By Elmer Ordonez
Then it came to me – the pre-war song “Thanks for the Memory” sung by Bob Hope with another, a favorite which Elenita (Tita) and I included in our CD album of songs of remembrance, our giveaway at our golden anniversary in 2006.
I first heard the song on radio in 1937 ( I was seven then) and it became a theme song of Bob Hope — the first strains of which signaled his entrance in performances on TV and in overseas appearances before homesick GIs in three wars (WWII, Korean, and Vietnam). He was hilarious with his one-liners and his skits with crooner Bing Crosby.
Songs become touchstones of time and place and occasion. Elenita and I have at least fifty of them in our anniversary album – each one marking a period or moment in our lives that conjoined since 1956. “Thanks for the Memory” with lyrics memorable to Hope evokes in listeners memories from their own repertoire of shared experiences.
Ours include stints abroad, four years in Madison, Wisconsin, two one-year teaching assignments in New York, a year in Oxford, England, a year and a half in Malaysia, and twelve years in Montreal. We lived abroad for a total of 20 years before settling down in the “old country”, as expats say, to teach 15 more years before retirement in Imus.
The Hope song catalogues incidents, moments, details, impressions. I should be writing my own lyrics to the song. Not being a lyricist, I will do it in prose. Not quite the same though.
We treasured the seasons in Madison, like autumn when we first arrived. From our first apartment in what Eddie Reyes called “Dickensian”, we could see the autumn leaves from our window with our eight-month old Mo, the radio playing “Tammy” by Debbie Reynolds.
We had our first snow in Eagle Heights, a new housing for graduate students and their families, and made halo halo from the newly fallen white flakes. Autumn almost over, we walked through the woods to Picnic Point, and trod on the thick carpet of fallen leaves. We felt the chill in our bones, thinking a sweater would do in the open.
We had our first blizzard December that year, thankful that our apartment was well insulated, and we had just done our groceries so our small fridge was well stocked. We bought only the cheap cuts of meat good for soups and stews. Our only treat was at McDonald’s once a month.
I hated waiting for the school bus in winter when five minutes in the bus stop was an eternity. Good thing we got warm coats from the Salvation Army. I envied your staying home with Mo, reading Dr. Spock to her or letting her watch on TV the Mickey Mouse show or the Friendly Giant while you kept house. I was grateful for the hot beef stew or chicken soup you prepared when I got home from the campus. .
In Potsdam, New York, we would drive on weekends to see the St. Lawrence Seaway locks where at the viewing deck we could chat briefly with Filipino seamen on ships going to the Great Lakes. In the Adirondacks we visited Saranac Lake where Quezon was remembered as El Presidente.
We had no central heating in Cowley, Oxford, and made do with coal in the fireplace and electric fires in the bedrooms. We had to wear our overcoats inside theaters and endure the cigarette smoke. Good thing we had no asthma then but we stank after every show. On weekends we toured the English countryside with a Minor 1000 that still used a crank to start a stalled engine. .
In May 1967 we began our “grand tour” of western Europe with three kids and Minda. From the start the car handle broke and I had to secure it with a string so it wouldn’t fall off. The camp ground atop the cliffs of Dover was still frozen and we all slept in our tent with our winter coats on.
Camping grounds in northern France had not yet opened and we stayed in a small hotel with a full view of Amiens cathedral. Our “petit dejeuner” was a pitcher of warm fresh milk and a big bowl of croissants. The children still talk about it. And the juiciest weiners in Munich.
British soldiers in lorries waved at us in the Minor 1000 with its roof rack fully packed with our things. We guessed ours was the only Minor 1000 they had seen on the road in Europe. .
In southern France we checked in a camp site and wondered about the caravans with curtained windows and the big American cars which should have told us they belonged to gypsies. They became friendly when you talked to them in Spanish.
We crossed the Pyrenees to Spain late afternoon and had to check in an auberge at the border. We woke up that morning to see our Minor 1000 covered with snow. In sunny Zaragoza you marveled at tent sites, each canopied with roses. We did see the sky in Toledo as El Greco saw it.
Two more weeks we toured Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium where we took the ferry back to Dover just as the Six-Day War began. We vowed to revisit Spain and Italy later on, and we did. A flood of memories of other places, other times. Thank you, Elenita, thank you so much.
(A memorial gathering for Elenita, 79, will be held tomorrow morning at 10, at the Island Cove, Binakayan, Kawit, Cavite.)