"As all things come to an end, even this story, a day came at last when they were in sight of the country where Bilbo had been born and bred, where the shapes of the land and of the trees were as well known to him as his hands and toes."
Back at Brent I stripped my bed and packed up the last of my things for storage. We didn't have to haul our trunks down to storage this year, as long as they were clearly labeled they would be moved for us. Then, after racing up to the dining hall for a quick bite to eat, Tommy Quinto drove us to the airport.
It was a long wait at Loakan airport, the flight was full and there was a lot of extra luggage, mostly from Brent students going home for the summer or back to the States. They were having difficulty getting all the luggage stowed away and had to repack the plane. They didn't make us wait on board, but kept us in the departure area. While we were waiting the airline passed out glasses of orange juice. I was thirsty and drank it down. Shortly thereafter I made a mental note to never eat bacon and eggs and drink orange juice so early in the morning after a night of drinking.
Finally, the plane was loaded and we boarded. Cindy was sitting next to me in the window seat, I had the aisle. After the Prom, things between us had returned to the status quo. We taxied to the far end of the tarmac and came about. Then we began lumbering down the runway, engines straining. We didn't seem to be going very fast and after a certain point I realized that the wheels were not lifting off the ground.
Baguio's Loakan Airport is known for it's short, concave runway with cliffs on either end. Because the runway is so short, larger planes cannot use it. Even for the F-27 with it's large wingspan this runway was a little tricky. To help the pilots out, the Airport had installed markers every 50 feet along the runway. Large black lettering on a white background told the pilots how many feet were left till the end of the runway. A long hazard yellow line crossed the runway at the point where the FAA felt the wheels needed to leave the ground and a corresponding yellow marker at the same point shouted out a warning. From that point on the runway was crosshatched with thick painted lines. We called it the "Point of No Return".
I had been chatting with my seatmate, casually glancing out the window, noting the markers as we passed them. When we passed the yellow warning marker I turned with a grin to Cindy "We should have lifted off by now!"
Oh No! She covered her face with her hands and assumed the crash position. We continued to barrel down the runway, no sign of slowing down. Leaning over, I could see the fence rapidly growing larger. Finally, the wheels left the ground and a split second later we passed over the fence, then the road on the edge of the cliff. As we cleared the road the overloaded plane dropped for a few long seconds into the canyon below. Passengers screamed, some shouted, then burst into nervous laughter as we slowly began to rise again.
Leeanne, Lulie, Jaime and I were going to spend a few weeks together. Jaime's dad was going to drive us around Northern Luzon and I was just waiting for them to get to Manila to pick us up. Leeanne was busy saying goodbye to her boyfriend and I didn't like being the third wheel all the time. It was raining heavily in Manila and some parts of the city were flooded. I did a little shopping with Cindy, went to the movies and out for some pizza. Her folks maintained a home in Manila too and one night after I dropped her off I found myself stranded due to the high water. After some extensive arguing with the housekeeper, Cindy was allowed to put me up for the night. The Ya-Ya showed me my room, gave me the evil eye and pointedly shut the door firmly behind her as she left. I got the message. No Funny Business Mister! I have to admit I was tempted. By the next afternoon the waters had receded and the family chauffeur drove me back to the Mission Guest House.
Jaime and his Dad showed up a few days later with Lulie in tow. A short time later Leeanne arrived by taxi and we were off. For the girls, this would be their first time to see parts of the country not normally visited by tourists; they were going to get to taste new foods. Away from the cities, restaurants and shops, they got to see the life in the rural areas that Jaime and I experienced growing up. We took the National Highway north to the very top of Luzon to Aparri, the highway ending at the sea. Like Vigan, Aparri was a centuries old Spanish town located in the province of Cagayan and had been an important port during the heyday of the Spanish Galleon trade. There the ships would pick up bales of tobacco from the Cagayan valley before heading on to Manila.
There was little tourism there in those days, no big hotels or fancy restaurants. We had the beaches to ourselves; white sands and crystal clear water. Leeanne had been reading Jaws by Peter Benchley and was a little skittish in the water, constantly looking about and jumping if something brushed past her legs. Of course, this set my devilish mind in action and I scoured the beach for a suitable piece of driftwood. I found a large chunk of wood shaped like a dorsal fin and slipped in to the water when her back was turned, holding it under with my feet. Then, easing off behind her I slid under the water and holding the driftwood above me I swam towards her. She didn't notice the "fin" til it was just a few feet from her. Then the screams! I could hear them plainly even under the water! She was out of the water and clear up to the truck faster than you could say "We're going to need a bigger boat". She had some choice words for me when she saw me holding the driftwood.
There was an underlying sadness on this trip, despite the fun we were having. In the quiet moments, between the laughter, the somber misery returned to our faces. Leeanne was heading off to Montreal to law school, Lulie to Hollins College in Virginia. Besides the friends she was leaving behind at Brent, Leeanne was thinking of her boyfriend in Manila. So, when a few days in to our trip she came down sick, I think it was the sadness and loneliness more than anything else. While Jaime' s Dad drove her back to Manila, we remaining three caught a open sided Dangwa bus to Sagada.
The Episcopal Church ran a guest house called St. Joseph's and we reserved ourselves some rooms and went out to tour the town. We wandered through the woods, climbed the limestone crags; we spent a few quiet days relaxing, reading, writing. Then I caught a bus back to Baguio and then on to Manila; Jaime and Lulie took a bus to his home in Solano.
We had been together as a group since 1973. A lifetime of tears, laughter and loving; now these were our last days together. In the glory days we would have fought and died for each other. How could an insignificant calendar date in time abruptly conclude our relationships?
Our Fellowship was at an end.