Sunday, February 18, 2007

A death in the family

In loving memory
Gandalf Rabbit
April 18, 2002 - February 16, 2007
We will always remember your snorts, your licks,
and your beautiful Spanish eyes.
May you forever hop in peace on the rolling pastures of Heaven.

Mommy, Daddy and Galady miss you.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The secret to a long and happy life: No left turns

This little story by Michael Gartner really moved me.

Michael Gartner has been editor of newspapers large and small and president of NBC News. In 1997, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

Photo by Ilya Mazurkevich from

"My father never drove a car."

Well, that's not quite right.

I should say I never saw him drive a car. He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

"In those days," he told me when he was in his 90s, "to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it."

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in: "Oh, bull----!" she said. "He hit a horse."

"Well," my father said, "there was that, too."

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars—the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford—but we had none.

My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines, would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the three miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

Our 1950 Chevy

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we'd ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. "No one in the family drives," my mother would explain, and that was that. But, sometimes, my father would say, "But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we'll get one." It was as if he wasn't sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown. It was a four- door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn't drive, it more or less became my brother's car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn't bother my father, but it didn't make sense to my mother. So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father's idea. "Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?" I remember him saying once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps—though they seldom left the city limits—and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

The ritual walk to church

Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn't seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage. (Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.) He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin's Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish's two priests was on duty that morning.

If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a two-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home. If it was the assistant pastor, he'd take just a one-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests "Father Fast" and "Father Slow."

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he'd sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. In the evening, then, when I'd stop by, he'd explain: "The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored.") If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out—and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream.

As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, "Do you want to know the secret of a long life?" "I guess so," I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

"No left turns," he said. "What?" I asked.

"No left turns," he repeated. "Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic. As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn."

"What?" I said again. "No left turns," he said. "Think about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that's a lot safer. So we always make three rights."

"You're kidding!" I said, and I turned to my mother for support. "No," she said, "your father is right. We make three rights. It works." But then she added: "Except when your father loses count." I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing. "Loses count?" I asked. "Yes," my father admitted, "that sometimes happens. But it's not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you're okay again."

I couldn't resist. "Do you ever go for 11?" I asked.

"No," he said. "If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can't be put off another day or another week."

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90. She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102. They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom—the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.) He continued to walk daily—he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he'd fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising—and he was of sound mind and sound body until the moment he died.

A happy life

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news. A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, "You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred." At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, "You know, I'm probably not going to live much longer."

"You're probably right," I said.

"Why would you say that?" He countered, somewhat irritated. "Because you're 102 years old," I said. "Yes," he said, "you're right." He stayed in bed all the next day.

That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night. He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said: "I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet."

An hour or so later, he spoke his last words: "I want you to know," he said, clearly and lucidly, "that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have." A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I've wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long. I can't figure out if it was because he walked through life.

Or because he quit taking left turns.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Just checking in...

Photo from
Hello, my dear readers! I have been away for a while and that's because I am attending to so many things.

First, the wedding. Second, the magazine. Third, our new home!!!

Funny, of the three we're most excited about the house (then our magazines, then the wedding last). I guess that's because the wedding's just a silly little party while the condo unit is our future home. We are so thrilled! We want to move in ASAP!!!


Not that I don't care about the wedding.

I am so glad I work in a magazine. Fixing a wedding in less than three months is actually quite a breeze! I have no idea why there are stories about bridezillas, and brides and grooms and mothers fighting, or brides needing a year or two to plan a wedding. Really, it's just like one big photo shoot.

Well, it does help that I know a lot of people in the photography, beauty and fashion industries. And my experience as an editor makes it very easy for me to review locations and services, ask the right questions, and book vendors. I did all of that in a week! It also helps I have the most amazing future sisters-in-law, Lizelle, Anj and Reza. My goodness. I do not know what I'd do without them! If I can only make them all my maids of honor, I would. They have helped me A LOT.

So I have the loveliest little garden chapel to get married in (Archbishop's Palace), the most elegant restaurant to hold our reception (Le Soufflé at The Rockwell Club), Manila's darling designer to make the gowns for me and my ladies (Kate Torralba), a talented makeup artist and hairstylist to do my hair and face (Jigs Mayuga and Nhey Guese of L'Oreal), and my own brother to provide the music with his string quartet (Theodore Amper, cellist for The Manila String Machine). Now, all I need are the rings, the cake, the flowers, and... well, I need a lot of other things. But so far, so perfect!

Weddings are a piece of cake.


Now the house is an altogether different story.

What a complicated business buying your own home is! So many papers, so many taxes, so many fees, so much... government! Grabe. The condominium unit we purchased is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom affair with a breathtaking 90-degree view of the city. It is an amazing place. I kid you not. Great way to start a new life together!

And then the government stepped in. The fees and taxes just kept coming and coming and coming. We paid for so much more on top of what the house cost. It is not right.


Speaking of that, let me go back to the wedding. When we went to our city hall to apply for a marriage license, Vince and I could not believe what was happening. Every question we asked cost us P10. Unbelievable but true. And I was naive enough to ask for a receipt! I am so stupid. Faced with corruption, I did not know what to do except to ask for the right thing. And when it was refused me, I was lost. Buti na lang marami akong barya! Finally, Vince told me to stop asking questions.

When we were also getting Vince's baptismal and confirmation certificates, we found corruption yet again. At the Dela Strada Parish Church along Katipunan Ave., the parish workers gave us Vince's confirmation certificate without a hitch or money exchanged. In the Parish of the Sacred Heart Church in Sta. Mesa, I observed that this time we had to pay for the baptismal certificate. It was okay since the church looked like it needed it and it was just P45 (I heard the woman behind the window charge the lady ahead of me). But when it was my turn, I got charged P55 for the same thing! Was it because I was dressed well and the lady before me wasn't?

It's not right. Dela Strada did not charge us anything and it was a church in a wealthy neighborhood. Sacred Heart was in the middle of an impoverished place—their parish people shouldn't be shelling out money anymore! Well, it does make sense that Dela Strada won't charge; perhaps their offerings every Sunday are more than enough. Still...


I am learning a lot these past few days. I am learning a lot about how churches work, how the government works. I am learning about how families work, mine, Vince's, and combined. I am meeting so many different kinds of people. I am seeing so many new places. Some bad, most good. If there's anything I'm grateful for because of this wedding (aside from getting me a mighty fine hubby!), it's the experiences.

They are amazing.

Now, I don't know when I'll be back but do drop me a line now and then!