Red poppies on the road

By Elmer Ordonez

Not only in Flanders Field but in most open areas in western Europe were the red poppies in bloom. That was one enduring impression of our car tour in May 1967. The red poppy, the flower of remembrance.

Our son Mael recalled last Sunday how he (at 6) would start whining every time we stopped at a cathedral or a museum which you had to visit for your research. Mo (at 10) was quiet as we walked the aisle of a gothic church or studied artifacts and art works in galleries but once the tour was over she rushed to join Mael cheering as they made for the ice cream vendor outside – their just reward.

Driving on the left lane was a British-acquired habit that almost brought us into collision with an oncoming car in France. I was wondering why the driver was frantically waving us aside. This again happened in Penang where I started to drive on the right lane as I did at home. I remember Filipinos drove on the left until after the war when the Americans returned.

We toured Malaysia in an Austin Mini visiting all the states and Singapore, at one time taking the road close to the Thai border where guerrillas were active, the road patrolled by armored cars.

We enjoyed eating stall food, particularly the mee (noodle) dishes, fried or with broth. Our favorite was char kwai teow – a Penang delicacy of flat noodles, with seafood and a peculiar burnt flavor. Years later the best Penang char kwai teow that we tasted was from a stall near our hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

I remember you had nasi goring (fried rice) for breakfast, lunch, and supper at a hotel in Bali. That must really be good. And so were the other nasi dishes wrapped in banana leaves (like our own binalot) eaten as we did the bento in long train rides.

Memories of food in Montreal: smoked meat (pastrami) sandwiches, so hefty, that we just had to share it, eaten with fries and washed down with coke; poutine, a bowl of fries covered with bits of soft white cheese; meat pies from Lac Sainte Jean; and of course bagels sprinkled with toasted sesame or poppy seeds from the original shop off Park Avenue, across the school where we took French language courses.

We looked forward to spring for the “sugaring” in the snow-covered woods and feasted on plates of Canadian bacon, potatoes and scrambled eggs liberally doused with maple syrup. We would cross the border at Plattsburgh, New York just to buy Hershey’s Kisses not available then in Montreal. .

We picketed the Philippine embassy in Ottawa with other concerned Filipinos and Canadians against martial law in the Philippines. One time in winter, we demonstrated at the Parliament gate against the Canadian plan to sell uranium rods for the nuclear plant in Bataan, with you and four other Filipinas wearing fur coats (it was so cold, I agreed), belatedly realizing the Canadian women with us were activists protesting the killing of baby seals and other wild life. It’s just a cheap muskrat coat, you said but agreed it was a mistake.

We joined our first May Day parade (1975) celebrating victory in Vietnam singing the Internationale with solidarity allies of various nationalities.

We had our share of cross country driving in North America, camping along the way, and saw the standard places like Yellowstone Park and Grand Canyon (you quoting what a farmer said, “a hell of a place to lose a cow in”).

We stopped the traffic on the highway off Toronto when your suitcase fell off the roof rack and you saw your wardrobe flying all over the place. Good thing a guy with a van helped me gather your clothes while the stalled motorists looked askance at us. I didn’t hear the end of this for some time for I was remiss in not securing the roof-rack of our Chevy Malibu.

We asked ourselves would you like to live in Chibougamau (Quebec), Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan), or Fish Licks (Newfoundland) where we discovered three cheerful Filipina teachers snowed in most of the year.

After all the years of living abroad and wanderlust, there was nothing like spending 15 more years in the UP campus, an ideal place to live and work in, despite the low pay.

And when we retired we had eleven more years together in our sylvan place called a forest by friends from Manila – where we could hear the birds at all times, grow and smell the flowers, and contemplate the trees and green foliage around us.

Relatives and friends (including writers, progressives, and expats in Canada/US) remembered you well last Sunday. Young Bettina sang “Smile” by Chaplin, Lester Demetillo sang “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, two friends of Vida Gomez rendered “Cavatina”(from Deer Hunter) by flute (Tito Hilario) and guitar(Gerry Duran). Cecile Abella finally sang “I’ll be seeing you.” What else can one ask for? Wordsworth wrote:

“Though nothing can bring back the hour / Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower, / We will grieve not, rather find / Strength in what remains behind / In the faith that looks through death / In years that bring the philosophic mind.”

Here’s to looking at the moon, Elenita, and I’ll be seeing you.