"I'm a viking! I'm a viking!" It's 1992. My Grandpa is in a Scandinavian furniture store. Most people ignore him - he's a tiny old Filipino man, with a tiny, pretty wife. One of millions of couples like them in the city. But he's different. He grabs a wooden bowl, pops it on top of his head & begins chanting, with his arms in the air. "I'm a viking! I'm a viking!" The rest of the store stops, aghast. Our family just laughs. Grandpa knows exactly what he's doing (making himself laugh). And Grandpa can do whatever he wants. As they leave, Grandma slips her hand into his, proud as can be.
World War 2. 1941. Pearl Harbor is bombed. 10 hours later, the Philippines is attacked. A few years later, they meet.
She is looking for her brother, accompanying her father, from jail-to-jail. They are hoping he is a prisoner of war, they are hopeful they can find him, that he is not dead. Grandma is a young lady, & gorgeous. She has smooth, high cheekbones, a ready smile & large, lucid eyes that sparkle with mirth & curiosity. (2 days before she died, someone had tied her white hair into an 80's style pigtail on the top of her head with a hot-pink scrunchie. She remembered none of us, & hadn't actually, for a long time. But still, there was that laughter & wonder. That regal beauty on milk-chocolate skin)
She tries to pretend that an "old man" hidden in a cell corner isn't staring at her, but she can't deny how striking his eyes are. (Yes, years later she'd laugh in the kitchen, telling me how old he looked, how penetrating his eyes were.) Once she leaves the jail, so does my grandfather, really a young man hidden behind massive hair, a beard & mustache that had grown long with his time there. He, too, is gorgeous. They were beautiful. But I'm ahead of myself.
That's the thing about angels. Their time here becomes all collapsed. There's no way to really lineate the stories from before I knew them, the memories I have & the dreams I have where they come to me still, telling me more stories, giving me more reasons to love my husband & always leaving me feeling visited. So let me try again.
Grandma, she thought he was old. But he was young. A Pinoy in the American Army, he was a part of the Bataan Death March. American & Filipino soldiers, already diseased & weak from 4 months of fighting without food or aid from America were surrendered to the Japanese, who proceeded to march them for 65 miles. 10,000 men didn't make it, being shot or bayoneted when they slowed to catch their breath. But he did. Most of the men who made it were imprisoned for years. He also belonged to a group of men used to test atomic warfare, exposed to massive amounts of experimental radiation. My dad used to say he was sorry I didn't know Grandpa before, "before he was in pain & so grumpy." But we didn't mind. He was so military & so religious. Too us kids, he wasn't grumpy, he was old. We always knew what to expect.
So. He escaped from that Japanese prison & chased after her. When he arrived at their home, he was a mess, having fallen into a pit of rain & mud, having traveled by foot, having been through the hell of war & back. She was a young Dona, an upper-class mestiza with the regal name of Aurora Legasca. Her father had great respect for the young soldier, & insisted she come to greet her guest. And like the princess who resisted her frog, she declined, worried about the old man in the jail cell. My great-grandfather had their family servants take Grandpa - Agripino, his name was, & they cleaned him up, shaved him & put him into fresh clothes. A warrior-turned-prince, she was smitten for the rest of her life.
He had to go back to the Japanese jail, or they'd find him once they knew he was gone. So that is how their courtship was. He would escape, then return after the guards switched, saying he was let out for a cigarette. He is who I think of when I hear the phrase, "What would you do for love?" They had two sons, Orville & Wilbur. And two daughters, Eve & Ruth. Sometimes grandpa would sell paintings on the street to feed them. When Wilbur, who was very smart & loved to dance, was a small child, he died of fear. I don't know how they handled that, but I would assume it had to do with their faith. Grandma & Grandpa were insanely devout Catholics, & even though I am not, I've inherited their love of Spirit, their relationship to prayer & their success with miracles. They had all kinds of crazy miracles.
By the time I knew them, they never spent a second apart. They had moved to Chicago together, attended Black & both received law degrees. They moved to San Francisco & bought a house, above the huge Asian Farmer's Market. One day a truck came to their home & men in uniform awarded him both the Silver Star, for unusual valor, & the Purple Heart, for his extraordinary injuries.
Anry & Rory
Held hands every single day. Kept a compost & had a jungle in their Bernal Heights backyard. Walked all over San Francisco, took buses & visited friends until the day he died. They made us laugh. Scolded us during pre-dinner prayers. Had a crazy-gaudy Christmas set-up. Had 70's-cool style with fitted leather jackets & plaid pants. Saved everything in case of a war. Labeled everything just like in the army. Even their towels & their tin pie-pans. Prayed together, on their knees, no less than 3 times a day. Saved the neighborhood cats until they had 13, their favorite bearing the name, "Survivor." Would talk over each other constantly, saying, "No Darling! No Darling!" They always called each other Darling. She could read palms perfectly, without even really looking. He was an animal whisperer, being adopted often, including his cockatoo which flew into his mailbox. They loved to watch boxing. The 'Niners. Would scream at the tv during games. Had a love beyond their own full lives, one that feeds me still, in my own marriage. They were resilient.
My Grandpa would understand why my family keeps "Conscientious Objector Scrapbooks" for each of our boys, which carefully detail our values, what we advocate & the members of our community who work for Peace. These files will allow my boys to powerfully choose a life of peace, or the life of a warrior, should there ever be a mandatory draft. And Grandpa would not question my patriotism. I am clear that my particular ethnic makeup is an American Soup, as is my children's. We are deeply grateful, & we are proud of the diversity, geography, indigenous cultures, migrant stories & art forms unique to America. I am not a supporter of war. But I am a supporter of troops. These soldiers out there - they are never far from my mind. I am scared for them. What I am grateful for is their individual acts of resiliency, the quiet moments that no one will ever know about, save for their families, where they are still able to experience awe, beauty, & love.
Here's Hope. A global movement of leaders & citizens actually giving Peace a Deadline. Please consider adding this video to your blog. xoxo, Maya