Monday, December 20, 2010

Part 42: Holiday Road

The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows;--
The happy days unclouded to their close;
The sudden joys that out of darkness start
As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;--a fairy tale
Of some enchanted land we know not where,
But lovely as a landscape in a dream.
- "Holidays" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

While lowlanders considered Baguio the vacation destination, we who lived in the city on the other hand usually went somewhere else for our holidays. We got about a week at Thanksgiving and another at Easter, but the longest holiday was Christmas break, lasting close to three weeks. In my first years at Brent I spent the shorter holidays in Baguio with whatever missionary families my parents could pawn me off on. Sometimes I got to spend it at Camp John Hay at a classmate's home. Later, Jaime and I more often than not spent the shorter vacations together with his family in Baguio or at his house in Solano.

I was still nursing crushes on Leeanne and Lulie, but the former had a boyfriend in a band in Manila and Lulie was dating Jaime. But we were still friends and this year we took several trips together down to the lowlands where we'd spend a long weekend at Linda Schwartzendruber's home in Forbes Park or at Lulie Lawry's home on Clark Air Force Base.

Named after William Cameron Forbes (who in 1904 at the age of 34 became the Commissioner of Commerce and Police in the Philippines; 5 years later he was appointed Governor General), Forbes Park was a gated community founded in 1940's. The wealthiest families had homes there; Manila Country Club and the Polo Club were within its boundaries.

Besides the armed guards at the main gate, Linda's home had its own guards at their gate too. Situated right next to the Polo stables, I could see the riders practicing from the upstairs window. The house was enormous, the entry more like a hotel lobby, with a Chinese Rickshaw from Hong Kong under the curved stairway, an antique elephant chair from India and a huge Siberian Tiger skin on the floor. Our whole house in Tacloban could fit into the living room area (really a series of 5 living rooms)! The large dining room was circular and the table in it was too. and there were three kitchens back to back. Despite all the trappings that surrounded them, the Schwartzendrubers were a warm and down to earth couple. He was tall, looked kind of like Cary Grant but spoke more like Gregory Peck. She was dark haired and petite, she reminded me of Harriet Nelson from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

When we went to Manila we would stop and pick up a dozen roses to bring to Mrs. Schwartzendruber. Our afternoons were spent shopping in Makati, sometimes we would catch a movie at the Rizal Theater. Leeanne and I saw Young Frankenstein and Earthquake there. In the evenings we'd meet up with other Brent students, congregating together at someplace like Italian Village or Shakey's for pizza and beer. Afterwards, we might go to a schoolmate's home. A few times it was back to Linda's home to swim in her pool, play billiards and take advantage of one of the many fully stocked bars.

Going to Clark was a totally different experience. It was like being stateside, albeit a tropical U.S.A. American cars and trucks, stores and shops, even the neighborhoods looked American.

Founded in 1902 as a US Cavalry post called Fort Stotsenburg, it originally was home of the 26th Cavalry and the 86th and 88th Field Artillery regiments. Eventually the Army Air Corps established an airfield there and Clark Field was born. A bustling air base at the height of the Vietnam War, Clark Air Base was at that time the largest overseas U.S. Military base in the world, covering 156,204 acres. While in the early days most of it was uncultivated grasslands and jungle, the base grew up and around the old army post, a small city surrounded by tall, magnificent trees. The 13th Air Force Headquarters occupied buildings that went back to the early 1900's. The base was an odd mix of American Colonial bungalows and modern track housing.
The Officers' Club surrounded by the graceful old homes with large verandas, was a stark contrast to the modern rectangular block housing of the single enlisted men. There were shopping centers, bowling alleys, movie theaters, restaurants, clubs and schools. In the late 60's and early 70's there were around 8,000 American kids in the base's school system.

Lulie's mother Chloe met us in front of the house with hugs and kisses. A beautiful southern belle, she took a real shine to me and showered me with attention, which kind of annoyed Jaime because he was Lulie's boyfriend after all. But maybe she knew I was the odd man out and was compensating for the agony I was going through. She took me by the elbow and walked me into the house, completely ignoring Jaime. She asked me what I'd like to eat while I was there, she would fix whatever I was hungry for. So we had roast beef, ham, turkey and mashed potatoes, hamburgers and steaks, German chocolate cake, pecan and cherry pies, peach cobbler and ice cream. I was in 7th Heaven. On my second visit to their home she met me at the door with a big pitcher of screwdrivers calling out "Marky, look what I've got!".

One night well after midnight we were sitting around listening to music and talking when Lulie's dad came out in his uniform strapping his side arm to his waist and grabbing his automatic rifle from the closet. "We're on full alert. You kids stay inside till I find out what's going on" he told us. The next morning he called to say we could go outside but we had to stay on the base. Later that morning Lulie got her mom's car and we drove over to the Hobby Store to pick up some leather crafting supplies. She drove around the base to see if we could see what might be going on. The Main Gate was closed and they had big trucks blocking the entrance. The fighter jets were out of the hangers and they were all being armed. Base security trucks with .50 caliber machine guns in the back were driving the perimeter and even patrolling through the residential areas. Lulie and I were out sunning ourselves in the drive way when a jeep drove by slowing down to see if we were OK. It was pretty exciting but I never did find out what was going on.

It was at Clark that I had my first taste of good Irish Whiskey. One night Lulie's parents were having a dinner party for some of their friends and we were helping out in the kitchen. After the meal, it was time for coffee and dessert and Lulie's mom was making Irish Coffee. She carried a tray of cups into the living room but soon returned bearing a single mug. "Mark, taste this, it doesn't seem quite right." It looked delicious, whipped cream floating there with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top. I took a big swallow and choked, my eyes watering, the liquid burning it's way down my throat and into my stomach.
"Uhmm, There's no coffee in it" I sputtered and coughed, Jaime pounding my back.
"Whoops! I knew I forgot something!"

We went to the movies, sometimes to the Bobbit, other times to the Collin Kelly. One weekend we went over to the high school football field called the Bamboo Bowl, to see Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in "Papillon". We sat on the field watching the movie; I was painfully aware of the couple snuggling on the blanket next to me and vainly tried to ignore them. But they were in love and their happiness and contentedness spilled over, enveloping me in the warmth.