The Family – Chapter 10

George and Martha

Farewell, beloved Country, treasured region of the sun,

Pearl of the sea of the Orient, our vanquished Eden!

To you I gladly surrender this melancholy life;

And were it brighter, fresher, gaudier,

Even then I’d give it to you, to you alone would then I give.

My dreams, even as a child,

My dreams, when a young man in the prime of life,

Were to see you one day, jewel of the eastern seas,

Dry those dark eyes, raise that forehead high,

Without frown, without wrinkle, without stain of shame.

Pray for all the unfortunate ones who died,

For all who suffered torment unequaled,

For grieving mothers who in bitterness cry,

For orphans and widows, for prisoners in torture,

And for yourself to see your redemption at last.

Land that I love, sorrow of my sorrows,

Adored Filipinas, hear my last good-bye.

There I leave you all, my parents, my beloved.

I go where there are no slaves, hangmen nor oppressors,

Where faith does not kill, where the one who reigns is God.

—My Last Farewell, Dr. Jose Riza (translation adapted from one by Edwin Lozada) Stanzas 1, 4, 9, and 13

Most students of American history recognize the fact that the name United States of America has remained unchanged since the nation’s founding in 1789 (following an unfortunate and unworkable experiment as a confederation.)

Not so with many of the world’s nations including the archipelago and 7,107-island country known today as the Republic of the Philippines. Over a thousand years ago the Chinese who considered it the most honest country in Asia called it “Ma-Yi”. Later, after Spain grabbed control of the islands in 1700, it was given the Spanish name—the Filipinas. Following the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 it became an American colony and was renamed the Philippine Islands. Finally, in 1932, after gaining independence, the people chose the title Republic of the Philippines.

Unofficially there were other names. “Tokyo Rose” (Iva Toguri D’Aquino), the Japanese propagandist, called the Philippines the “Orphans of the Pacific” in her World War II broadcasts. Author Katherine Mayo called the islands the “Isles of Fear.” Anthropologist Arnold Landor called the Philippines the “Gems of the East.” There were many, many more names over the years.

These facts are unknown to most Americans but they were common knowledge to the Family because of the lessons on Filipino history and culture supplied by George and Martha. Although they considered themselves Americans first, they were also proud of their original homeland and never afraid to make that fact known. And unlike many Filipinos who seemed to see their time in America as transitory, hoping to obtain a good education and perhaps make enough money to open a business upon their return to their homeland, George and Martha harbored no such desire. Twice a decade they would visit the Philippines and their relatives but their true home would always be America.

Their personal story was riveting. The story of how both had been orphaned as infants by a Japanese Imperial Army run amok. The story of how George’s parents were savagely murdered when they tried to help the Americans. The story of soldiers that raped Martha’s mother before using her mother, and her mother’s parents, for bayonet practice.

Somehow both children survived and were taken to an orphanage in Manila. Somehow they became the favorites of two American Missionary families and somehow both families were able to adopt them and bring them to the United States even though there were severe restrictions against Filipino immigration to the United States.

Somehow it happened, and though their childhood often resembled that of brother and sister, they were almost destined to wed. Eventually they were married and their union proved to be one of strength and unusual love. Perhaps it was their shared experiences but they seemed wise beyond their age at an early age and as actual age crept up on the couple they seemed to become even more sagtaceous.

George was fearless and, similar to Jasper, relentless when it came to doing the right thing, in doing good. He has seen bad things and knew that the actions of one single, solitary individual could actually make a difference.

Martha shared that passion with an ebullient, youthful enthusiasm that belied her age. She also had observational skills and a wicked way with words that delighted the other members of the Family. She was small, only 5’2” tall, but pity the larger person who stood in her way—on any issue. Of course George was only 5’6” tall him self, but what the diminutive couple lacked in height they easily made up in heart, brains and courage.

Their adopted parents had loved to fish and brought them frequently to the local pier where they learned the rudiments necessary to be successful pier fishers. Later, after they wed, they came on their own and eventually joined in with the large contingent of Filipino families that visited the pier most mornings.

Within a short time they began to stand out and within a couple of years they had become the leaders of the Filipinos on the pier. However, even while their angling skill and reputation increased, the pressures of maintaining a job and raising a family took its toll on the time they had for their most favored sport (and social activity). Increasingly as their children grew older they were confronted with “other” activities that demanded their attention.

Eventually the time on the pier dwindled to an occasional visit, They were still revered in many ways but their presence or more properly lack of presence meant that others would inherit the mantle of leadership on the pier. That was OK to both George and Martha for they never desired to be the “leaders”—but they did miss the fishing and the camaraderie they found on the pier.

But kids grow up and jobs change and by the time they neared their fifties they found they actually had the time, and freedom, to more regularly visit the piers. But, they had also changed over the years. When young they had joined in with the other local Filipinos in the daily catch of fish, any fish, needed to fill a bucket. Small queenfish, white croaker, perch, and mackerel were the usual catch and typically all were kept—and used. Nothing was wasted

Some of the fish would be dried and used for “tuyo,” a breakfast consisting of rice and fish. Some would be split, sprinkled with spice, left in the sun and fried up for daing. Some would be sliced up and added to vegetables to make pinakbet. Many Filipinos eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner so any and all fish is prized. Eat the heads and you become smarter (that’s where the brains are found). Eat the lips, the tastiest part of the fish. Eat the eyes that taste so good. And the small fish full of bones? Just cook them up and eat them whole.

But the years, their jobs, their learning, and the friends they had made over the years seemed to have expanded their interests and outlooks. Although their Filipino culture, including its food, was still important, it was only one of many interests. They still ate the foods occasionally but were aware that some of the inshore fish that they ate needed to be eaten with caution. The fish contained toxins and moderation was needed. Only eat a certain amount each month, clean and remove the parts of the fish that contained the toxins, and cook them in such a way that remaining toxins were eliminated. Unfortunately those rules were in almost direct opposition to the Filipino way of eating the small fish and most of the locals on the pier ignored the dangers.

George and Martha were smart and while realizing the conundrum facing their friends they changed the way they personally ate fish. Out with the fried and in with steamed and broiled, out with the eyes, guts and heads, in with the fillets. Of course that also meant a desire for larger fish like halibut and a decrease in interest in the small fish, especially the bottom feeding croakers. It was a tradeoff they were willing to make.

In addition, they had changed their outlook on fishing. It was still a favorite sport, and a great way to socialize with their friends, but fishing had become something more than just a quest for food. It was an actualizing activity that seemed to find a home when they joined the Family. The friendship, esteem, respect, problem solving, and simple morality that were embraced by the Family quickly became an important part of their life. Perhaps not as quickly recognized was the fact that they also became an important part of the Family. The verve, intelligence, and worldly outlook they brought to the Family was synergistic in nature and helped the Family become an even more important force on the pier.

Whenever George and Martha would visit the Philippines they would make sure to set aside several hours to visit Fort Santiago, a fortress that is part of the walled city of Intramuros, in Manila. The time at the fort was always precious because it seemed to relight the Filipino candle in their souls. The site of the fort had once been home to the palace of a Muslim chief. That palace was destroyed by Spanish conquistadors and replaced by a fort—Fuerza de Santiago. Still later it was destroyed during the Spanish-Chinese War, rebuilt, captured by the Japanese during World War II and then, once again restored. Today it serves as a museum as well as the home for the Rizal Shrine dedicated to José Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero. Imprisoned at the fort before his execution in 1896, bronze footsteps now trace his final footsteps from his cell to the location of his execution.

George and Martha would always walk those footsteps, say a small prayer when they reached the end, and generally weep a tear or two. They loved the story of José Rizal, and still loved their homeland, but they also realized it was in many ways more a part of their past than of their future. It’s a conflict faced by many but out of that conflict often comes strength.

George and Martha had faced many difficulties during their life but now were at peace with the world. They had a happy marriage, great children, friends, and a Family on the pier that treasured them dearly. They were content.

My Last Farewell, Dr. Jose Riza

Stanzas 6, 7, 8, and 14

If upon my grave one day you may behold,

Amidst the dense grass, a simple lowly flower,

Place it upon your lips, and my soul you’ll kiss,

And on my brow may I feel, under the cold tomb,

The tenderness of your touch, the warmth of your breath.

Let the moon see me in soft and tranquil light,

Let the dawn burst forth its fleeting radiance,

Let the wind moan with its gentle murmur,

And should a bird descend and rest on my cross,

Let it sing its canticle of peace.

Let the burning sun evaporate the rain,

And with the struggle behind, towards the sky may they turn pure;

Let a friend mourn my early demise,

And in the serene afternoon, when someone prays for me,

O Country, pray that God will also grant me rest!

Goodbye, dear parents, brother and sisters, fragments of my soul,

Childhood friends in the home now gone,

Give thanks that I rest from this wearisome day;

Goodbye, sweet stranger, my friend, my joy;

Farewell, loved ones. To die is to rest.