The Artistic Expression Series is a showcase for artists to display their work in this very special forum.
The objectives are to encourage artists, as well as give examples of art which both touch humanity in meaningful ways as well as worship God. In short, this series aims to engage the culture.
I wrote this short essay about my grandmother who lives in Hawaii. The choices she made have impacted me greatly and are now impacting my own family. As we take part in our local community in Kansas today, it is important, I believe, to consider our roots. To pass on a rich heritage to our families and the people around us.
America is made up of immigrants from many nations, my grandmother included.
I hope you thoroughly enjoy this piece, as it comes from my very heart and influences my love for others in my city here and now.
Roots of a Family Born in America
By Nate Morsches
A House from My Childhood
I strolled into the dusty entryway, tripping over a shoe. When I looked down, I saw two pairs of loafers, three pairs of house shoes, and fourteen pairs of flip flops or “slippers” as they call it in that part of the country. To my left was the short hallway which contained three bedrooms and a bathroom. We used to fill up a small pink bucket with soapy water, which was my bathtub within a bathtub. It saved money on the water bills.
Instead of turning left, I moved to my right, sidestepping the giant record player that had been broken for nearly a decade, full of Elvis the King albums wishing to fill the house with Blue Hawaii. On the other side of the player was the kitchen – where the magic happened. Pinakbet, Chicken Adobo, Pandesal and a never-ending supply of rice would permeate the house with a sweet vinegar fragrance. In the dining room sat a lavished table and chairs inlayed with an intricate scene, hand-carved by the peasants themselves, which displayed a traditional Luzón farmhouse with a rice plantation and fishing docks. On the wall hung the large fork and spoon that decorate any good Filipino dining room.
However, none of these things caught my eye in the same way that the picture on the bookshelf did. A beautiful pair of dark eyes stared straight into my soul. Her ebony hair was like a cascade seen at night. The black and white photo was one of my grandmother, Felicidad, who was 16 years old at the time of the photo.
Childhood, Schooling & Adolescence
She was born in the barrio (village) of Gabao, in the municipality of Santiago, in the region of Ilocos Sur, on the Filipino island of Luzón. At the age of three, her parents left her with her grandparents in order to go find farming work on the country’s southernmost island called Mindanao. As they fostered her for the next three years, she told me that she was spoiled among her friends. In the Philippines, especially in the barrios, everybody was poor. She was known as Feli by her friends and family. Her grandparents gave her everything they could, including nice haircuts at the barber’s and the occasional toy. They even bestowed upon her the lovely habit of smoking at age five (Grandma chuckled when she told me about this). She said of her dear grandparents, “they are good, they give you a lot, but they expect a lot.” Felicidad learned how to plant, clean and pound rice at a very young age.
When her parents returned in 1942, they had a beautiful six year old daughter proud to the depths of her strong heart. She had lighter skin than the average Ilokan (a Filipino from the northern coastal areas of Luzón), and was called “Americana” by strangers. This gave her a high status, since Americans were considered to be rich. With such an encouraged spirit to lead the children, Feli’s parents had nine kids to follow in her footsteps. Grandma said, “The more kids, the richer you are, because you have more hands to work.”
She worked hard in the fields and also in school. She was the valedictorian every year up through grade 6, which is where most Filipinos in the barrios stop their schooling. She was popular, too. The children at school called her “Manang Peling” which was a term of endearment and respect that is usually reserved for elder relatives. Because of her success, her father sold one of his fields in order to buy her the opportunity to go to high school. To a Filipino, education is the most important thing because it raises your social status and your chances of making a good living.
Also during her childhood, the Japanese occupation greatly impacted their lives. They had to evacuate the barrio and live in the mountains for a few years. Her family was only able to take five pillows and blankets. Every day, they had to walk miles to the barrio well to fill up their carrumbas (jars) with water and carry them back on their heads. Thankfully, her immediate family all survived, but her future husband, Patricio, lost his father and brother in a gruesome execution.
Marriage & Career
It was years later that this same Pat, after moving to America and joining the Navy, started writing Feli. You see, Pat had met her once before he left and she made an impression on him, even though he was ten years older. It was not long before he proposed to her from oversea.
Feli knew that if she married him, she would be able to move to America, which was the land of prosperity. They married when she was 16 years old, and she followed him to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after a simple yet exquisite Catholic wedding in Pat’s barrio called Butol.
Years later, after Pat’s Navy enlistment, he had enlisted in the Air Force, which allowed Feli to begin work at the commissary at Hickam AF Base. At this, I could tell that Grandma was very proud. She worked for 32 years as a cashier. Known as such a trustworthy employee, they put her in charge of counting all the money in the store. It was to her great pleasure to say that in 32 years, not a single penny was ever lost. This job was very important to her as she was able to send money back to her family back in the PI (slang abbreviation meaning the Philippines), too.
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