Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kimi’s Sense of Snow

My Sunday is complete. My inbox today contains a longish letter from my eldest daughter Kimi Fernandez who is enjoying the first winter of her life with her sister Ida and my Valdellon cousins in the US. As a mother, I am happy my girls are having the time of their young lives. At the same time, I am grateful for having had a grandmother like Telesfora Lolarga who ensured that family ties remained strong despite geographical distances. Cousin Telly said a few weeks ago how lucky we were to have had a lola like ours who instilled a profound sense of family throughout all the Christmases and Baguio summers of our childhood and teen years. Here are excerpts from Kimi's letter:

Hi Nanay! Sorry I only got back to you now. Tita Telly drove us to Virginia Wednesday afternoon. We had lunch at the Philippine Bread House in Jersey City, then went to Red Ribbon to buy ensaymada and empanada. We passed by Delaware to buy a tax-free Macbook, then went straight to the hospital in Maryland where Tita Nini was confined. She looks good, no longer as pale as Tita Telly described her the last time she saw her during Thanksgiving. We said a prayer for her with a priest before leaving.

We went to Rotonda in McLean and had pizza takeout dinner. Tita Allyn arranged the den as a pretty guest room and even placed welcome gift envelopes on our pillows! Kakahiya nga eh! She also gave us some jackets we can wear when we go out.

The next day, she drove us to the post office where she mailed her Christmas cards and I got stamps for my postcards. Then we went to Office Depot to pick up the Netbook that Tita Telly helped me order online. It's an HP Mini 311-- what I'm using now. We went back to the condo and met up with Cousin Dean who took us to Marshall's. I bought a long- sleeved golf shirt and golf tool kit for Tita Telly and books that we can give as gifts to our titas in California. I got Dog Miracles - Inspirational True Stories of Canine Heroism and A Dog's Life, a book of dog quotes for Tito Fort, then cookbooks for Tita Thelma and Tita Lucy (Toast It, Delicious Wraps, and Comfort Food). Hindi ba corny?

On Friday, Tita Allyn drove us around DC and showed us the museums. She dropped us off at the Air and Space Museum where we met up with Dean again. The museums are awesome. They're free and just walking distance from one another. They’re not crowded unlike in summer when the museums can get jampacked! We also went to National Art Gallery, Sculpture Garden, Museum of American History (we saw Julia Child's kitchen and Dorothy's red shoes!!) and Museum of Natural History where we watched an IMAX movie, Wild Ocean. It was great!

We took the Metro at the Smithsonian. Tita Allyn picked us up at the West Church Hill station. Tito Rudy and I get along pretty well because we talk about IT and Internet stuff! At around 9 p.m., Tita Allyn called me to the lanai because it was starting to snow! The cars and roads were already covered in white!

When we woke up today, everything was white! It was snowing hard. The snowstorm was all over the news. There was a blizzard because it was also windy. Tita Allyn said it was the first time they experienced snow this thick here in the Rotonda. And to think that it's still autumn! At around noon time, she lent us their ski suits, glasses, etc. All four of us went out, up to the gazebo and the pond. Snow is fun! It's powder soft and doesn't stick much so we weren't able to make a snowman. Ida and I threw snowballs at each other! We lay down on our backs and made snow angels! Tito Rudy took our pics.

It's still snowing hard right now and the snow on the ground is getting thicker! I think there’s three feet of snow already! The snow plowers come every hour, but the roads are easily covered with more snow. I see people walking on the snow-covered roads. Not much cars today. It's gonna snow through the night.

It's all white outside, really pretty!! We wish you could've stayed behind so you could experience snow with us! We already miss NYC and Tita Telly's condo. But we're also enjoying our stay here in VA! Different state, different experiences! I still can't believe we're able to go to all of these places!

I miss you and Tatay and the Pasig people! But I'm not a bit homesick. Ha ha.


Photo of Kimi from ERLINIE VALDELLON MENDOZA's iPhone

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My First American Thanksgiving

On board a Northwest Airlines plane, I tried to read myself to sleep without success. The words of an American humor columnist reverberated in my head—he wrote that Thanksgiving was celebrated only once a year because the minute one sets eyes on one’s family members, you realize the reason you have to meet them infrequently.

When Nov. 26 dawned, the voice of my sister-in-law Emily F. Marquez could be heard outside our guest bedroom door. She was up bright and early for a communal breakfast buffet awaiting us at The Marriott Hotel in Torrance, California. My family members were still stretching in their pajamas; Emily was ready to drive out of the driveway and couldn’t wait for my eldest girl Kimi to step out of the shower and dress. We got a severe five-minute scolding about American promptness and observance of schedules. Then she paused, unclenched her hands on the driver’s wheel, turned to us and said, “By the way, Happy Thanksgiving!”

The hotel was about half a mile away. When we reached the garden terrace, nephew Chico Fernandez announced that we just won the early-bird prize. Hurray for Filipino time.

And then the waves of Fernandez sets and sub-sets arrived, and Michelle Fernando Kanor’s cackle rose above the din of excited conversation. The tiny adorables shook hands solemnly or bussed the aunties, uncles, grandaunts and granduncles some of whom they were meeting for the first time.

My assignment was to organize games—the first I could think of was a quiz on the odd nicknames of my spouse Rolly and his six other siblings. Tig is Lucy Fernando, Kithel is Thelma Martin, Tasio is Maxlen, Aki is Emily, Nano is Nani, Banong is Willie and Rock is Rolly. The last operates under the illusion that he must’ve gotten that name from ’60s “Pillow Talk” heartthrob Rock Hudson. Maxlen the oldest brother dashed this illusion, saying Rolly the youngest was such a hungry child, he would even eat darak (duck feed).

It was a good sign that the second generation knew enough family history to answer my questions correctly. The prizes, Subic t-shirts from Nani and wife Nancy, who developed Moonbay Marina at the Subic Bay Free Port in Zambales, were disposed of quickly.

The preschoolers in the group like Joshua F. Bandy and Kamea F. Miranda read the words on their new shirts. If the US economy improves, Subic is the next destination of another grand Fernandez reunion five years down the road. Next year is too soon. Willie said, “Magkakasawaan agad (We’ll tire of each other too soon).”

A cousin on my side once sent a card that read: “Familiarity breeds contempt, but look what yours bred.” And it showed dozens of brats.

We had none of that familiar contempt on the Fernandez side. Kith and kin here imbibed in some way the example set by the formidable matriarch, Justiniana Beltran. Psychologist April Desiree Fernando, the eldest grandchild, articulated these lessons well in her recollections of her late Lola Uste whom she addressed as Nanay:
• It’s okay to feel things deeply and articulate colorfully;
• Be thrifty but have a generous spirit;
• Being strong can sometimes be confused with going about things alone;
• Silence can be both painful and healing, but you have to sit with it long enough to figure out what is happening.

Her Uncle Maxlen recalled the heroism of the patriarch who died in a vehicular accident. Liberato Fernandez sent many youth to school without his family’s knowledge. In one of their walks, Maxlen asked his Dad what he would do if Maxlen jumped into the raging river below them. The older man said he would save his son even if it meant giving up his own life.

In a video showing the Philippine-based siblings talking about their parents, Nani said he wished his mother had lived longer to see her children to be the successes that they are. He added that he has tried to keep his father’s own lesson to heart: to remain ever humble no matter how high a station in life he reaches.

It was a sister-in-law, Chingbee Fernandez, who summed up the ties that bind this family together in the lyrics to the song entitled “We Are Fernandez Family”: “Wherever we may be we are family / When times are hard / We’ll always have each other …/Sing to the world / We are Fernandez family.”

By the time the evening of speeches, games, dancing, singing, drinking and laughing ended, the littlest ones had gone up to their rooms while the male adults repaired for more sharing at a bar.

Someone said Thanksgiving should be renamed thanks living. I totally agree. It didn’t matter that there was no leftover turkey for sandwiches the morning after.

The children of Liberato and Justiniana Fernandez and their spouses in a photo taken by KIMI FERNANDEZ