Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.
John Ed Pearce
Every house where love abides
And friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home sweet home
For there the heart can rest.
Henry Van Dyke
Last month’s trip to the Philippines was unlike most vacations I had taken the past few years. First, I hardly saw any place other than my sisters’ and nieces’ homes and the hospitals where I’d go either in the ER or for doctor’s consultations and procedures.
I knew my trip might end up the way it did. In fact, I had expected worse. Four trips to the ER in a span of one month might sound very bad but I look at it as a life changing experience and was actually thankful that when it happened, it happened there, where I was surrounded with the warmth of love and caring I had missed half my lifetime and almost forgot ever existed.
Despite episodes of extreme gastric pains that often brought me to tears, the kindness and extra special attention I felt from my sisters, nieces, cousins and in-laws made me realize that I’m home, in my sanctuary, where I’d be sheltered, protected and nourished back to life. I felt good and reassured. “Take care of yourself, first and foremost,” my Ateng Fely told me as if in a whisper. “Masarap pa ring mabuhay,” (It’s still good to be alive), she continued.
There, too, was my sister Zeny or Eda as I’m used to calling her. I don’t remember how and when I lost the prefix to her name. She once chided me for not using that respectful Ate or Ditse (a title our culture gives to older sisters to also denote their authority) but has long accepted that it would be ridiculous to pursue such a long lost cause. Eda was nudging me to get medical help in Manila while I was there so I wouldn’t have to worry about illness when I return to the U.S. She asked not to worry about anything… that she’d foot the bill and all.
I politely declined her’s and Ateng Fely’s offer but assuring them I won’t set aside my health needs anymore. That as soon as I get back, I’d see a doctor and get that colonoscopy I had been postponing for almost two years now. Only then did they stop urging me to seek treatment there.
Class Reunion, Long Lost Friends and a Promise to Be Back
One of the reasons I went home was to attend our high school class reunion but almost missed it due to my unpredictable condition. God gave me a break though. That one day, I remarkably felt well and went on to stay till the end of the day to enjoy the company of my classmates, many of whom I could not recognize anymore.
I finally met again Marilyn Vigilia-Mendez, my childhood friend, classmate and neighbor I had not seen since after high school. Her high school sweetheart, Danny, whom she married was there, too. Marilyn’s physical features have barely changed, neither did her mannerisms and other familiar traits. But I was pleasantly surprised to see her evolve from a feisty, spoiled brat she once was to a warm, gentle person with whom I had the pleasure of getting reacquainted again. Her nursing profession must have had something to do with it…or not. Just the same, I was happy to see her and her husband again.
I was excited to see three of our high school teachers, Engr. Angeles, Mrs. Ruth Evangelista and Mrs. Naomi Ferrer, all of whom were looking good. Even to this day, as I watched them at the reunion, they continue to inspire me.
Two of my classmates certainly did very well in their careers. Hilario ‘Larry’ Ortiz, a lawyer by profession, became President of a state university, the Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology (NEUST). My close friend and classmate, Dorcas Mizona-Avila, whose popularity in our school made me somewhat invisible, didn’t do so bad either. She became NEUST’s Director of Institute of Linguistics and Literature, Director of Academic Extension Campuses of NEUST in Southern N. E. and retired last year as Dean of Graduate School.
Next year, in 2016, our class will mark our 50th Anniversary. I promised to try to go home for the event – 1st Saturday of December. Just the same, I promised to help reach out to our classmates and produce the Class of ’66 Yearbook even if I don’t make it to the reunion. Until then, I’ll be looking forward to a possible Balikbayan trip in a year’s time, first to come back to my sanctuary and get re-charged and second, to take that second trip down memory lane with classmates, friends and teachers who had been part of my memorable past, my young dreams and the future that is now my fast fading reality.