Monday, December 28, 2009

Part 19: My Summer Vacation (aka Death Race 1972)

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
they have to take you in"

~ Robert Frost

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country ... back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time"
~ Thomas Wolfe

Well, I had to go "home" sometime and that time had come. I knew that traditionally kids were supposed to hate school and love summer vacation but I couldn't help but feel like I was headed for prison. I knew it wasn't going to be pleasant but I wasn't expecting the onslaught of misery.

Picking me up at the airport my parents were surprised to discover that I had grown 6 inches. I came home clad in capris and a 3/4 length sleeve shirt, which was not a popular style for boys in the 70's. Mom looked at me and said "we're going to have to get some new clothes made for you". Dad exploded.
"We just bought him new clothes last year!"

Here we go

"When I was a kid we didn't get new clothes, they were handed down from my older brother and sister!"

So, did you go to school wearing your sister's old dresses? Or just when you did the chores?
(this I mumbled under my breath - I had been training to be a smart ass under the expert tutelage of Pat Dillon - besides I was out of arms reach)

Fortunately Dad didn't hear me. Mom said "He's the oldest. There isn't anyone to give him their hand me downs."
She looked at my feet and said "and he needs some new shoes too."
Gasoline on the fire.

"When I was kid we wore the shoes till the soles fell off! When they got too small we slit holes in the leather so our toes could hang out!"

I sat in silence, flabbergasted. Sometimes there was no worthy response.

Driving towards Tacloban we made a left turn at the Coca-Cola bottling plant as they had neglected to mention that we had moved from the Bethany Hospital compound to a house on the far edge of town. Our new house was at the end of a long dirt road, surrounded by fields and coconut trees. It was very quiet and secluded and I missed the hustle and bustle of Hospital life. Now, when I needed to get away, there was no where to go. No calamansi grove, no comote field. I missed the little hospital canteen, and the bakery across the street from our old home.

Somewhat smaller than our previous home, the new house had two bedrooms upstairs, a large one for my parents and one huge one for Auring, the girl college students and my brothers. There was a landing just at the top of the steps where my parents had their desk and bookshelves. The main floor consisted of the sala, the dining room, the kitchen and oddities of oddities, a stairway leading to a basement. This is where I would be sleeping. But where was my stuff? Like the proverbial kid whose parents rent out his room, any vestiges of my existence had been removed. I had only been gone nine months and there was nothing left. My books and toys were all gone. I felt like a guest in my own home.

That night over supper I eagerly tried to tell the stories of my first year at boarding school: Boy Scouts, plays, classes, friends. Two things became immediately apparent: Dad was completely disinterested, his only comment an occasional snort of disbelief. The second was that everyone else had a hard time relating to my experiences. Gradually I learned not to talk about it. Things were different. They didn't seem like my family anymore. I tried to fit back in to my old life, going to movies with Auring, Tony and the boys, but it didn't feel the same.
Was I gone that long? Had I changed so much?

When our new house was first built the basement flooded. The builder pumped out the water and just kept making the walls thicker until they stopped leaking, a full 3 feet thicker. This created a ledge all around the inside of the basement where you could lay or sit and look out the windows. On a hot night this was a cool place to sleep but you had to watch out for the centipedes. There were a lot of centipedes down there, big ones. On my first night there I woke in the middle of the night when something ran up my side. I exploded out of bed and discovered a 9 inch centipede. I now had a nightly ritual: take the bed apart, kill the centipedes that fall to the floor; remove the sheets and pillowcases and shake them out, kill the centipedes that fall to the floor; flip over mattress, kill the centipedes that fall to the floor. Remake bed carefully shaking out the sheets and killing any remaining centipedes. It was hard to get a good nights rest, I felt buggy all the time.

Shortly after I arrived I got my first letters ever and from girls no less! They would have to be answered. This proved difficult for me because erasable ink had not been perfected yet and there was no "backspace" key on my Bic pen. Spell check had to be done manually. Because I wanted the letters to be perfect, I had a trash can full of crumpled drafts.
"Don't you know
paper doesn't grow on trees!"

hmm, well if you don't count the trunk and the branches, technically I guess you are right.

Mrs. Hinakay showed up to measure me for shirts and pants and then we went to town to buy fabric. Dad decided that if I had time to get new clothes and to write I must need things to do, even if they really didn't need doing. The first thing he had me do was paint the new bodega that suspiciously looked like it had just been painted. Which it had, by Ric and Eddie only the month before. Then there was the daily chore of gathering the softball sized snails and dropping them in the corn sheller and grinding them up to feed the chickens. Another daily chore was pumping water by hand (even though we had an electric pump just for that purpose) into the water tower. Once that was done there was the job of making of seed sample kits. I really liked making them up and got quite fast at it. I kept making them till I ran out of bags. I think this was a job that Dad thought would keep me busy all summer, as there were hundreds to be made. It involved measuring out the seeds, inserting them into a small plastic bag with a typewritten slip of paper identifying the type of rice, then sealing the bag using a lighted candle. I think he was sorely disappointed when I had them done within a few weeks.

Because I was so industrious and ahead of schedule he decided to make a delivery of seed samples along with some fertilizer to the far southern end of the island. New roads had been built allowing him to drive there in about 8 hours. As I had missed out on the pleasure of his company for the last 9 months Mom decided I should go with him.

We left around 4 a.m. and made a quick stop just outside of town. Just as we were leaving, a chicken flew into our windshield and broke it's wing. Dad gave the owner ten pesos and we proceeded on. An ominous beginning to our trip. We had not gone more than a few miles when a pig ran out in front of us and we hit it too. Dad stopped again to try and find the owner. There was a melee going on around us, people running here and there, one carrying firewood, another carrying a long bamboo pole, others butchering the pig. No payment required, they were going to cook lechon. Dad gave them some money anyway. Back on the road, Dad was getting worried about our time table and glanced at his watch. That is when a dog ran out in front of our Land Cruiser and we hit it. And so it went the rest of the day, as we continued to rack up points and get further behind schedule. We finally reached our destination and delivered the fertilizer and seed sample packets. We had a quick meal and headed for home as Dad had a seminar to give the next day. We were way behind schedule, what with all the stopping to apologize and pay off the various animal owners. So far we had hit 3 chickens, 3 dogs, 3 pigs and a cat. It was getting kind of expensive too. Dad was running out of cash. The sun was beginning to set when up in the distance we see a dog sleeping in the middle of the road. Dad honks the horn and the dog does not stir. Dad honks again and keeps his hand down on the horn. We are coming up fast on the dog and just as he lifts his head to look at us, we ran him over. We don't stop. I slide down in my seat so I can't see out the window. It is very quiet in the jeep for twenty minutes or so.
"Dog must have been sick."

Later that night we hit a couple more dogs and pigs. It is late and Dad is out of cash, so he does not stop or slow down. We reached home around midnight, by which time we had run over a total of 14 animals. So ended
Death Race 1972.

One day in early July it started raining and it kind of never quit. Day after day, week after week. This was great because it drastically reduced the number of chores I had to do. We watched the water turn the fields around our home into ponds and then into lakes. The water rose up in the ditches, across the road, slipped under the gate and creeped up towards our front door. Tony, Rick & Eddy filled sandbags and stacked them across the garage floor and around the house. We began hearing reports of typhoons and terrible flooding on the main island Luzon. All roads to Baguio from the south were under water. Dad had some supplies to pick up so he decided to go with me up to Manila a week ahead of my scheduled release! I had served my time and won an unexpected reprieve!

So, armed with clothing that actually fit, I happily set out for Manila and back home.


  1. Can't wait to read your tales from Manila.

  2. I love this and got nostalgic about Tacloban! We lived there from 1939 to 1943 when we had to do a hasty retreat - one of my father's messengers (guerilla) got captured by the Japanese Kempetai and we were told to leave Tacloban immediately. So we packed all the clothes we could. some food and left the piano at the United Evagelical Church (is it still there?) and stashed furniture and other things in my father's office at the Bureau of Plant Industry downtown. I have good memories of my childhood in Tacloban. You mentioned Bethany Hospital and I was taken there during the War (WWII) to be treated for dysentery. We were then in Alang-alang where we evacuated. And I remenber the Fries - missionaries who lived in the house inside the compound. Their two daughters Joan, and Elizabeth were playmates. Wonder if they're still around. Yes, Mark - your stories have dredged up memories in this old man - many thanks. Doc Ralph