“She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.” ~ Alex Tizon, from “My Family’s Slave”

Lola Pulido with the author and his siblings (all images are Tizon family photos)

“Push away the past, that vessel in which all emotions curdle to regret.” ~ Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, from Before We Visit the Goddess

Thursday late afternoon, cloudy and cool, 51 degrees.

I’ve had this one tab open on my laptop for about two weeks, maybe more. I haven’t wanted to close it as I wanted it to be a constant reminder that it needed attention on my part. It’s one of three posts that I’ve been trying to write longer than I care to admit. This particular tab is for an article that was published in The Atlantic called “My Family’s Slave,” by the late Alex Tizon, and although I’ve wanted to write a response to it ever since I read it, I cannot seem to find the best way in, if that makes any sense.

Lola age 51

The article deals with a Filipino tradition (for lack of a better word) of the better-off taking in someone not so well-off and offering them the opportunity to live with and work for the family. Better-off is very subjective as it means anyone with more money than you. The only catch is that working for implies receiving a salary of some sort, and these women (mostly) never receive any money. Tizon explains:

Slavery has a long history on the islands. Before the Spanish came, islanders enslaved other islanders, usually war captives, criminals, or debtors. Slaves came in different varieties, from warriors who could earn their freedom through valor to household servants who were regarded as property and could be bought and sold or traded. High-status slaves could own low-status slaves, and the low could own the lowliest. Some chose to enter servitude simply to survive: In exchange for their labor, they might be given food, shelter, and protection.

. . . Today even the poor can have utusans or katulongs (“helpers”) or kasambahays (“domestics”), as long as there are people even poorer. The pool is deep.

“If ever I lose
my memory of you, walk beside me
like a stag; like a bird heard, unseen” ~ Anne Michaels, from Correspondences

Let me offer a bit of my own background here: For three summers, starting when I was just 14, I worked for my Aunt Remy, taking care of her five kids. I arrived at 7 in the morning and left at 6 in the evening, and for this I received $50 a week, and I felt lucky to be making such good money. In addition to taking care of the kids, my cousins (a term loosely used by Filipinos to identify anyone close to the family), my daily chores included cleaning the entire house, doing laundry, and attempting to cook. I never saw this as being too much work; after all, they had an in-ground pool and I could spend a few hours every day hanging out in the crystal blue water. I viewed the entire transaction was quite equitable.

Lola passport photo

These were my “rich relatives,” as I always referred to them. I loved my aunt and uncle like a second set of parents, for good reason. My uncle lived with my parents before he got married, and he was one of my frequent babysitters. My aunt lived with my parents when she came over from the Philippines before she married my uncle. They were always a big part of my life, and their deaths wounded my heart almost as much as those of my parents.

When my summers became too full with cheer leading practices for me to continue my full-time summer job with them, my aunt found a Filipino woman to live with the family. I never knew if she was paid, only that she lived with the family full-time. I’m embarrassed to say that I cannot remember her name. But this article immediately called her to mind.

“This memory was not painful to her now. Her life was an open window and she a butterfly.” ~ Simon Van Booy, from “French Artist Killed in Sunday’s Earthquake”

Another memory: When relatives from Newark visited one summer, they brought with them their live-in woman. My aunt asked me not to mention that I was paid because she didn’t want their live-in to feel bad. I realize now that the woman probably wasn’t paid anything. That’s just how it was done.

Lola Pulido at age 18

We never had one of these women in our house, probably because it was just my mom, dad, and me, that and we weren’t well off. However, over the years we frequently had a relative of some sort living with us. Again, that’s just how it is, and it never seemed odd to me. I think that if my parents had wanted a live-in that there were certainly many relatives in the Philippines who would have jumped at the chance, life in the States being much preferred to a life of poverty in the islands.

That being said, I don’t think that my American mother would have ever been comfortable with such an arrangement, not because she was opposed to have help, but more because she was such a very jealous woman and having another woman living in our house would have stirred her monster, which was always seething just below the surface of her marriage to my dad.  Truthfully, though, my father gave her good reason to be suspicious. I can admit that now without feeling that I’m betraying either of them.

“Stare at the monster: remark
How difficult it is to define just what
Amounts to monstrosity in that
Very ordinary appearance.” ~ Ted Hughes, from “Famous Poet”

What has made it so hard for me to write about all of this is that my aunt and uncle were good, generous people, and I wouldn’t want it to seem that I’m criticizing them in any way, but if I am to be honest, then I have to admit that the tradition that they carried on was very much like the slavery the article’s author discusses. It is hard, painful even, to try to think of my relatives in these terms.

Slavery is a hard word—it is filled with negative connotations, rightfully so, and when most American heard the word, they think about that shameful period in our country’s history in which the color of one’s skin dictated how the individual lived, whether or not the person was paid or could vote or even if that individual could have the barest education. Tizon’s article recounts another form of slavery, one that most white Americans know nothing about, but one that most Filipino Americans know about but rarely acknowledge.

Lieutenant Tomhow

But back to the article: Tizon narrates how Lola (an all-encompassing Tagalog word for grandmother or nana), lived with his family after his mother died, and after Lola’s death how he took her ashes back to her family in the Philippines. It’s a bittersweet story, told in retrospect through a child’s eyes and then later through the wisdom that being an adult sometimes imparts, too late more often than not.

Tizon recounts the story of how his maternal grandfather, Lieutenant Tom, a “cigar-chomping army lieutenant named Tomas Asuncion” brought an 18-year-old Filipina girl named Eudocia Tomas Pulido into the family in 1943 to take care of his mother whose own mother had died in childbirth. Pulida, or Lola—a cousin from a marginal side of the family, rice farmers—was a gift to Tizon’s mother, and Lola stayed with various members of Tizon’s family for almost 68 years, 56 or them as an utusan (people who take commands).

Lieutenant Tom had as many as three families of utusans living on his property in the Tarlac province of the Philippines. He had lots of land but little money, and he was shrewd. As Tizon explains how Lola came to be the family’s slave, “The lieutenant was shrewd—he saw that this girl was penniless, unschooled, and likely to be malleable . . . She could have food and shelter if she would commit to taking care of his daughter . . . Lola agreed, not grasping that the deal was for life.”

“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.” ~ Evelyn Waugh, from Brideshead Revisited

Another memory: My parents and I spent several months in the Philippines after my dad retired from the Navy. The plan was for us to live there, but that didn’t work out as I became ill and found to be allergic to pretty  much everything. But while we were staying at my grandmother’s house in my dad’s village of Gapan, we would visit my great aunt Tiba’s house. I recall that she had an utusan, but that’s all I remember. Later, when we moved to Quezon City, two of my cousins moved with us. They helped out, but I honestly don’t know if they were there as utusans or as family, or even if there is a difference.

We were Americanized. We weren’t rich, but as compared to many in my father’s family, we were well off. We stayed in an air-conditioned apartment in Quezon City at a time in which air conditioning was a luxury. It may still be a luxury—I have no idea. So the opportunity to live in the city with us as opposed to a small village must have seemed appealing.

Lola age 82

My mother, born into a large family during the Great Depression, never had servants, so I don’t think that she would have been able to order people about naturally; at least, that is how I like to remember things. My father made it out of his small village by becoming a Guerilla during WWII and then later enlisting in the U.S. Navy; he was never entitled but he believed ardently in helping out family whenever he could.

If it sounds as if I’m trying to convince myself that for those few short months we did not have a family slave, I am, but I’m also trying to be realistic, reconciling the parents I knew with the parents I couldn’t have possibly known well as a child. What we know of our parents is what we choose to know, and few of us choose to know or to remember that side in which our parents were human beings, with their own likes and dislikes, wants and desires, shortfalls and foibles.

That’s just not how it works. Is it?

Utusan. Helper. Servitude. Long hours. No pay. No personal life beyond the family’s environs. Bottom line: slave. It’s ugly no matter how memory shapes it. If you get a chance, I do recommend reading the article that jump started this post. It is a lovely narrative, one to which few white Americans can actually relate but deserves a wide audience nevertheless.

More later. Peace.


Music by Billie Marten, “Bird”

Wordless Wednesdays . . . almost . . .

My family trips were more than a weekend jaunt to the shore. We traveled all over Europe when I was a child, including a journey through Spain on our way back from a visit to Morocco. After watching some dancers in the street outside our hotel (which was named The White Horse–I have no idea why I remember that), I begged for a Flamenco costume—it was white with black polka dots; they bought it along with a set of castanets. When I came across this short film on Vimeo, I wanted to share it as it stirred so many memories.

Today is the birthday of Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde
(October 16, 1854November 30, 1900).

“Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!” ~ Latest crowd chant at a Trump rally

Baron Von Fancy Billboard in the Bowery, NYC

“Sleep not in peace:
There are a thousand waters to be spanned;
there are a thousand mountains to be crossed;
there are a thousand crosses to be borne.” ~ Rafael Zulueta da Costa, from “Like the Molave”

Saturday evening, sunny and hot, 93 degrees (feels like 98).

I’ve been pondering this post for a few days. Finally, I decided that the best way to write it was just to write it. I’ve been saving this Camus quote from a 1948 play for a bit, and it seems fitting; the more things and times change, the more they stay the same:

“Every time I hear a political speech or I read those of our leaders, I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people’s anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed; that they gamble – yes, gamble – with a whole part of their life and their so called ‘vital interests.” ~ Albert Camus, from State of Siege (L’État de siège)

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia to a Filipino father who became an American citizen by fighting for the U.S. during WWII, and a mother from a small town in North Carolina. At the time in which they were married, there was still a law on the books in Virginia that made their marriage illegal. They got married in Elizabeth City, NC. I have light olive skin, but when I was young, I used to tan like crazy, and could get quite dark.

I tell you all of this for one specific reason: I have been told to go back to where I come from. Truthfully, that’s not the worst racist thing aimed at me or to which I was subjected. In fact, the first time that I heard the N-word was in Norfolk when someone called me one. I went home and asked my mother what it meant.

I have been asked what I am. If I have replied, “an American,” I have been asked what kind? I have been asked if the rumor is true that Oriental women have vaginas that are built differently. I have been told in apparent praise that Filipinos are good workers in the kitchen (as Navy stewards). I once heard someone say that my father was good looking for a Filipino. I was asked by my school mates in grade school why my eyes looked the way that they did. My father, who spoke with an accent, was told to speak English; his vernacular was more eloquent and proper than most people I have known, including many of those born here. People have openly stared at me when I’ve had my three children together as my daughter is fair, and my sons are quite olive, more brown in the summer, and I’ve been asked in front of them if they have different fathers. They don’t.

When I was young, I longed for long blond hair and blue eyes. I did not get them, obviously, and I am oh so grateful. I am made of fairly strong stuff, directly as a result of the kinds of things that I used to routinely hear, face, and experience. To be half-Filipino with a very proper British accent in the south before segregation? Now that’s different. I was the darkest thing in my school. Oh how I hated it then. Now? It makes me laugh.

Ignorance makes me laugh. Dumpf makes me laugh, that is when he’s not making me grab my head in pain from screaming at the television. I don’t write about politics often here as a deliberate decision. I will probably ramp up closer to the election, but right now I’m trying to hold on to my sanity. So I eschew the pontificating. For now, that is.

But I had to write just a few words in response to this past week’s latest Dumpster fire. Go back to where you came from hits at the very heart of anyone who is first or second or even third generation, but seriously, it should hit at anyone who calls themselves American. None of us came from here, not really. Only the Native Americans came from here. The rest of us? Immigrants. Willing and unwilling. Pilgrims. Slaves. Indentured servants. Whatever, whoever, however. We all come from immigrant stock.

I have no plans to go back to where I came from, at least not immediately. I mean, I came from Norfolk, so there’s that . . . But I have to ask you, those of you out there who still think 45 is the guy for you, that he represents real Americans, whatever that means—how is it that you really don’t see him as the sexually perverse, pussy-grabbing, serially-unfaithful, draft-dodging, tax-evading, child-abusing, racist crook that he is? I’m not asking you to vote for a Democrat. That’s not what this is about. I’m just asking you to look within and ask yourselves if this man truly represents your America, land of the free, home of the brave, we “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” . . .

That’s all. Just that.


It was really hard to pick the right song. I finally settled on Chicano Batman’s bilingual version of “This Land is Your Land” (I know that it’s a Johnny Walker commercial; doesn’t matter, it’s the point).



I Was In A Hurry

Yesterday I lost a country.
I was in a hurry,
and didn’t notice when it fell from me
like a broken branch from a forgetful tree.
Please, if anyone passes by
and stumbles across it,
perhaps in a suitcase
open to the sky,
or engraved on a rock
like a gaping wound,
or wrapped
in the blankets of emigrants,
or canceled
like a losing lottery ticket,
or helplessly forgotten
in Purgatory,
or rushing forward without a goal
like the questions of children,
or rising with the smoke of war,
or rolling in a helmet on the sand,
or stolen in Ali Baba’s jar,
or disguised in the uniform of a policeman
who stirred up the prisoners
and fled,
or squatting in the mind of a woman
who tries to smile,
or scattered
like the dreams
of new immigrants in America.
If anyone stumbles across it,
return it to me, please.
Please return it, sir.
Please return it, madam.
It is my country. . .
I was in a hurry
when I lost it yesterday.I Was In A Hurry

Yesterday I lost a country.
I was in a hurry,
and didn’t notice when it fell from me
like a broken branch from a forgetful tree.
Please, if anyone passes by
and stumbles across it,
perhaps in a suitcase
open to the sky,
or engraved on a rock
like a gaping wound,
or wrapped
in the blankets of emigrants,
or canceled
like a losing lottery ticket,
or helplessly forgotten
in Purgatory,
or rushing forward without a goal
like the questions of children,
or rising with the smoke of war,
or rolling in a helmet on the sand,
or stolen in Ali Baba’s jar,
or disguised in the uniform of a policeman
who stirred up the prisoners
and fled,
or squatting in the mind of a woman
who tries to smile,
or scattered
like the dreams
of new immigrants in America.
If anyone stumbles across it,
return it to me, please.
Please return it, sir.
Please return it, madam.
It is my country. . .
I was in a hurry
when I lost it yesterday.

~ Dunya Mikhail (Trans, Elizabeth Winslow) (found on Poetry Foundation)

A little tidbit for Monday

I’m so glad that this song popped up on my YouTube recommendations. I used to sing this song to my kids when they were little. Good memories . . .

“The scent of moist dirt and fresh growth washes over me, watery, slippery, with an acid taste to it like the bark of a tree. It smells like youth; it smells like heartbreak.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from The Blind Assassin

 


“there were times when I could believe
we were the children of stars
and our words were made of the same
dust that flames in space,
times when I could feel in the lightness of breath
the weight of a whole day
come to rest.” ~ Mark Strand, from “For Jessica, My Daughter” 

Saturday afternoon, sunny and warm, 69 degrees.

Too nice to concentrate on my words today, so I’m offering some new pictures of the animals.

Everyone was outside in the bright sunshine as Corey did more work on the pasture fence. We’re trying to let Max and Ruby wander around like the dogs, and so far, they stay close; although, they are just as mischievous as the puppies: Ruby jumped inside Corey’s truck, but I couldn’t get a good picture of that particular moment; then both goats figured out how to get inside the front door because, yep, that’s what goats do.

Ruby made a beeline for the horses’ apple treats, which I had to snatch before she inhaled them. Max has a hard time with the treats because they are too big, and he has a jaw problem.

Man, how do I always end up with animals with too much personality, animals who don’t know they’re animals? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

More later. Peace.


Music by John Denver, “Today” (I cannot begin to tell you what this song means to me)


Animalistic Hymn

The red sun rises
without intent
and shines the same on all of us.
We play like children under the sun.
One day, our ashes will scatter—
…………………………………….it doesn’t matter when.
Now the sun finds our innermost hearts,
…………………………………….fills us with oblivion
intense as the forest, winter and sea.

~ Edith Södergran (Trans. Brooklyn Copeland)

“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.” ~ David Benioff, from City of Thieves


“I have started to dream profusely day and night. The blood is circulating again. I write in my head.” ~ Anaïs Nin, from Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary; 1939-1947

Sunday afternoon, partly cloudy, 54 degrees.

Last night was a real bugger. The dogs wanted to go out frequently; it seems like it was every five minutes. Around 7 a.m., I took half a sleeping pill and tried to get a few hours. This afternoon,  I’m zombie-fied.

Let me back up. Last night, Corey came home with a breeding pair of miniature Nubian goats. We’ve been talking about starting with the goat thing, and yesterday afternoon, he was really at loose ends, so I told him to go buy some goats. Problem solved.

When he got home, we had some pretty strange reactions from the various animals: Sassy the horse began snorting, tossing her head and generally acting unhappy. She’s never done that before; I wonder if she has some antipathy towards goats. All of the dogs wanted to see what was in the truck, and when they were put in the house, Maddy scratched at the door and whined like mad to get out. During the night, Bailey kept wanting to go outside, and when I opened the door, she would immediately turn left and head down the side yard. I didn’t follow her, but I assumed that she was going towards the chicken run, which is where Corey had put the goats last night so that they would be safe. Then Bailey would come back inside and whine at me.

Over and over and over. So annoying, and I was very not amused. And then I realized that I was mindlessly looking out the window and only to see the very dense dark that surrounds the property at night fade as dawn began to appear. (It is lovely, however, that from the side living room windows we can watch the sun set over the ridge, and from the side window of the spare bedroom we can see the sun rise.)

I was not greeting the dawn on purpose as anyone who knows me can attest that morning and I are not on the best of terms. I am even less amused today as my head feels like it’s in a vise, and my hands hurt like crazy (I’m currently out of my eggshell membrane).

“Even when
I sleep I dream I can’t sleep and I’m standing there looking
down at them, the night pouring from my hands.” ~ Emily Berry, from “Arlene and Esme”

Today Corey has the goats out in the yard, both of them on long leads so that they don’t bolt. The end of the yard before the dropoff was apparently a goat pasture as there is still a small goat shed down there. Unfortunately, that’s one part of the yard in which the fence hasn’t been repaired, so we cannot put them there as of yet, hence the leads. I am ambivalent about that far pasture, though. I mean, what about bears and coyotes?

I know. That whole worrying thing.

Apparently, the guy from whom Corey bought the goats kept them on long leads and moved them around his property each day. It’s not an ideal solution, but I suppose that it will work for us temporarily. However, the goats need to have room to move freely, preferably in areas that are overgrown.

As soon as I saw the pair last night I immediately named the female Daisy, but I haven’t figured out who the male is yet. Daisy is quite gentle with a very pretty face, which might be an odd thing to say about a goat. She is black with sable markings. The male is mostly white with black markings and a pair of beautiful horns.

The only thing about goats that I don’t like are their pupils: horizontal. Weird and kind of freaky. I probably feel that way because too many horror movies use goat imagery for demons, and that’s stuck in my head somehow. But Daisy is the farthest thing from demonic looking, and she is very sweet-natured. I still have to work on the male.

“It’s good to fall asleep here. I lie on my back and don’t know if I’m asleep or awake. Some books I’ve read pass by like old sailing ships on their way to the Bermuda triangle to vanish without trace . . .” ~ Tomas Tranströmer, from “How the Late Autumn Night Novel Begins”

Yesterday was Eamonn’s birthday. I sent him a text, which was much harder than it needed to be. The phone situation around here is no better, and frankly, I’m at my wit’s end over it. I need to call some doctors and pharmacies, and I simply cannot get a freaking signal that will last more than 15 seconds, which is why I didn’t even attempt to call Eamonn and chose to text instead.

I realized later in the afternoon that yesterday was probably at the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Norfolk, something that Eamonn, Alexis, and their father have traditionally made a point to attend. I’ve never been to the parade, nor have I wanted to—too much noise and way too many drunk people on a Saturday morning.

I plan to write Eamonn later today to see how his birthday went and if he did anything besides the parade. It goes without saying (so I’ll say it) that I really miss seeing him, especially on his birthday, something I would have normally made him a special meal for, at the very least.

“I can still see the dark
blur at the edges. I don’t sleep anymore, my head is full
of this insomniac light.” ~ Emily Berry, from “Arlene and Esme”

At the moment, the house is quiet as most of the dogs are outside with Corey. Tink is the only one inside, and she’s deep into her afternoon nap. She has gotten too big to sleep in my lap while I type, but that didn’t stop her from trying to do so yesterday afternoon. Neither of us were comfortable, so I moved her to the couch, and she immediately fell back to sleep. She’s really grown so much since we first got her, and Freddy has really grown. We’re certain that he will end up being our largest dog, but he’s still a little scaredy-cat over pretty much everything, and he doesn’t realize that he isn’t small any more. At least he isn’t afraid of towels any more.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the quiet, but I’m chilly. We’re trying not to build any more fires, but the last few nights have been quite chilly. I always get cold when I’m not feeling great, and at the moment my legs, my fingers, and my nose are cold. The legs I can cover, but what do you do about a cold nose when you’re sitting in the house? And as for the fingers? I mean, I can’t really put on gloves and hope to type with any accuracy.

I have no plans to go for a walk today; I just don’t have the energy or the inclination. It’s already going on 3:30. It took a bit to find today’s poem and song, so I’m already behind before I even start. I don’t think that I’ve ever posted anything by this particular poet or performer before, so that’s new.

The only good news is that I think that I’ll be able to post the pictures that I took the other day. When I sat Corey down yesterday to help me with the problem I was having with importing, I showed him what I had been trying to do, and of course the first time that I tried, I was able to import a photo without any problems.

I really hate it when he gets that told-you-so, smug grin on his face . . .

“It was that sort of sleep in which you wake every hour and think to yourself that you have not been sleeping at all; you can remember dreams that are like reflections, daytime thinking slightly warped.” ~ Kim Stanley Robinson, from Icehenge

I realize that this post isn’t incredibly engaging or revelatory (you wouldn’t believe how many times I just misspelled that word, and for the life of me couldn’t figure out why: relevatory is not a word, dumbass). Blame the brain fog and the cold nose and fingers.

I was tempted to skip posting entirely, but if I did that, then there would be the recriminations and regrets and general bashing of my otherwise solid self-image, and we wouldn’t want that, huh?

So let’s see . . . goats, insomnia, spelling errors, cold body parts, dogs, kids . . . Anything else? The daffodils are blooming. Hooray. Exciting podcasts? More of “Case Files” (out of Australia) and “Root of Evil” (the Hodel/Black Dahlia legacy). YouTube videos? Not really. Skincare discoveries? No? Well, damn. Boring as usual.

More later. Peace.


Music by WILLN’T, “Four O’clock in the Morning”


Winter Insomnia

How many winter mornings waking wrongly
at three or four
my mind the only luminosity
in the darkened house . . .
my wife richly breathes
her eyes turned deeply in
on dreams.

I am alert at once
and think of the cat
coasting on its muscles
from closet shelf to bureau
grave and all-seeing
caring not at all.

The face…..the faces
waiting
toward ponds
empty-handed and with tenderness
hoping the hourly day might melt and flow.
One could reach out,
there might be a daily salvation

Out the windows slowly
a dull light is covering the
world without end:
snow patches and mud ruts,
the neighbor warming up
his car.
The world refuses
to bless
or to be blessed.

~ Richard Tillinghast