Friday, July 17, 2009

Part 3: Life in Phil Am Village

"Being pretty on the inside means you don't hit your brother
and you eat all your peas - that's what my grandma taught me."

~Lord Chesterfield

"I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and then I knocked my brother down ... "
~Dylan Thomas

We lived in that house in Quezon City for a year. My dad found out he didn’t know much about Southeast Asian agriculture and had to go to college again while my mom stayed home and got morning sickness. Dad took some classes at Ateneo, then at the University of the Philippines and International Rice Reasearch Institute (IRRI) both in Los Banos. Mom spent her time between the bathroom and the bed. Auring gradually took over more of the household and cooking duties.

Dad wouldn't buy a TV, so I went next door to the neighbors everyday to watch my favorite shows: Popeye, Gilligan's Island, Combat! and The Man From UNCLE. We didn't know how much to unpack as we were still waiting to see if we could get visas to Bali. On our driveway there were huge packing crates filled with a five year supply of Carnation instant dried milk for a family of twenty. We had so much that Dad made us drink it by the gallon 3 times a day till the smell of milk made me vomit. One day as he was staring up at the huge crates he realized it would spoil before we could ever drink it all and ended up giving it to food banks for the poor. I never drank milk again for four years.

After Dad got rid of the dried milk he made me an aircraft carrier out of wood from the packing crates. It was great to look at but the wood smelled so bad it would make me sick when I played with it. I would be out on the driveway with my planes, landing them on the aircraft carrier, the sounds of their engines mingled with the sounds of me gagging. So I would only play with it till the headaches and nausea got too bad.

Andy was born in September of 1966 at Saint Luke’s hospital in Quezon City. He was a couple months pre-mature, which meant they grew him in an incubator till he finished hatching. Like Doc Bruce Banner they belted him with gamma rays till he grew up to be the tallest and have the most muscles of all the boys. After he got out of the hospital caring for him fell to Auring as Mom was taking language classes.


For our first Christmas in the Philippines Mom's parents came to visit. I got a bike and an electric car set. Auring bought me a Combat! playset that included a helmet, canteen, a Colt .45 and holster and the best of all, a Thompson sub machine gun. I was so cool. It didn't last long because Dad would yell "Let your brother play with your toys!"
One by one he broke all my Christmas presents. Except the bike, because he couldn't get up on it. Dad taught me to ride the bike like this: Put the kid on the bike at the top of the hill. Give the bike a push. Watch the kid crash at the bottom of the hill. Walk back in the house.

The night after the Grandparents left to fly back to the States, a strange thing happened. I was sleeping on the top bunk and I heard my electric car start to run around the track. It went round and round going faster and faster till it jumped the track. Then it ran across the room and under the bed till it hit the wall. The wheels kept spinning till the batteries died out. While this was happening my Grandfather walked into the room in his bathrobe and stood at the foot of the bed staring at me. I lay there frozen with my eyes just open to slits till he turned and walked out of the room. Then I reached down and jerked the covers over my head. The next morning I wondered if it had been a dream, but I found my race car under the bed with the batteries dead.

My brother Keith was a cross between Dennis the Menace and Charles Schulz's "Pigpen". Outgoing and friendly, perpetually in trouble and extremely filthy, he used to get hosed off by Auring in a bucket everyday in the front yard.One time while he was getting his bath he crawled out and picked up dog poop and ate it. Which is why the rule stay three feet away from me came in to effect. I never let him anywhere near me after that. 
He got to walking good and began to regularly wander off. This usually occurred when we had some place to go. Once Keith got the hang of it he took off every chance he got. He learned how to open the gate, so we put a lock on it. Then he learned how to climb over the wall. Sometimes we would spend a whole day looking for him. Well, actually I would usually only look for 10 minutes or so, then go watch TV at the neighbors. He usually would find some family’s home around meal time, let himself in and sit down with the family to eat. This could have been because of all the experimental food my parents were having back home. It was either animal survival instinct or he was a lot smarter than me. It must have been the former.The other excitement that year was when Keith backed off the diving board at the local swimming pool. Keith and Dad were in the kiddie pool and I was practicing my swimming in the regular pool. After a while I noticed that Dad was swimming in the pool with me. It never occurred to me to wonder who was watching Keith. Then I heard Dad yelling “get. off. of . there. right. now!”
I looked up and there he was out at the end of the diving board. So Keith obeyed. Because when Dad yells, you hop to it. He just swung over the side and dropped. Dad started swimming towards the deep end, but Keith didn't come up.

That moment stands frozen in time: the rings spreading out over the water where he fell in, the lifeguard ripping off his shirt, diving in, his shirt suspended in the air behind him. Dad still more than half a pool away. Silence. That is how come I only have three brothers.

Then lifeguard went down again and came back up with the soggy little mess that was my brother, coughing and crying. So many missed opportunities.


  1. your blog reminds me of "The Glass Castle" by I-forgot-her-name. Keep posting...

  2. I read that book and I have thought the same thing! It was written by Jeannette Walls. When I read it I told Waldo he should write his story.

  3. When I started blogging, a blogger friend told me it would become addictive, and that it was better and cheaper than therapy. She was right! Where else can we enjoy revenge for fun and for free but on our blogs?

  4. Yes! Jeanette Walls! Love that book! Restrained, truthful... but restrained. The pain no longer with the author, but passed on to the reader...

    Waldo... we're expecting more... can't wait till the hormonal adolescent years!


  5. Wait a minute, that's the same thing my dad did with me at the swimming pool --left a 2-yr old alone in an inflatable ring, and when he got back from swimming his round, there was only the ring, and I was missing....
    Took me YEARS until I learned to get over my fear of water and learn to swim...