By Elmer Ordonez
THE season readily evokes thoughts of family, of being together, sharing food on the table, and most important of all love for each other expressed with gifts, hugs and other ways. Yuletide is indeed meant for the family. Hence, the President declares a truce from fighting (though called a “sham” by the NDF) to enable both soldier and rebel to be with family. During the First World War, guns were silenced on Christmas Eve, and in some instances soldiers sang carols answered by those in the opposite trench with their own versions, or they would meet across no man’s land, greet each other and share drink or food. British and German soldiers even played a game of football during the lull in fighting. Would that our brothers on both sides, if the powers that be will it, reach the stage of a permanent ceasefire and peace agreement.
During Yuletide, thoughts turn to family or loved ones. It was thus on Christmas 1943 that we wondered about Father who had not been heard from since he was arrested by the Kempeitai early that year. To escape capture ourselves, the rest of the family hid in Sisa, Sampaloc, in the home of my mother’s sister —anxiously waiting for any news about Father and an older brother with the guerrillas in Laguna. On Christmas Eve, with a simple noche buena, Aunt Pilar mused that she missed “peacetime” celebrations but somehow she felt it, the spirit of Christmas, under enemy occupation in 1943. We prayed for the missing ones and the safety of both families, ours and Aunt Pilar’s family who sheltered us.
In early 1944 we learned somehow that Father was in Muntinlupa, sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by a Japanese military court for “terrorism.” From a dungeon in Fort Santiago where he spent Christmas 1943, he was moved (before Muntinlupa) to Bilibid in Manila where he shared cells with General Vicente Lim, Fr. (later Cardinal) Rufino Santos, and Raul Manglapus who were also involved in underground activity. My brother in Laguna survived and continued soldiering until he was killed in battle in 1953. He was 29. Father was liberated by ROTC guerrillas in February 1945, mustered in the army as major (retaining is guerrilla rank), and after his discharge, he resumed teaching till he passed away in 1963.
This Christmas, with my own family (complete with the arrival of the youngest son from Montreal), we pray for a painless and serene passage of our beloved who has accepted her fate. Brought up as a theosophist by her father, she has remained firm in her Buddhist beliefs.
Christmas is for remembering, of stock-taking before the onset of the New Year, and for looking into the future.
Sunday last began the series of reunions of the expanded family (including many balikbayans), this time marking birthdays of three members of the immediate family. After the potluck lunch, photos and albums were passed around for remembering things past. A photo taken in 1969 showing six pretty sisters in their early prime and hair done as of the period, was retaken with all six, now with grey/white hair, still good-looking after 42 years, posing again for posterity. Courtships and weddings were recalled, with much hilarity and laughter.
At this time, I have realized how much I have to put in order. The children, seeing my chaotic library room, decided they would hire a librarian to classify the books. Thus I am reassured that my literary holdings would not be sold by lot to some heritage or antiquarian bookshop. My wife’s formidable library of art books (separately kept in shelves in the large bedroom) and her visual arts collection are not to leave the house under any circumstances. What to do with things I have accumulated over the years is another matter. I also need to move stuff to the UP library archives.
Early on, my wife and I had thought of leaving a last will and testament, and recently, instructions on what to do on the last day.
This Monday morning, my wife walked by herself to the porch outside the bedroom, and sat on an armchair sunning herself. I joined her bringing with me The Norton Anthology of Poetry. She turned the pages to her two favorites, Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti. She was pensive after rereading their poems, and then commented, smiling, that the poets were obsessed with departure. She knew by heart some of the poems.
Fictionist Greg Brillantes, speaking at the wake years ago of Raven SV Epistola, said in effect that the usual way of expressing departure was to ride into the sunset whereas a religious that he knew said, actually it was riding into the sunrise.
From Elenita and myself, seasons greetings and best wishes to all.