Category: family

nita herrera-umali berthelsen (1923-2014)

she was my mother‘s youngest sister, the writer i wanted to be like when i grew up.  sharing here an essay she wrote sometime around independence day the 4th of july 1946.  little more than four years later her eldest brother narciso, congressman of quezon province, was falsely accused of and jailed for murder and communist-coddling, this in the time of the huks and lansdale and magsaysay, in aid of increased military aid from america.  it was like tia nita had sadly seen into a troubled future a country still in the shadow of the stars and stripes.

JUST WHERE ARE WE?
Nita H. Umali

–And of course the proper answer, the one I should quite emphatically give myself, would be, “Why, stupid, it is almost dawn, the light is seeping in! A new day is being born. Why do you close your eyes to it? And why do you turn your back to the sun?” Maybe it is because I am nearsighted, physically and otherwise, and I am afraid of dazzling glares, and because emotionally I am not looking through rose-colored glasses.

This, of course, is striking a discordant note somewhere, and at such a time as this is very improper. I just hope that on the very day of July four the afternoon mist is here to make me realize that all are not sharp angles, except in my noonday imaginations.

Yes, freedom is here and hundreds of years ago they started to gather the bricks for the stronghold that we have today. Women in long, swishing skirts and upswept hair, going to Church in slipper-shod feet, whispering to God that their men should be saved. Mangled bodies and wet blood smelted and the foundation laid. Time went on, and the materials for building were not so dearly priced, until a few years ago, the iron yoke was laid on our backs. Once more, women, now in short skirts, their wooden shoes punctuating the hush in the chapel, asked from God. Not whispered prayers, but in silent supplication, because spoken words were so dangerous. Maimed limbs, numb minds, and closed mouths. The flame of the blood red sun trying to engulf them, and the blood of past ages and the present day flowing by their feet, urging them on, to fight for freedom, for the greater glory.

And now we shall get it. By a piece of paper, signed and sealed, everything will be different. Or will it? Will there be a change in us as we go to class, or walk the streets? Will our way of thinking, our mode of reasoning, alter? Will our country, with all its men and women, its strong-willed leaders, its weak officials, its priests, and lawyers and doctors, its teachers and bandits, its carefree youths and discontented peasants, its beggars and criminals, will she, the Philippines, with her tropic skies and lazy palms, that small group of islands, after long years of restfully reclining on the solid hunk that is America, will she learn to stand erect, unsupported, even on a pair of wobbly feet?

We have what we want, what every other dependent nation has long wanted — we have it in our hands; shall we let it slip away? Will the four freedoms that we have fought for, will it, be just a mockery to what we are? The present dust of Manila is in our eyes, and the dust of the world in our consciousness. The way is dim and shadowy, and though now and then there are erratic shafts of light, still the sudden brightness of tomorrow may blind us.

Faith, hope, and love, those age old standards, these are the sole supports we have, the beacons that are here to guide us, as we leave the protecting shadows of the stars and stripes, and venture forth into a new life that is but a continuity to the old.

the clipping is posted on her facebook page managed by daughter karen. https://www.facebook.com/nitaumaliberthelsen

What is there

Posted by Daryll Delgado on Facebook
6 Dec 3:48 am

There is a man covered in mud from his bald head to his bare feet, walking towards and waving at my brother, Derek, unaware that he is unrecognizable. Until he and Derek arrive at the same house, A__’s house, then Derek realizes that this is A__’s father who had fought against, swum under, and finally just gave himself up to the muddy ocean that had engulfed his house, his neighborhood, his entire village.

There are two girls, who pass them by, walking barefoot but briskly, their faces streaked with dirty tears, their eyes scared, their bodies rigid. There are many others walking, walking, walking, and picking up pieces from the debris, and then walking some more. My sister, Aimee, and her husband are among them, as they try to get to her husband’s family in a subdivision close to the sea. There is a woman, they say, who is not walking, she is just standing, in the middle of the street, while people walk by her in a daze. She is wailing, damo’n patay, damo hin duro an patay! When they get to the subdivision, there are indeed bodies being moved from the streets to the small chapel. One of the casualties is our dear uncle, a cousin and very good friend to our dad.

There is a woman on the side of the street, but she is not wailing, not moving, not walking. She is lying on her back. She has extraordinarily thin arms and legs, and a very swollen belly. People cover their nose and mouth when they pass her, but they do not cover their eyes. This is one of the first sights we see, when my husband and I arrive in Tacloban City.

There is a child frozen in the act of crawling out of a shelf or a cabinet. His body is upside down, his head is twisted unnaturally to the side, and one hand is missing. There are dogs, many dogs, sniffing the rubble and debris for their masters, or for food, and one of them walks away with a child’s hand between his fangs.

There are men walking out of the mall, helping each other carry an exercise machine, a freezer, a 50-plus-inch led TV screen. There is a woman carrying a mannequin all by herself, and a family of three in Santa hats merrily walking down the street with a shopping cart full of nothing but canned baby formula milk. There are others who scavenge for clothes, my brother Dennis tells us, and they come out of the department store dressed as super heroes and villains, Spider Man, Super Man,and Penguin.

There is a rumor going around, said a friend of ours whose family is taking shelter in our house : Tacloban is gone. Strong winds had sucked out the entire bay and threw it all up very violently onto streets,houses, offices, churches, hospitals, schools, restaurants, hotels. There is another rumor: It will all happen again very soon, and the waves will be much higher, the current stronger and even more ferocious this time.

There are suddenly even more people on the streets, running as fast as they can to the hills, to the hills! By evening, there is a sight no one has ever seen – the mountains are illuminated from the foot to the peak with people’s flash lights, candles, torches.

There is still, for all intents and purposes, a house. There is no roof, no ceiling, no windows, no book shelves or books, but there is still a winding staircase with elaborate balusters and steps made from dark hard wood slabs on which the rainwater cascades like grand waterfalls when itrains. And there is a black granite floor that collects the water into many puddles the kids like to trample and splash on.

There is a room on the ground floor where the family used to congregate every night when the parents were still alive. It is now being slept in by strangers who have traveled from distant lands – Iran, Israel, America,Bolivia, South Africa – to clear the streets, feed the hungry, slowly revive the city.

There are two old trees that used to partly hide the house from the street with its thick foliage, birds’ nests, and intricate branches reaching into the balcony. They are now leafless and branchless, and nestless. The barks have been peeled off and, at night, under a bright moon, the trunks look like the ghosts of two pale, old men stranded between this world and another.

There are firelies all of a sudden, and crickets, but no birds, my sister-in-law, Debbie, notices.

There is a rumor about that other rumor, Dennis tells the strangers who have become friends and family to us now. The city mayor’s daughter, Chona May, had been washed away and her mother, the beautiful city councilor who used to be a movie starlet, had screamed and screamed: “Chona May! Chona May!” Her screams pierced the silence and absolute darkness of the evening, waking people in San Jose from their nightmares. “Chunami daw, chunami!” And that’s how everyone suddenly scrambled to their feet, fled out of the city and into the hills, in fear of a chunami or tsunami.

There is a truth and there is a lie, my brother says. The mayor’s daughter did not really perish, and he doesn’t even have a daughter named Chona May, but it is true that his beautiful wife is the city councilor and she did used to be a star.

There are people who do not like this joke, but some people laugh, for the first time, and a little of the old sparkle return briefly to their weary eyes.

(With reports from Dennis, Derek, Aimee, Dandee, Debbie, William, and random friends and strangers in Tacloban)

concepcion herrera-umali stuart (1913-2000)

today is the 100th birthday of my mother nena, and my sibs and i are throwing a party for her, like we did for papa two years ago, like mama and her sibs did for lola concha (of Revolutionary Routes) in 1986, and like lola concha did for lolo tomas in 1977.  my sibs and i not being conventional at all about a lot of things, this is the rare family tradition we find ourselves happily observing.  a fine time to reconnect with the clan, kahit pa incomplete, some in europe, some in america, wish they were all here.

mama and papa met in med school, UST class 1937.  she was the first lady doctor of tiaong quezon.  but the babies came, seven in all, the first in 1940 the last in 1954, and she gave up the doctoring to bring us up, the ever present mother, except when she had to spend time in tiaong to look after coconut and rice lands, and when she went back to school for a degree in psychology because she wanted to do counselling, though she only got to practice on us kids and the occasional friend in trouble. it was also around this time that she started having problems with her eyesight, and she started learning braille.

it was mama who drummed into us: it’s bad form to speak of oneself, i did this i did that.  also, ‘wag ka i-first; last ka dapat kung ikaw ang nagkukuwento.  not i and kuya but kuya and i.  bawal na bawal ding magbuhat ng sariling bangko.  let others do the praising, without prodding, when, then, you truly deserve it.  or something like that.  which of course is so civilized, but certainly not the way to make it quick in this dog-eat-dog world where selling oneself and/or selling out is the peg.

when she was 60, mama was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 4.  doctors couldn’t give her a year, or even a month, but she lived another 27 years.  read My Mother Survived Cancer Without Chemotherapy in nancy the nurse’s blog.

as eldest daughter of lola concha, mama was deeply pained, and angered, by the tragedies that befell her  younger sister’s guerrilla husband during the japanese occupation and her eldest brother narciso the congressman in the time of the huks and magsaysay.  when lola concha wrote her memoir in spanish, i think mama was relieved; she said it was all so personal, better kept private.  and yet, in her 70s, with her eyesight practically gone, she had us taking turns reading the memoir on tape and, touchtyping, she translated it all, line by line, into english, not just for the family but hopefully for publication.

now also an e-book, Revolutionary Routes: Five stories of incarceration, exile, murder, and betrayal 1891-1980 (2011), Foreword by Reynaldo C. Ileto, is as much mama’s book as lola concha’s and mine.

godofredo v. stuart (1911-1989)

today is my father’s 100th birthday.  my sibs and i are throwing a party–chedeng or shine–hoping the topacios (papa’s sister’s family from imus, cavite) and the umali family (mama’s side from tiaong, quezon) can make it and celebrate along with us our many happy times with, and memories of, papa.

godofredo velasco stuart, ust college of medicine, batch 1937, was from imus, cavite.  he was a big fan of emilio aguinaldo from kawit, and very proud of aguinaldo’s role in the 1898 revolution.  it was only in the late 70s, when he read renato constantino’s A Past Revisited, that he learned of how and why andres bonifacio died, and he was devastated.

the first stuart in the philippines was a scot, a schoolteacher, who must have come with the british forces in 1762.  family lore has it that he was part of the advance party to cavite, and coming upon some women bathing in a river, he warned them of more british soldiers coming, better to hide themselves.  when the brits left in 1764 this stuart stayed behind, having fallen in love with one of the bathing beauties.  fast forward to 1898 when stuarts of cavite rallied to aguinaldo’s call for revolution.  when the american military took over, most of the stuarts avoided arrest by fleeing to the visayas and mindanao and changing their names, some to del rosario, others to stuart del rosario, still others to estuar.  but one of them must have stayed, and survived the american occupation, or we would not be stuarts from imus.

papa was a nationalist and he was a reader (gemini kasi).  if not for his filipiniana library — constantino’s books and felix green’s The Enemy and nick joaquin’s The Aquinos of Tarlac, and Ninoy’s Testament from a Prison Cell, among others — i would probably be writing about different things.

at 12 midnight, i uncorked a bottle of white wine and katrina played back mitch miller songs she downloaded from the internet, songs that papa loved playing on his stereo during drinking parties.  and we toasted papa, lolo ding, who was quite a guy.  he loved life, he loved us, we miss him.

papa died in 1989.   a year or so ago my sister baby, the bunso of 7, went over files he left behind, and sent me a folder of news clippings atbp.  stuff i had written since 1981, from panorama and observer and parade magazines, even the writer’s guide i had dashed off for the pinoy sesame (an imee marcos project) writers when i decided to resign after ninoy was assassinated in ’83, and my first draft of the edsa chronology typed out on my portable olivetti.  i had no idea that papa kept such a file.  he would have been ecstatic had he been around when eggie apostol published the chronology and then himagsikan.  he was such a ninoy and cory fan.

it’s not all good, of course.  i wish i had been more interested in, listened more closely to, his stories of american times, and the japanese occupation, and the liberation, and post-war politics, and magsaysay’s anti-huk campaign.  i wish i wish i wish . . .

and there are some moments with papa that i could have handled better.  papa and mama were parents of 7 children growing up in the sixties and seventies, when times were a-changing and we were breaking all the rules, testing limits, striking out on unconventional paths that i know freaked them out.  and yet they loved us, through thick and thin.

we love you, too, papa :)  happy centennial, wherever you are, even if only in our hearts!