviving martial law; of long talks with Danny about life; of loves won and lost; of disappointments and heartaches; of personal, family and national triumphs; of EDSA and our difficult journey towards the return of democracy.

But mostly I thought of Mom who was so proud of her son and his friends. In my mind's eye, I could see her beaming with pride and laughing out loud watching them at a concert; or in her hospital bed at the Heart Center bragging to all the nurses that Jim Paredes was her son; and in her small bungalow in Loyola Heights demanding that Jim come to her birthday lunch and thrill her amigas with his presence.

I shed a lot of quiet tears that night.

As I watched the adoring crowd eat up every line, every gag, every song the APO dished out, I recalled the post-assassination and pre- and post-EDSA concerts that people attended as much to make a political statement as to show appreciation for their music. Those were heady days. I also recalled concerts where, inexplicably, to me anyway, there were many empty seats. In such times, how my heart bled for my three brothers! But they could even crack jokes about an empty house and they always bounced back. The show always went on. What a class act they were.

When Jim first announced that the APO was disbanding, it felt like an impending death in the family, like someone near and dear had terminal cancer and I had to get used to the idea of losing him or her. I went through denial, disappointment, anger, and finally, acceptance. And, having accepted their impending demise, I asked some of my closest friends to help me face it at the Music Museum.

On Thursday night, I tearfully said my goodbye to the APO -- my APO -- and sent them off to the Great Beyond -- to be enshrined in Philippine music history and in the hearts of their countless fans. I have no doubt that their music -- which are part of the soundtrack of people's lives for 40 years -- will live on.

The APO is family and now it is no more. But my memory chest is full. The APO, and everything they have stood for, are alive and well in my heart and mind.

Thank you, Jim, Danny and Boboy, for a great ride. ###

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why I never mourned for Magsaysay

A reprint of a column I wrote on my Dad's death anniversary

Why I never mourned for Magsaysay

March 16, 1997

Tomorrow is the 40th death anniversary of my father, Jess Paredes Jr. He perished with around 20 others in an airplane crash on Mount Manuggal in Cebu.

The nation was devastated by that tragedy which took the life of President Ramon Magsaysay, but I didn’t know it. After all, my family was going through its own agony. Also our neighborhood in Cubao got a triple whammy; besides my Dad, his friend Secretary Hernandez, who lived several blocks away, was in that plane. So was Senator Lopez, who lived on Lantana and whose daughter Sonia was a friend of my sister and my cousins.

When I said goodbye to my Dad on March 16, he was getting into Secretary Hernandez’s limousine to go to the airport where they would catch the Mr. Pinatubo, RM’s plane, and ride with the President to Cebu. Magsaysay was to deliver three commencement addresses in Cebu City and my Dad wrote two of them. The President had asked my Dad to come and hear him deliver the speeches—and who could say no to the President?

My Dad was overworked, he had stretched himself thin working as executive secretary of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, teaching at two law schools, doing two radio programs, and running errands for the Archbishop of Manila. And then he was a part of the President’s circle, close enough to be given an assignment as one of RM’s ghost writers.

He had a hacking cough that wouldn’t go away. He worked late into the night, his typewriter clickety-clacking in the silence of our large new house. He hardly had time for himself and here he was taking off for Cebu just to hear the President deliver some speeches. “Never mind,” he told my Mom. “We may take the presidential yacht on the way home. Then, I’ll be able to rest.”

So when we heard about the crash of the presidential plane, my Mother clung to the hope that my Dad had heeded his own need to relax and opted to take the slow boat to Manila.

In the afternoon of March 17, I learned that the word “confirmed” meant something other than a state of having received the second sacrament. It’s confirmed, my uncle said. Jess is dead. The wreckage of the plane had been found. There was only one survivor, a newsman named Nestor Mata.

My father’s remains were brought to our house where he lay in state for a couple of days. He had a fine bronze coffin, very heavy, and covered with a Philippine flag. We were told that the coffin was originally meant for the President’s remains. However, an even fancier coffin arrived from the United States and my father was next in line for the top-of-the-line items, behind the senators, congressmen, Cabinet secretaries, generals and colonels who had perished with the President. So he ended up with second best. Not bad for a man who had no title other than “Attorney”.

The coffin was sealed so it was easy for a 10-year old to deny that her father was in there. At the time, it just felt like he was taking an awfully long time to come home.

After the coffin came, the flowers followed. Wreaths with ribbons bearing the names of the rich and famous overflowed from the living room to the garage, to the terrace and the garden. I gaped at the people who crowded into our home—senators and congressmen, priests and nuns, radio people, movie people, stage people, my brothers’ classmates and teachers from the Ateneo, and hundreds of relatives. I remember seeing Diosdado Macapagal who had been our neighbour in Laura Street in San Juan, Raul Manglapus who had played the organ at my parent’s wedding some 19 yeas before, Emmanuel Pelaez, Ambrosio Padilla and Soc Rodrigo. There were other important persons who came but a 10-year-old could only be impressed by the most prominent faces.

Letters, cards, checks poured in from everywhere. I figured we must have gotten famous overnight because the mailman delivered a card to our house in Cubao addressed to Mrs. Jess Paredes Jr, Manila, Philippines.

On the day of the burial, we wheeled my Dad’s coffin up Boston Street and down Lantana, to Immaculate Conception Church where a mass was held. Then we motored to a cemetery in Manila where I was shocked to find a non-descript hole in the wall awaiting his elegant coffin.

I remember a crush of people in a small space, a bunch of red roses and a bag of soil being passed from hand to hand to be placed in the niche with my Dad’s remains. The roses were a remembrance from his wife and 10 children; the soil was a part of the Jesuit cemetery in Novaliches where my father had said he wanted to be buried. Since Novaliches was only for Jesuits, the fathers did the next best thing and gave him a piece of Novaliches.

Five years later, my mother brought us to the cemetery to exhume my father’s grave and transfer his remains to the basement of our parish church. Several men pried the black marble nameplate and pulled out the bronze coffin. They lifted the cover and my siblings and I saw its contents for the firs time: a fatigue-colored body bag. My mother unzipped the bag and a fine dust rose with the breeze.

My father’s remains were a mixture of bones, a pocket watch, a half burned wallet, and a gun. The worldly goods were not his, but my mother said she recognized his teeth among the bones. My siblings and I picked up the pieces and put them in a white box which we brought to the crypt for a second burial.

When the crash happened in 1957, the entire country mourned for Magsaysay. But not me. All I knew was my father would not be coming home to the new house he built us in Cubao. I would never again hear his hearty laughter, or feel his tight hugs. The center of my life was gone.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Reunion (Manila, Feb 3-15, 2010)
February 20, 2010

I'd been thinking about it for a while, since my oldest brother, Jesse turned 70 and our family breached a new decade. Raffy, the youngest of us ten siblings, was already in his fifties. No doubt about it, our family was aging. In recent years, my brothers - Gabby and Jim and Babsy -- decided to stop dyeing their hair, revealing to the entire world the reality that in the clan, we have naturally premature grey hair, something we have lived with since our thirties. Today, only Lory and I are the hold-outs who continue to conceal the grey. My excuse is, my daughter Gogi won't allow me to look so old. Lory says she has to consult her daughter Cristina, if she should or shouldn't let the grey out.

The point is, we had to accept the fact that were getting old. So, early last year, after Ducky celebrated his 70th birthday with another wild but incomplete family party, I wrote a serious letter to my siblings asking them to consider a reunion in the near future. It is time, I told them, to get together. We are now as old or even older than our parents were when we thought they were old. And wouldn't it be nice for the ten of us to be together, complete, in one place before time took its toll and started taking us one by one?

The response was immediate. Yes, let's do it, everyone said. We set it for February 2010, which was when the US contingent of Babsy, Tictac and Aping, and Jim, who resides in Australia, said would be convenient. There was some hemming and hawing from Aping who, protesting the violence and corruption in the country,which he read about in the Internet everyday from his home in Florida, said he was not inclined to risk his and his wife's safety by coming home to the Philippines. Although he kept his options open, in the end, Aping really couldn't come home after his beloved Mary suffered a series of small strokes and needed his undivided attention. Our double first cousins Lita and Ginger said they would join us from Switzerland.

In October, we began to talk about what we would do for the reunion. We knew we would have a big fat Misa-Paredes party with lots of singing, ribbing, corny jokes and family stories. Gabby offered an overnight trip to the beach, and Ducky readily said he'd take care of the bus to take us there. We also talked about visiting Mom and Dad's niche at the Immaculate Conception church in our old neighborhood in Cubao, and the Bantayog memorial where Mom's name is enshrined on a granite wall, along with other heroes of martial law -- nuns, priests, businessmen, politicians, activists and NPA members who fought the Marcos dictatorship.

What else could we do to fill two weeks of our siblings' visit? We needn't have worried. From February 3 to 15, 2010, our days and nights were filled with the camaraderie of the nine siblings who made it and Lita (Ginger didn't make it), our spouses and children, who genuinely like each other. From the first day we were together, first in Jim's house where Babsy and Ivan stayed, and then in Lory's guest condo on C. Salvador where Tiki and Doug were billeted, the laughter was loud and contagious, the singing intoxicating. The jokes were alternately hilarious and excretable. The stories we told and retold were predictable but precious; the ribbing was endless. Jesse danced the ballet, and Raffy did his patented version of Tom Jones' Delilah. We were off to a good start. And the love was truly palpable.

It is amazing how small mistakes we made as children -- like Gabby reaching the top of the steep stairs of our house on Sta. Mesa and sighing 'I are tired', or Jim trying to speak Spanish and saying 'Que te pasa biscuit' to ask that a plate of biscuits be passed to him at table -- are never forgotten. What is even more amazing is that such merciless ribbing about those mistakes, which used to draw annoyance, tears and even anger when we were kids, is now taken so good-naturedly,if not grace.

At the big fat Misa-Paredes party on Feb 6, Lory wrote a number of such gems on placards and held them up for us to identify in a game called, 'Who said this?'. It brought the house down and it started our rollicking ride through the past which included singing the many songs we grew up with; stories about Dad and Mom; our uncles, aunts and cousins; about Inay and Tolindoy; Camacho and Johnny Paa, to name a few; memories of our childhood in Laura, C. de Jesus, Sta Mesa and Boston; and those wonderful weekends in Muntinglupa and summers in Bislig. Ilocano phrases we used to hear from Inay, thrown in by Cris and Sally Bermont with the right gutteral intonation, brought floods of laughter and more stories...

Lory even planned a surprise by importing Anit and Ibyang from Banggued and
asking Sally Mendiola and Aling Pitang's daughter Divina to come to the party. And Jesse came with his own surprise -- Doy's daughter Nancy, whom he brought in from Batangas to join us. I truly missed Inay and Nuna, and my Bobet, who had cooked many wonderful meals for family gatherings in my home. They were probably there too, in spirit. There were copious tears and lots of pictures and videos taken of what turned out to be the grandest reunion our family has ever had.

What a party it was. We were so tightly bound in the same time warp that a few notes strummed by Jim on the guitar or played by Joey on the piano had us singing the same song, in harmony, and even dancing around the table. I didn't want the evening to end. But as it turned out, that was only the beginning on what would be the most joyous two weeks of our lives.

The visit to our parents' grave and to Bantayog were sober, even tearful. But it brought home the realization that we are what we are because we were born of such exceptional parents who loved each other and each of their children, not to mention their country, deeply. They also loved life, laughter and music, which are their priceless legacies to us and our children.

To be sure, we siblings have not always been this close. We've had our share of fights, misunderstandings and pikonan. Our family has had our heartaches. In fact, we've been through the wringer, having to deal with losses, break-ups, separations and long-drawn out tampuhans. But here we are -- in our fifties, sixties and seventies -- whole and complete. We do not always agree on everything -- don't get us started on politics -- but we are a stronger, more loving unit today than when we were kids. Thank you, Dad and Mom, for making us a family, then and until now.

On Tuesday morning, Feb 9, a large bus hired by Ducky came for us for our trip to Gabby and Marianne's beach house in Nasugbu, Batangas. It was a siblings and spouses only affair, but Gabby's son John and daughter Michelle were 'required' to attend. In that fabulous Mediterranean setting, we dined on the patio under beach umbrellas, swam in a pool under ancient trees, had wine and cheese by the ocean at sunset, and sang to our hearts' content every chance we had. Couples doubled up in the bedrooms but Lory and I, who were both partner-less, slept on an inflatable mattress on the porch, al fresco, under a black sky ablaze with stars and planets.

It was difficult to think of wanting to be anywhere else with any other group of people. Here, in the company of my brothers and sisters, I felt our parents' warm embrace, a very large group hug. They were surely there with us in Gabby's paradise. And with God in his heaven, all was right with my world.

There were small quiet lunches and dinners among some of us, and biscoti baking lessons for Patring and Gogi from Babsy. Gogi and I took Tiki and Doug on a ferry ride down what Tiki called "her Pasig River" and toured Fort Santiago on foot. And, Tiki, Doug, Lory, Greg, Lita, and Gina went to watch the APO show. And Babsy and managed to have mini-reunions with old friends and classmates. We all needed the downtime. I, for one, would have burst from the fun of the company.

In the weekend, Babsy and Ivan left for Eugene and Snoogie returned to Medina. After watching Jim perform with the APO on Saturday night, Gina went back to Davao and Lita flew home to Switzerland. On Monday evening, Tiki and Doug flew to Hawaii en route to San Diego. The party was over.

My nest felt empty, but my heart was full. I couldn't complain. Besides,I needed to catch up on my sleep.

The reunion exceeded all my expectations. There are so many memories, old and new, to process, keep, share and write about. The photos and videos are on CDs, and on Facebook and Multiply. But mostly, they are safely tucked in my heart, which is a better place than my mind, which could go any time.

I don't know when we can pull off another reunion like this. Next time, I hope Aping and Mary can join us. (Maybe by then, Lory and I would have gotten the courage to let our hair grow grey.) But, for sure, this reunion, incomplete as we were, has been the most joyous and love-filled we've ever had.

Why I must write

February 20, 2010
5 AM

I have lost my voice. My writing voice. I have lost my words. I can't seem to find the right words to say what is in my heart and mind. I blame this on my editing work. I am so bent on working on the words of others, I have lost my own capacity to put my own words together and articulate my thoughts. Do I even have original thoughts anymore? And do they really matter?

I envy my colleagues who continue to write. When Neni told me that Friday is her writing day, I thought, what a luxury that would be to have a day set aside only to write. I told myself that I am so busy, I don't have the time for such a non-productive (meaning, non-earning) endeavor. But I am, of course, lying to myself. I simply don't have the discipline, the stick-to-it-iveness, that is needed to be a writer. I have found every excuse not to continue writing: Columnists are a dime a dozen. There's too much opinion out there, too much noise that I don't want to add to. No one is interested anymore. Besides, as a member of the government peace panel, I must keep my opinions to myself.

You know what? It's hogwash. I can think of many other reasons not to go back to writing, but I know I'm being a cop-out.

What am I really afraid of? I have to figure that out. I used to do most of my thinking on paper. By writing out my thoughts, I reached certain conclusions. When I wrote, I didn't really know where a paragraph , much less an entire piece, would take me. Writing was part of my thinking, my analytical process. Now that I have stopped writing, have I also stopped thinking deeply about things? I believe so. I have been merely skimming the surface of issues, content with quick fixes, smart-alecky allusions, re-cycled analyses, stolen insights and unbelievable rationalizations. In afraid I've been faking it for a while now, counting on the residual admiration of people I impressed in the past and who carry a nostalgia for my writing, to still be accepted as a 'journalist on leave'. Someday, I tell those who ask me why I no longer write, I will return to the printed page.

This is both a wish and an aspiration that seems to be more and more difficult to achieve, as I fall deeper into editing the work of others. But I must go back. I must re-gain my voice, find my words, re-claim my space -- or wilt on the vine. I must leave my comfort zone -- which has allowed me to earn more than if I merely wrote opinion -- and forge ahead out there, to my original comfort zone where I was unafraid to be poor and to spill my guts out.

Making ends is meet is important. So is peace-making. So far, I have been able to earn enough by keeping silent and pursuing peace. But I realize I don't have to keep silent to achieve peace. In fact, the path to peace is through dialogue, exposure, transparency, openness. Peace cannot be achieved by keeping mum on the important issues. True peace can be reached when these issues have been thoroughly discussed and consensus reached on the next steps. And that is what writing does -- bring up the issues, put some light to them and hopefully, achieve some clarity so that the right decisions are reached. Writing can be peacemaking.

Lord, let me be that instrument of your peace through my writing. Where there is darkness, let me bring light. Through my words, my thoughts, my actions. Or should that read, through Your words, Your thoughts, Your actions -- through me. Make me the instrument that I was before I began to fear poverty and hunger, to need the comfort of a regular paycheck, and to rationalize these needs as a reason to keep my silence when all hell has been breaking loose in my beloved country.

I must write again, or perish.