|In 1975, he worked part-time "to earn pocket money |
and get a little bit of exercise".
Ten years later, I visited Hawaii for the first time. Immediately, I knew I was home. The smell. The feel. The taste.
Hawaii was where Daddy lived for a quarter of his century. His youth, his coming into middle-age, his single life. There, in Hawaii, in the sugarcane fields, the streets of Honolulu. There, he lived away from family, independent and free.
Daddy was one of the many young Filipino men who signed a three-year contract to work on Hawaiian plantations. His year to leave home was 1928. A young, handsome man of 23 years. What was it like for him? I cannot even begin to imagine.
His plan was to go back home after his contract was up. But he had made little money after three years. Also, he said, his girlfriend had married someone else. There was no use to go back home. Yet.
Thirty-five years after Daddy finally left Hawaii, I took my first trip there. As I stood in the sugarcane fields on the Big Island, I thought of my father. I could sense Daddy and his compadres bending low with their machetes, grabbing the sugarcane, and whacking away at their ends. As I drove by houses with corrugated tin roofs, I realized where Daddy's choice of building materials came from. Not the Philippines, but Hawaii. Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui. Those are the only islands I heard him mention as I was growing up.
Daddy told me a story about one early morning in December of 1941. His cousin was cutting his hair in their kitchen. In the quiet of the morning, he heard the far away sound of airplanes growing louder. Then Boom! Boom! Boom! Daddy urged his cousin to finish up quickly so they could go see what all the noise was near the harbor.
A few months later, Daddy told me, he was hanging out with a friend in a park. "Bye and bye," he said, "many Filipino men were running towards some trucks and jumping on. They were all joining the army. My friend sad, 'Hurry, Hurry." So, Daddy ran and jumped into the U.S. Army.
His cousin, the one who cut his hair that December 7th, had no idea whether Daddy was dead or alive. Twenty-five years later, Daddy reunited with his cousin during our visit to the Philippines. His cousin said ,as he wiped away his tears, "Why didn't you write?"
After Daddy got out of the army, now a U.S. citizen, he had saved enough money to go to the mainland and live with his younger brother, Uncle Frank, in Hollister. Daddy was homesick for family. About a year later, Daddy decided to go to the Philippines. I don't know whether it was just to visit or to return permanently. A few days into his stay, he met and fell instantly in love with Mama. They married. A year later, they had a son. Daddy realized before the baby was born that he had to return to the United States. Opportunities in the U.S. would be much better for his family than in the Philippines. So, a few weeks after my brother was born, Daddy was on his way back to United States. It took him several months to earn passage for Mama and Junior.
In all that he did, Daddy never looked back. At least, he made it seem that way.