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Unexpected memories

By BARBARA GONZALEZ- VENTURA, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 20, 2022 5:00 am

A long time ago I discovered the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It was so long ago I have lost the book, probably donated it to a reading center when I moved from a big house to a much smaller one. But I remember Cameron writing about what she called the “Morning Pages” to bring out the artist in you. She recommended we wake up earlier, pick up a notebook, and write three pages of whatever flowed out of our minds.

 Lately, I decided to start writing Morning Pages again. On the morning of Feb. 17, this is what I wrote:

“I got married first on February 17, 1963. If I had stayed married it would be our 59th anniversary today. We would probably have been dead from boredom with each other. Neither of us would have had the interesting lives we have led since we separated.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

“I thank You, God, for the life You gave me even if I never imagined it would end this way, with me taking care of my present husband and making rosaries, which strangers call ‘beautiful’ on Facebook.

“How life has changed! I don’t know why I want to write about my first trip to Baguio when Mommy and I went and stayed at Tita Elsa’s house. I wore my chartreuse dress with the dark blue polka dot trim. It was our first mother-daughter outfit. I must have been four years old.

“Mommy and I took the train to San Fernando, La Union, I think, then the bus up Kennon Road where there was a stunning waterfall somewhere. Much later that waterfall dried up or maybe was diverted or maybe people in the mountains, whose number has inexorably grown, drank the water before it could rush or gush down the mountainside.

Praying the rosary is a powerful devotion that can change your life.

 “I remember very well my little chartreuse dress, playing with my cousins Chiqui and Eddie, Tita Elsa’s children, and getting bewildered under a climbing rose bush. My cousins told me it was the place to go so I was excited about going under and venturing in it but a bit panicked about finding my way out, afraid that the roses’ thorns would nip and scratch me. Chiqui once told me that I danced for her and Eddie and they rolled with laughter at my movements. I have no memory of dancing when I was four years old.

 “But I also have a light memory of my mother and Tita Elsa, who must have been in their late 20s then, trying to play mahjong, a game Mommy never learned, and trying to smoke, another activity my mother never learned either.

Writing without a thought was magical for me. It took me back to when I was a child having intimate fun with my mother, aunt and cousins. The whole experience warmed me, made me realize how much I love unexpected memories.

 “There was a photograph of me then sitting on a garden chair smiling broadly, looking stupid with my straight long bangs as parted as my tiny milk teeth. Every time — though I admit this does not happen very often — I see an old man or woman on the street whose teeth have many spaces in between, I am reminded of that silly picture of me at four years old.

 “The photo was in my beautiful baby book, whose cover was made by my godmother, the cloistered nun. It was a dull satin, discreetly quilted and embroidered with a baby literally dressed in pink and blue lace (because they didn’t know what gender I would be), whose face was a sepia picture cut out from a book. I treasured that baby book for more than 50 years, until it was destroyed by a storm that ruined my library in a rented house. I think it was rained on for three days and nights and could not be rescued again. It had notes about my birth and early days written by my father whom my mother called my Pappy, notes I treasured because they were the only evidence that my Pappy once truly existed and cared for me. I had only my baby book and their wedding picture to convince me my mother’s stories were true.

“My baby book told me everything about my father’s brief 26 years of life, shattered by the end of World War II, and much later on, by that horrible storm that destroyed it. The Japanese took my father, my uncle, my grandfather and all the men in our family away on February 7, 1945, brought them to the Masonic Temple nearest our house on General Luna, Paco, and shot them dead. I was six months old. We never saw their bodies. For the longest time we had no tombs to visit on All Saint’s Day.”

* * *

I don’t know why my memory brought me down this path to my first vacation in Baguio that happened around 73 years ago. But writing without a thought was magical for me. It took me back to when I was a child having intimate fun with my mother, aunt and cousins. The whole experience warmed me, made me realize how much I love unexpected memories.