For the Poethig Family—from Eunice’s Perspective
In January, 2010 I turned 80, Forty years earlier I had turned 40—certainly turning Points in anyone’s life! In 2010 I kept thinking I was going to be 60. It is hard to imagine being 80. Dick was already 84. Reality is before us as almost every week we hear of the death of another dear friend or colleague. Time is precious. A gift to use well.
Both of us had retired decades ago, but Presbyterian ministers don’t really retire—we go on as part of a church family we love, doing the work of peace and justice. We were fortunate to be in the Presbytery of Chicago, participants in Lake View Presbyterian Church, and connected to several national groups of friends.
But for me we were at a turning point—
· I had worked to preserve the story of women’s ordination but had decided I would not do any other projects so I could focus on the history of the women in 13 generations of my own family.
· Health issues—osteoporosis, parathyroid surgery, shingles, a broken wrist, and a heart attack—had limited my activities.
· We are overwhelmed by too much stuff—papers, pictures, books, dishes and paintings, and the need to paint walls and get new carpet.
· This year Erika, Ray, and Sam had moved from being neighbors to new jobs with the Obama administration in D.C. and a school for Sam.
· The world is at a turning point and I want to be part of the future.
Forty years ago, in 1970, we were also at a turning point—in the politics of the Philippines, in our family, and in our future as Americans representing Presbyterian Church mission within the local Philippine religious scene.
We had lived in downtown Manila next to Ellinwood College of Christian Education, Philippine Christian Colleges, Elementary and High School, and Ellinwood-Malate Church. Now we lived on the growing edge of the city but near the Headquarters of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), the National Council of Churches in the Philippines’ (NCCP) headquarters and the center for church publishing. Dick’s work covered the city and the country and involved many religious and educational communities and projects aimed at the betterment of life for the people. I edited church publications and collections of new social-justice hymns and songs by Philippine composers. We were involved in a historical turning point.
We turned to letters written during our Philippine years and to my current Journal and emails for insight into the nature of these turning points. We have been led through green pastures and dark valleys in the past and have faith in what lies ahead.
We hope we have open minds toward the future, for, as Charles F. Kettering said, “Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier.”[*] We hope we have the right kind of open minds.
*Enscribed on a wall in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The Extended Poethig Family: (top, left to right) Johanna Poethig, Chris Brown, Victoria Rue, Luke Poethig, Margaret Poethig, Dick Creps, Sam Sendejas; (middle, left to right) Maja Bucan, Kathryn Poethig, Richard Poethig, Eunice Poethig, Erika Poethig; (bottom, left to right) Scott Poethig and Ray Sendejas.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
From the journal of Eunice Blanchard Poethig
In 2010 we have lived in a condo in Renaissance Place at Hyde Park in Chicago for almost 9 years. We love being back in Hyde Park where we had lived from 1975-1986. Hyde Park is a leafy neighborhood on the south side of Chicago and near Lake Michigan. From our sixth floor apartment I look out across the tree tops east toward the lake, south to the University of Chicago and the hospital which has been such an important part of our lives in recent years. McCormick Theological Seminary is three blocks away. Hyde Park has recently achieved national fame because it is the home of Michelle and Barack Obama blocked off now and guarded by the secret police. Hyde Park is also one of the few integrated neighborhoods of African and Euro Americans.
Our families live on the two coasts in Philadelphia (Scott, Maja Bucan, Luke); Watsonville, California (Kerry/Kathryn and Victoria Rue); Oakland, California (Johanna and Chris Brown); and Arlington, Virginia (Margaret and Erika, Ray Sendejas, and Sam).
We are constantly amazed and delighted by our wonderful family and the myriad of ways they contribute to the world’s well-being.
My 80th birthday began with a drip, drip, drip through the night. The ice on our roof was melting and running down our dining room wall. All night we exchanged soaking wet towels for dry ones.
At 7 a.m. Erika called from Dulles Airport (Washington D.C.) to say Ray would pick her up at Midway at 9 a.m. That was an hour earlier than we were expecting her.
At 8 a.m. Ray Sendejas called from the train station downtown to say he was renting a car and he and Sam would pick up Erika at Midway Airport. He corrected Erika’s arrival time—she would arrive at 10, meaning he, Erika, and Sam would probably arrive about 10:45 at our place. Plans for going out to breakfast were abandoned because we had to take care of our wall!
8:30 a.m. Dick called our condo president, Rae Smith, for help. She got our condo engineer, Ray Benjamin, from home to come over and take a look.
So, I began to think, what do we had on hand to eat? Dick went out for English muffins and to mail my Lake Property Tax payments. (He picked up my birthday cake from the French Bakery on the way.)
9 a.m. Meanwhile, Ray Benjamin showed up and he and our Painter Francisco examined the wall. Yes, it was wet. Task: get the melting water into a bucket. Nothing he tried worked. Finally he began cutting grooves into the wall board to guide the water on to a piece of plastic.
10 a.m. While all this was going on, Kerry called from Watsonville (CA) to say “Happy Birthday!” and “How do you like the flowers?” “What flowers?” “You mean they didn’t get delivered yesterday? I got confirmation they had been delivered!”
Flower Crisis! –Were they in the mail room? I’d had no notice. So, when Dick came back from shopping he went to the mail room—fortunately it was open for a few hours this Saturday morning—and came back with 2 huge boxes of orchids and lilies!! Kerry had ordered enough on behalf of her siblings so I would be surrounded by flowers and would feel I was surrounded by the love of the family. WELL, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL IDEA!
Phone again—Johanna and Chris calling from Bali (yes, Indonesia!) “Happy Birthday. “ Long talk. “We’re recovering from India” (where they have been since the first of January). Their musician colleagues are showing them the sights and getting them to concerts. Incredibly beautiful dancers and musicians, reports Johanna.
(Ray Benjamin continues to try to channel the water.)
I have prepared the fried rice, set the table, started the sausage, broken the eggs, heated the water for tea...
Dick gets down some vases for the flowers...
10:30 a.m. Phone rings: It’s Erika downstairs. They’re here! We buzz them in. Ray parks the car. Sam races up to me and thrusts a present in my hand. It’s in its plastic casing so I can’t open it but Sam has attached a label from his label-maker—“TONANYFROMSAM.” It’s a key holder with a tiny LED flashlight. “Look, Nany,” he pressed the light button, “it’s a flashlight!” “Sam, how wonderful! I need that in the garage. It’s so dark I can’t see to open the car door!” He’s delighted. Later he will insist I open it, but he’s the only one who knows how to get the plastic off. I pull off the label and attach it to the key ring so I will always remember it came from Sam on my 80th birthday.
11 a.m. Ray Benjamin disappears.
Erika helps arrange the flowers.
Ray brings up the luggage.
I get breakfast. Sam watches TV.
Dick makes coffee.
11:30 a.m. We all sit down for breakfast. Tired, hungry. Happy.
Ray Benjamin returns with putty and creates brown channels on our wall. He digs a hole so the lip of the bucket can fit inside the hole to catch the water flowing down inside the wall and attaches a plastic shield high on the wall in front of the bucket to protect the rug. It seems to work, but I put a towel behind the bucket in case it still runs toward the carpet.
2 p.m. Erika goes to take a nap in 614 since she’s been up since 5 a.m.;
Ray goes on some errands (Probably to Portillo’s for chocolate cake.)
Sam watches TV at our apartment (613). Quietly.
Dick suddenly feels terrible and his hand “freezes” when he tries to use it. He lies down. Sleeps.
I fix the lamb for roasting. Found pans. Lois Milburn had also called in the morning and had given me instructions for roasting.
Ray comes back. Sam finds some unopened puzzles in my closet (some I had bought which he had refused last year). Sam made the dinosaur one. We talked a lot about dinosaurs.
4 p.m. Erika and Sam go to find some of his friends and to go to the 57th St. Co-op bookstore. Ray goes on more errands.
I make a fancy potato casserole—Yukon Gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, green apple, leeks, olive oil and Gruyere cheese! Lots of grating and slicing, but it should be good! Fix asparagus.
Dick wakes up. I dress for dinner. By 6:30 p.m. Erika and Sam return from bookstore.
9 p.m. Roast is done. Casserole is done. Asparagus ready to be steamed. Sourdough bread ready to be toasted. Sam’s burrito in the microwave. Rolls in oven. Butter on table. Tossed salad made. Dressing ready. Erika has arrived with wine. Candles lit. We are all ready for my Birthday Dinner!
The space looks beautiful with candles everywhere. Big bouquets of white orchids and fuchsia lilies. It was wonderful to sit down together. When asked what he’d like to sing for our Blessing, Sam chose, “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee”—one of the songs he is learning at his school in Arlington, VA. So we sang,
“My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers (and mothers) died,
Land of the Pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
More appropriate for me than Sam realizes. How amazing the hopes and celebration in those words! And how far we are from it sometimes. God understands. Dick prays for us all and for peace and justice in the world.
We top off our dinner with chocolate cake from the French Bakery. With chocolate ice cream for Dick and strawberry for Sam.
Erika gave me A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert—a story of 3 generations of intense women struggling to find their way as women.
Margaret has called, Scott also. Gwen Wardwell and Marilie Blanchard from Sante Fe earlier. Franz Grubauer from Germany called for a long conversation.
What a happy birthday!
3:30 a.m. The phone rings! It’s Eva Villanueva in Quezon City! She’s got the time difference wrong (it’s 6 p.m. Manila time), but she is in a chatty mood and we have a delightful conversation. Eva is still playing tennis and active in the UP Chapel—the Church of the Risen Lord.
Today they will try to repair the roof! Water continues to drain down the wall. A lot goes in the bucket, but it also goes on the rug. We try to catch it with towels, but they are quickly soaked. We hang them up to dry or put them in the dryer.
Ray and Sam left early for Wisconsin! Sam wanted to see the Lake with snow and to walk on the ice.
Erika, Dick, and I left for Lake View church and what turned out to be a continuation of my birthday celebration.
The story continues with an email sent to the family:
Subject: Birthday excitement
Date: January 23, 2010 9:47:26 PM CST
Thanks for the cards, calls, and visits. You have made becoming 80 a memorable event. Actually it's all a surprise to me. Every time I thought about the upcoming birthday the number 60 came to mind and I would have to correct myself, "Eunice, you're going to be 80!" It is a very unreal number. But it happened anyway.
It was lovely to have Erika, Ray, and Sam arrive on the 16th. The beautiful flowers also arrived after Dick found them in the mail room and they are filling the house with beauty and love. Erika helped arrange them. Now all the buds have opened and they are great bundles of pink and deep fuchsia flowers mixed with white orchids. Thanks to you all for the lovely gift.
I think of my birthday as a MAIN event, a SUB event and a SIDE event. Our MAIN event began with a hasty breakfast on Saturday because our building engineer was working on our SUB event—the water leaking down our wall from the broken drain on the roof. He was feverishly cutting grooves in our dry wall (which was soaking wet) trying to drain the water into a bucket, but it was still soaking into towels which had to be changed every 20 minutes.
On Sunday, the SIDE event began as Ray and Sam took off for the Lake. Sam wanted to see what the Lake was like in the snow. And he wanted to walk on the ice. They arrived in the afternoon, were able to drive to Beulahland, walked across the lake. There were ice fishermen, two trucks drove by; I think it was getting dark by the time they reached Pine Knot. They slugged through the drifts and got inside. Then walked back. They surely get the prize for being the first father and son team to walk the mile between Beulahland and Pine Knot. They stayed overnight in Kohler and got back to Chicago in time for Sam’s appointment on Monday at Occupational Therapy. A memorable SIDE event!
LakeView on Sunday continued the MAIN theme. Our Begin@10 class greeted me with two big Happy Birthday balloons and had ordered a strawberry cream cake for coffee hour after the service. It was a very happy day.
Monday Erika went to yoga, took Sam to Occupational Therapy. That night Dick and I went to Sinfonietta's concert celebrating Martin Luther King's birthday.
Erika left early Tuesday morning, Ray went to several meetings in the GAO office, Dick and I had a lovely morning with Sam. Sam had already made a very clever dinosaur out of a picture clip holder whose clip opened and closed like a dinosaur's mouth. Paper wings were attached to two pencils, the body was a squashed up paper napkin. The legs and three-toed feet were made of paper clips. All was held together with scotch tape. On Tuesday Sam also made me a dinosaur of paper with two big blue eyes of map pins. He got great satisfaction from being able to make his own toys. Ray and Sam flew back on a later plane.
The rest of the week was focused on the SUB event which became a BIG event. On Wednesday Sergio's demolition team arrived to tear out our dining room dry wall. First they enclosed the area with plastic taped to the ceiling. Then down came the drywall and a two foot wide strip of the ceiling. On Thursday they finished pulling out the insulation and our whole wall was gone. The carpet was wet and a mess. Our red rug was soaked. On Friday they put together a new wall, plastered it, and painted it. The carpet was vacuumed.
Today, Saturday, Sergio arrived with paint sample cards and an estimate about costs for a total carpet and painting job. What an operator! However, I had already contacted the carpet person Erika had had (remember, Erika?). His colleague, Sarah, arrived with books of samples. Erika sent me the name of the "colorist" she had used for their townhouse and she will come Tuesday.
Our furniture is piled in the middle of the room and covered with plastic. We eat in 614. The hall is filled with boxes of books and dishes. So a SUB event has launched a major renovation of our apartment! It is time to paint, add color to our white walls, remove the useless fireplace, say good-by to our recliner, reorganize our books and papers for the next stage of our life, cleaning out as we go!
Love to you all,
The street greeting in Hyde Park is “How y’ doin’?” and my answer is “Great,” thanks to y’all.
Yes, we are desperately in need of reform in the health care system. There are wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with rising conflict in Pakistan and Iran. Increasing aggression in Israel-Palestine. Drug wars in Colombia, Mexico, and, now, Arizona. Our over-heated environment is the impetus for more violent storms and heat waves. Earthquakes around the ring of fire impact air travel and cause collapse of entire cities.
But, 60 years, 80, even 40 years, what difference does it make? We work for political changes. Monitor our health and health services and costs for the community. Reduce our carbon footprint. Contribute to Disaster Relief and Food Pantries. Support peace negotiations and facilitate interfaith dialogue. Encourage retirees to stay in the battles.
In the midst of all this, we feel blessed and give Thanks. Amen.
January – December, 1970
Quezon City, Metro-Manila, Philippines
From letters written to Juliet Blanchard in Dayton, and Wooster, Ohio
David and Jan Blanchard in Ghana, and to Friends and Supporters
These would be our last years working with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Eunice would focus on editing and publishing denominational publications and songbooks. Dick was involved in a multitude of urban-industrial ministries—organizing, teaching, writing—and he became the Commission Representative for the Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations (COEMAR) for the United Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).
Our home was a bungalow in PhilAmLife, a housing complex located on Highway 54, a circumferential highway surrounding Manila. The headquarters of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), the University of the Philippines (UP), and many Philippine government buildings were located nearby because this area, called Quezon City, was officially the capital of the Philippines.
At the beginning of the year Scott (16) was a senior at the University of the Philippines Prep School (UP Prep) located in downtown Manila. It was on the second and third floor old bomb-scared ex-university building next to Philippine General Hospital. Kerry (14) was a freshman at UP Prep until December when she came to terms with the necessity of her attending International School (IS) on the other side of the city. Johanna (13 and in 7th grade) and Margaret (almost 8 in 2nd grade) ran through a back gate in the PhilAmLife fence to Jose Abad Santos Memorial School (JASMS) next door. The principal, Doreen Gamboa, was an advocate of John Dewey’s educational philosophy which focused on training students to live in a democracy.
Ferdinand Marcos was recently re-elected President of the Philippines. Imelda Marcos was First Lady, surrounded by her ladies in blue. Students were organizing. Tempers rising.
From 2520 Adirondack Trail,
Dayton, Ohio To 1571 Christmas Run, Wooster,
From 2520 Adirondack Trail, Dayton, Ohio
To 1571 Christmas Run, Wooster, Ohio
Yes, that’s our news for this week. A transportation strike. It’s because the oil companies have raised the price of gas and other products. There are four reasons—higher freight, some sort of higher charges from their international agencies, the “floating rate” of the peso (now at ₱6.20 to the $1.00), and a 50% tax increase imposed by Marcos because the government has no money. Because of the way the jeepney system is run, it is the drivers who take the whole price increase, because they pay for the gas. They have forced buses and taxes to join them.
A number of buses and taxis have been stoned, and a half a dozen set on fire. The army has fielded army trucks to pick up commuters. Last Friday school was called off, but today there was school and Scott went part way by truck. Students and drivers have blocked the entrance to UP with pickets and nails on the streets.
Kerry got to IS to take some entrance exams this morning, but when she tried to get a taxi home, the taxi wouldn’t take her over the Guadalupe bridge on Hwy 54 because he said they were stoning taxis there, so Dick has had to go get her. She should have taken the US Army (JUSMAG) bus home, since it comes our way delivering some other Americans who attend IS....So it goes. You must get bored reading about our trials. I know we’re tired of having them, and I get tired of writing about them….
We were counting on you for Christmas. The kids said “we’re deserted” when they heard you weren’t coming this way after Ghana. Tell David and Jan they mustn’t disappoint them by not coming [on their way home].
The current strike seems to be seen as part of a larger plan to bring down Marcos. That’s the gossip that is going around, anyway. Marcos is being ridiculed by almost everyone now. It began with his wrecking the economy over election expenses, but it has climaxed with the scandal of an affair he had last August-September with an American Movie star, Doris Beams, who taped their bedroom scenes and released them to the press! It is said that Imelda hasn’t lived with the president for several months now. As a matter of fact, he isn’t going outside Malacañan [the presidential “palace”] these days, he’s so scared. But the story is that vice-president Lopez is trying to unseat Marcos because he’s fed up with him. There’s plenty of evidence for that.
The schedule seems to be to discredit Marcos now, before Congress opens on Jan. 26 (the anniversary of last year’s big riot). If the jeepney drivers hold out that long it will certainly be because someone rich is financing them. All of this seems far more plausible to me than a leftist take-over.
I keep in mind that all the coup d’etats’ in SE Aria have been by rightist-military forces. Just when we will have our coup remains to be seen, but if disorder is a pre-requisite, we’ve got it!
And so, Mother, Scott is getting fed up with all the “vacations” and is ready to transfer SOMEWHERE. He’s still interested in microbiology, but is swaying toward anthropology and theology. So he’s actually interested in Wooster. So would you get the Admissions Office to send application materials AIR MAIL (right away).
Johanna’s skin infection isn’t doing too well. She got a second infection as a result of the first medicine! So we are now on our 5th, 6th, and 7th types of crèmes and pills. But, she and Margaret are free now of signs of T.B., so that’s good news. Kerry is grateful for her new glasses. My new iron pills aren’t producing any results, according to my last R.B.C. and hemoglobin count. But I feel better, so we’ll try another month Dr. Harn says.
In the middle of the movie last Sunday the electricity went off. The blackout covered the whole Manila area and went as far north as Clark Field....
I’ve sewed this week and today we hope to have eye exams for the other children and go to the dentist.
Yesterday we took care of getting my driver’s license, the car registered and new plates, our residence certificates A, our tax certificates B, and our Alien Certificates of Registration. It’s the kind of bureaucratic red tape Dick hates the most and he’s always very grumpy. But we got it all taken care of, with only a few hitches and so we’re all set for another year. We hope.
Love and have a good trip—
Dear Mother, David, and Jan,
We enjoyed your call, Mother. It came just in time. The children were sure you were going to announce that you were at an airport somewhere on your way here—you see what confidence they have in you. The call was a lovely birthday present.
Dick says you also deposited a check for my birthday. With it (plus some from Dick’s pocket) we bought a coffee table, two end tables, a nest of tables, and a magazine rack. They are in black wrought iron with glass tops. We have always had such a shortage of tables, considering all the eating we do in the living room, it has been a big problem to me.
The first of the children’s presents was Kerry’s—a vase of daisies with the card “Happy Birthday, Mother. You’re still as fresh as a daisy.” Johanna thought it was very funny—and typically Kerry—since the daisies were from our own yard. (Johanna never makes presents, as you know). Kerry had also made dividers for my desk drawer. I must say they are really homemade, but they are serviceable. She had been sick all week and couldn’t go out to buy anything. But I don’t think she had any money anyway—she’s been in debt since Christmas.
Later Margaret gave me her present. She had told me I had to give back the wrappings (giggle, giggle). It turned out to be a plastic squeeze bottle for catsup. She had dressed it in a Barbie doll dress and had put a Barbie doll head on the neck of the bottle—so I really did have to return the wrappings.
Johanna gave me a very nice penlight for my purse that I needed to complete my equipment. (My purse now contains screw drivers, pliers, scissors, a fan, aspirin and car-sick pills, and the usual make-up; pens and pencils, licenses and order receipts, billfold, Kleenex and handkerchiefs, Residence Certificate and Alien Registration ID, candy to hand out to tired children, and the usual assortment of letters, addresses, etc. on file. What do men do without pocketbooks?)
Dick gave me an orchid corsage, another pair of scissors (he says he bought out Singapore in scissors), and two lovely batiks from Indonesia. Scott came through the next day with a book of short stories by N.V.M. Gonzales. So I was well feted.
We went to the Swiss Inn for dinner. It was great fun. Our waiter regaled us with funny stories of his 34 years of waiting tables and we all had a good time.
I spent the week sewing. Curtains for the living room are finished as is a dress (long—for wearing at home—from batik) for me and other mending—like turning hems up for Kerry and down for Margaret and Johanna.
Yesterday we went to an Ecumenical prayer service at Santo Domingo Church. We brought a Maryknoll father home with us afterwards. While he and Dick talked we mothered our little black kitten who was dying. Kerry insisted on leaving her in the living room, so our guest shared the pangs of death. Right after he left, the kitten died. If he had just stayed a little longer we could have ended the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with an Ecumenical funeral service.
Dick had two major articles published in Solidaridad magazine.…He’s working on a new book to replace Philippine Social Issues which is sold out and out of print...He’s also finishing a chapter on Protestant social concerns for an encyclopedia...
I spent Jan. 7-10 at the Greater Manila Annual Conference...as a delegate from Ellinwood-Malate Church...Then I agreed to help out Cosmopolitan church for one year in Christian Education...helping plan an integrated CE program. I figure they are a strategic church at this time, because their pastor is General Secretary of the whole United Church of Christ in the Philippines so influencing him may have long-range effects.
I have also agreed to prepare the Calendar and Program Guide for ’70-’71 of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.
There was a big post office fire this week. Mostly it burned the top floors where the Dept. of Public Works had its records and where the government telecommunications equipment was….
Margaret wanted to know about the afterlife of cats last night. She accepted my answer that Heaven was being with God and knowing Him and since cats didn’t know God they couldn’t really be said to go to Heaven. But then she was distressed, “Then cats go to Hell?!” Ah, well—it’s not like that either.
Dear Mother, Jan and David,
A letter came mailed Nov. 30! It was the letter with Neil Armstrong’s autograph for Scott in it! You must have wondered why we didn’t say anything about it.
World trends have touched us this week. A bomb was exploded behind the JUSMAG building (the Joint US Military Advisory Group). I passed the place about one half hour after it happened. A car had been driven into the yard behind the two story building housing offices and records.
Also student demonstrations were held today in several cities at the opening of Congress to present demands. The one in Manila turned into a riot and number of students and policemen hurt. Gentle Senator Palaez pleaded with the police to withdraw so peace and order could be established, but they didn’t.
OH YES! THIS DESERVES A NEW PARAGRAPH. Dick got a letter from the CARDINAL THIS WEEK... Cardinal Santos is inviting him to give lectures for “Action Leaven, a plan whose general objective is to train seminarians, nuns, and laymen to engage in socio-economic-religious action in selected urban and rural parishes of the Archdiocese of Manila.” It will be during May and June this summer.
“Bloody clashes erupt as nation’s students march for reforms
“(Editor’s note: It was a week of turmoil. This report, based on the account of a Manila Bulletin team of reporters on the scene, reviews the stormy events of Jan. 26 in front of Congress and Jan. 30 at the gates of Malacañang).
“Two student demonstrations, generally peaceful at the start, became violent street battles which raged Friday night though early Saturday morning from Malacañang, seat of the Presidency, to downtown Manila.
“The first incident occurred Monday—the event is now being dramatized as the Jan. 26 Movement—when student demonstrators and anti-riot police squads clashed as President Marcos and the First Lady, Mrs. Imelda R. Marcos, were emerging from the legislative building. The President, who had just delivered his State-of-the-Nation address on the opening of the seventh Congress this year, was nearly hit by stones, pop bottles and a cardboard coffin hurled by the demonstrators.
“Because of the sudden hostility from the ranks of the demonstrators, club-wielding MPD policemen in crash helmets charged into the group of demonstrators. What followed was a bloody spectacle of policemen rendered unconscious by rocks thrown at them by the demonstrators who were clubbed, dragged and bloodied by the policemen….Friday’s incident at Malacañang started at 7:10 p.m. Demonstrators attacked a firetruck stationed outside the Palace...and drove the commandeered firetruck hard into Malacañang’s gate No.3... They also put to the torch a privately-owned Volkswagen car.
“The students, now crazed, continued to batter the iron gate. Others were seen smashing at the gasoline pumps of the Caltex service station nearby. The eerie glow of a bonfire fed by placards and rugs soaked in gasoline lighted the whole spectacle of young boys and girls taunting endlessly.
“The demonstrators fled...set vehicles on fire...Some hid in the dark sanctuary of deserted schools in the area….There were pockets of resistance in side streets, in the blind alleys….arrested.
“An uneasy calm has been restored.”
Students are mad at Marcos for many reasons: disgust over last elections, fear of wide use of force in elections the odd appearance of “Special Forces” like the ones involved in the Corregidor “massacre”...economic crisis...no land reform...amassing wealth...promises to give money to State colleges which he doesn’t have to give now. BUT—they believe they can influence him, because he does want progress….
George Todd came this morning….
But the big excitement today was that the Council on Tondo Foreshoreland Community Organization (CTFCO) met with President Marcos this afternoon and Marcos promised they would not be moved off their land, but it would be given to them and the CTFCO would be responsible for seeing that it was allocated properly. Dick and George were there.
Dear Mother and Dave and Jan,
In two hours CTFCO got together a public meeting in Tondo of a 1000 people to hear the news. Dick, an original organizer and promoter; Fr. Dennis Murphy and Fr. Blanco, Jesuits; Henry Aguilan, UCCP pastor; Joe Boatright, COEMAR fraternal worker with Dept. of Public Welfare—all of whom had worked with Tondo residents—were there. All were trying hard to head off another government plan to relocate the squatters.
We are wondering if the government is out to subvert the movement. Marcos assigned Elizalde to work with them. Elizalde invited officers of CTFCO to his yacht and each came home with ₱1000. When the president of CTFCO worried about this, confessed to his priest, and went to return the money, Elizalde became furious and cursed him...
On Tues. Dick, George, and Davis Illingworth from the Golden Gate Synod left for Cebu and visited Vern McCarty in the port area...Wed. Dumaguete, seminary, Silliman University,...Thursday Cagayan de Oro, Joe Malayan in urban-industrial work,...Iligan, Barbara Cort and Kay Gates (Frontier Interns), Dansalan College. Friday, back to Manila, tired and sunburned.
Friday—Forum sponsored by the Center for Laymen Abroad, another one of Dick’s babies. Senator Jovita Salonga and Wesley Haraldson of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) were to speak. Haraldson condemned smuggling, bribery, corruption, slow growth rate. Salonga spoke about corruption. Then Haraldson snapped back at Salonga and the sparring began. Questions as to whether the US intended to play a more active advisory role in economic policy. Bong Malonzo, a student, asked a question. The sassiness and rudeness of Haraldson toward Bong was unbelievable. Never in a public meeting have I seen someone so rudely slapped down. No wonder the students feel frustrated when dealing with the “establishment.”
Saturday—dinner for Dick’s Committee on Industrial Life and Vocations. Jolly. Dick and George discussed what Dick should do next.
Sunday—George left. Dick led ecumenical worship service at UP Prep as part of their 15th Anniversary. Kerry and Johanna had their Communicants Class at 7:30 a.m. at Ellinwood Church. I had my College class at Cosmopolitan Church...
Bob Seiler, Episcopal Office for SE Asia, came to dinner...I took Scott to get a bus so he could represent UP Prep at a Speech Contest...Bob left...Dick took Kerry and Johanna out to the Delia and Ado Niguidula’s in Antipolo for Communicants “Moonrise Fellowship” with parents...I stayed with Margaret and to welcome Scott back. I was worried because Scott didn’t arrive until 7:30 p.m. He didn’t win but felt he’d done his best.
Monday—clean-up-the-mess day....Despidida for the McKinley’s who are retiring...Tuesday—worked on United Church Calendar and Program Guide...Vern McCarty for lunch.
Wednesday—Margaret sick, I felt terrible. Pasted up new issue of Church and Community...Scott and I finished typing his 24 page sociological study of 4th year students at UP Prep in which he was trying to prove that they were “New Filipinos.” Dick had lunch with the Manila community Services, Inc., committee which gives job skills training to low income or jobless people in Manila. Another of Dick’s babies. Director—Lilia Oblepias....Dick’s class at the Asian Social Institute. Came home with some delicious siopao as a snack before bed.
In between I managed to finish making two new dresses and a skirt for me, a moomoo for Margaret, and refitting three of my old dresses.
Threat of another demonstration today…
The peso has been devalued...Business relieved...Prices will rise...part of plan to pay off huge government debts.
Yes, Mother, Margaret found her words in the dictionary. One was Mediterranean, which I misspelled. She asked me, “How come you can be beated by a little Grade Twoer?”
Last night we were called to dinner by Harry Daniels (Indian who is head of East Asia Christian Council Urban-Industrial Evangelism) for Masao Takenaka (Doshisha University seminary in Kyoto, also the leader in Asia of this work). Cipriano Malonzo and Mrs. Malonzo were there. Cip had just returned from Geneva and the States. Bong Malonzo, their son, came later and had a spirited debate with Takenaka on the value of community organization (which Bong thinks does no real good.)
Dr. Prudente was there. He’s head of the Philippine College of Commerce which is the most liberal (left) of the schools now. In fact the school was “invaded” by police a few weeks ago. He was indicted on some trumped up charges. Now he’s suing the police.
I have to accompany a group of Scott’s classmates to Baguio next week. They are attending a school editors conference and they’re staying in the Westminster Hill Cottages (which I am in charge of).
It was wonderful of you to give us those records...What I really like was the Joni Mitchel record. Her poems are so beautiful! Like, for example, in “Chelsea Morning,” she says “the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses.”
Johanna and I are (at last) taking the Communicants class. It’s a big class. We have to meet at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning at Ellinwood because the first church service begins at 8:30 and Rev. Solis is teaching the class. One of our assignments was to read a Gospel. I discovered how beautiful the Bible is when I read the gospels from Good News for the Modern Man. It really says it. How does anyone expect people to understand the old-fashioned versions?
When we decided to write an Easter letter we had no idea a New Era would have begun in the Philippines. January 26 is the inaugural day for the Congress of the Streets. On that day newly re-elected President Marcos addressed the opening sessions of Congress. Outside a huge crowd of students held a rally to demand reforms. When the president came out of Congress, a small group of provocateurs threw sticks, stones, and a cardboard coffin (signifying the death of democracy) toward the president’s car. It was with difficulty that he finally drove away. But as soon as he was gone the riot police attacked the students. Many were hurt.
Later that same week a bigger rally was held in front of the president’s “palace.” Malacañang Palace is a cluster of old Spanish buildings located in an inner city section of Manila. Smack up against one of its walls is the huge San Miguel Brewery whose buildings are much more impressive and more newly painted than those of Malacañang. On the other side begins a series of run-down two-story shop and office buildings.
Over 200,000 students live and study in the half-dozen universities of Sampoloc. It is a crowded, sordid district of decaying boarding houses divided by narrow sidewalks. No grassy quadrangles. No tree-lined malls. Cement, smoke-belching buses, overloaded jeepneys, neon-lighted clothing stores, cubby-hole second-hand bookstores, and endless young people who attend school in shifts. Sampaloc—the student district—faces Malacañang with all the questions about why things are the way they are in the Philippines today.
The coming Constitutional Convention is seen by the students as the last test for democracy...The crux of the Constitutional Convention is whether it can call forth a new group of leaders for the country—leaders who will be close to the people and who will work for their interests rather than for the interests of the feudal-industrial elite now in power.
The more radical students groups think that the Constitution is useless in achieving the total revolution of society they feel necessary. Their slogan is “Down with imperialism, feudalism, and fascism.” The cry of imperialism is aimed at American business, military and CIA involvement. American labor unions are also involved in influencing local affairs. The always-present fear of the Chinese (of any color) is included and the growing threat of Japan.
Feudalism is addressed to the “Sugar Barons” who control so much of the foreign exchange market....They dominate politics and are known for their poor labor practices, land-grabbing from small farmers who don’t have titles to their lands, and conspicuous consumption....Salvador P. Lopez, president of the University of the Philippines, pleaded with a group of them to change their ways before unrest brought the downfall of all. (Naturally, some think their downfall is just what is needed.)…
The demonstrations have had some achievements. Marcos has promised not to run for a third term and many small successes....
The generation over 30 has the patience and charm learned in the barrios of their youth....They are tolerant of the demonstrators because, as they say, “They are children.” But they give no support to the violence....This generation remembers the last war [WWII]. The past twenty-five years have seen the painfully slow recovery from the holocaust that destroyed Manila. They know that though violent revolution might eventually improve life, in the immediate future it could only mean greater suffering. And so they are not very critical of the police action to put down the riots. (But doctors, nurses, and ambulances turn out in droves to tend the wounded.) Perhaps also this generation has lived so long with the police some of whom have been known to be corrupt and over-inclined to violence that they have learned to feel powerless to do anything about it.
SO WE GREET YOU THIS EASTER SEASON FROM MANILA—A CITY WHICH KNOWS SOMETHING OF THE MEANING OF SACRIFICE.
WITH PEACE, HOPE, AND JOY,
Eunice and Dick Poethig
It’s OK to send Dick’s article in Trends to Guy Lee, but he has two very much better ones in Solidarity (printed here) which he is sending you.
The president of the squatters’ organization (CTFCO)—who returned the ₱1000.00 given him by Elizalde—has been thrown in jail on a 4-year-old homicide charge. The vice-president of CTFCO seems to have been bought out by Elizalde. So now the org. is having local teach-ins to acquaint the residents with current trends and to elect new officers. So goes C.O. in the Philippines!
Holy Week descended unexpectedly in the middle of tension over jeepney and bus strikes. First they struck for abolishing the tong system (they have to pay policemen for protection), then for higher fares to meet higher costs due to devaluation of the peso… buses stoned…passengers forced off...Incread approved...Drivers struck again because their owners took the whole increase without giving an increase to the drivers... Students began stoning jeepneys protesting the increase in fares.
I’m sorry if our letter sounds as if we lived in a dangerous place....The spots of trouble are real, but sound big when described. For instance, Kerry’s Great Escape didn’t seem like much to her at the time.
On the Monday of Holy Week schools were out and Kerry wanted to go to Malate to school, meet her friends, and go to a movie. She could go to UP Prep with Scott who still had some exams, but she would have to take the bus home by herself. I felt nervous about it and didn’t want her to go. (I believe in ESP and believe I’ve got it!)
She called me from UP Prep at noon because she knew I felt nervous, but she went ahead anyway to the movie on Avenida Rizal (near the student district). Just as she was leaving the movie theater all the lights went out. Two blocks away a huge fire had broken out. She had to walk that way to get to Quiapo Boulevard to get a bus (about a mile). The fire leaped high as she passed only half a block from it. The place was jammed.
At Quiapo she couldn’t get the right kind of bus, and then suddenly there were no more buses at all and she realized they were being re-routed. So she walked past Quiapo church where a crowd was gathering for the Procession of the Black Nazarene—the biggest religious procession of the season.
On she walked up Quezon Blvd into Sampoloc, finally to the University of Santo Tomas (UST). At long last she found a bus and arrived home about 5 p.m. That night we found out five minutes after she left UST, students had started a rock-throwing brawl. Police had appeared and the two had battled up and down Quezon Blvd for several hours. Kerry told us later she had seen the groups forming and had picked a place to duck into. Fortunately a bus came first—Kerry’s Great Escape.
The three events—the fire, the procession, the battle caused the biggest traffic jam in Manila history.
On Holy Thursday suddenly peace descended on Manila. For four quiet days we could dwell on something else besides the turmoil of our world, and be assured that God truly intends something better than this for his children. I was grateful for the power of ritual to stop current events in their tracks and give us a chance to breathe, and perhaps to gather courage.
For months Johanna and Kerry had been attending Communicants classes at 7:30 a.m. Sundays—the only time the Rev. Melchizedek Solis had available. Dick and Mutya Solis were our neighbors and dear friends and their four children were friends of our kids.
At the last minute in the planning the Communicants were asked to choose sponsors. Johanna and Kerry hurried to choose their sponsors—the ninongs and ninangs who would be with them during their reception into membership. Johanna quickly chose Marie Laing, a housemate of Mother’s during their Peace Corps days at UP and Cipriano Malonzo, feisty labor leader and colleague of Dick’s. Kerry chose Joe Boatright who works with Tondo squatters, and Domini Torrevillas Suarez, a friend and journalist who had written up Dick’s work and conducted a major interview with Kerry, Scott, and Johanna for The Manila Bulletin.
Before their reception on Holy Thursday there was a merienda cena (a light supper) for communicants, sponsors, and parents. It was very lovely. Five were baptized, Bibles distributed, plans for a camp announced.
Then into the sanctuary for the Communion Service. The communicants were received into membership. A special treat for me was the anthem “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled.” It is an organ, violin, and alto solo based on John 14:1 that Dosia Carlson (piano), Nancy Whear (violin), and I (the alto) had composed way back in 1949 in honor of my father who had died the previous year. The three of us were students at DePauw University at the time. Dosia, who had physical limitations due to polio as a child nearly died that year due to breathing problems, so the anthem brought back precious memories to me.
On Easter Sunday, the communicants were introduced to the congregation in a special bulletin announcement:
“31 COMMUNICANTS who completed the recent Communicants’ course were received into membership of Ellinwood-Malate Church during the Holy Thursday Communion Service last week. They are: Ophelia Alarcon, Alexander Avante, Laarni Dajao,... Daniel Lagunzad,... Sharon Solis,...Miriam Mendoza,...Johanna Poethig, Kathryn Aileen Poethig, Carey de la Calzada, Irene Chua and Ken Villanueva.”
On Friday we stayed home. Shops were closed. Only churches were open for services. The streets were completely empty.
The Saturday before Palm Sunday Margaret was objecting to going to church the next day. She gets carsick and calls Sunday “the day to be endured” because of the ride to Ellinwood (1/2 hour at best). So I told her it was the beginning of Holy Week—but it fell on deaf ears, for the city had been upset by so many things Holy Week wasn’t being mentioned anywhere.
So that night I said I would read the events from the Bible, because this week was more important than Christmas and we could read all about it in the Bible. So I started out with the raising of Lazarus in John, but then followed through with Luke. She wouldn’t let me stop. I tried to skip the hard parables, but she just asked me to explain them and read on. We read for two hours, ending finally with Jesus’ resurrection.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we were once again battling the strikers (see Kerry's Great Escape above). I was preparing for our traditional Sunrise Service on Easter Sunday. The Villanuevas (Eva and Vil with sons Leslie, Clyde, and Ken), the Bernardezes (Millie, Dolph and daughters Erlyn and Nene), and the Griños (Soli, Hank with Luna and Butch) were coming for the Service and Breakfast.
The Family Rosary sponsored a series on the events of Holy Week on TV. Margaret got up at 6:00 a.m. to watch them. On Saturday afternoon she came to me, her eyes red. “I just saw Jesus going to heaven, and he said he would always be with us.” She was very moved. She insisted I wake her up in the morning while it was dark for the Sunrise Service (to be in our back yard.)
On Sunday, I was up while it was still dark, and I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise, but the other families (the Villanueva’s, Bernardez’s, and the Griño’s) weren’t coming until 6 a.m., so I got family up about 5:30. It was hard to wake Margaret up, and when she saw it was already light, she reproached me, saying she’d been waiting all night for the morning.
Our Sunrise Service was lovely. After breakfast we left for Ellinwood.
Margaret didn’t want to go. The rest of the day was quiet, and so was Margaret. At bedtime I asked her if she’d had a nice Easter. She paused, then said off-handedly, “Well, to tell the truth, No.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It was so simple,” she said. Then she looked away as if ashamed of what she had to say. Seriously, she added, “I thought the world would end today.”
For Margaret the TV biblical stories had been in real time! I ached for her misunderstanding. She could not yet separate current events from history on the TV.
I wonder if her disappointment was like that of the disciples, who also thought the world would end that day and the Kingdom of God would come.
I suppose the greatest cross any of us bear is the fact that we live in a world that seems to refuse to end and refuses to change.
This afternoon the house began to shake. It was an EARTHQUAKE. Intensity 6—the same as the bad one last year. News is just coming in. Early reports say one elementary school has collapsed, the Vitas tenement has cracks, one wall of the city jail fell down.
Dick and I spent a month in the United States from the middle of July to the middle of August. Dick was there to attend meetings with his colleagues who were also Commission Representatives in the various countries where the Presbyterian Church had personnel. He was based in Chicago.
My job was to help Mother move from the lovely home she had lived in since 1940 in Dayton, Ohio to a new home in Wooster, Ohio. She chose Wooster because of her long relationship with the College of Wooster. She and Pete Blanchard had met there in 1922. David was a graduate. She was on the Board of Trustees. (By coincidence, Dick was also a graduate.) David was also home for the grand event. We had quite a time! She had a grand send-off by Pearl’s church, but most of her friends had already left.
From Scott on behalf of the Poethig family
To all our friends,
1970 has been, for us at least, an interesting year. Interesting, because there is no other was to describe it. Here, then, is 1970—Philippine style.
Student Riots of January—Peaceful (sort of) demonstrations were turned into full scale riots by the uncontrollably itchy trigger fingers of the Philippine Constabulary and the Philippines Army.
Five Typhoons—Four of these typhoons occurred within one month’s time, and although none of them affected Manila, they were costly in terms of lives and crops.
The fifth typhoon was just great. It zipped right through Manila and its 200 IPH maximum winds broke a record set in 1882. Yoling, as it was called, left the city dark, dry and roofless for a number of days.
Two earthquakes—We have found this is one good method of discovering which buildings public officials made a profit off of. School buildings always suffer the worst, and, as was the case, one school building collapsed.
Two floods—it seemed to be the advent of another 40 days flood, but the waters subsided in Manila with 37 days left to go, and no sign of Noah’s ark.
Two graduates—Scott started his first year of college at the University of the Philippines and Johanna is now a high school student at Jose Abad Santos Memorial School. Kerry is a sophomore in High School and Margaret is currently in 3rd grade.
Six birthdays—Gray hair appearing on some members of the family (only reluctantly admitted) and bigger shoes for the rest.
Church Calendar printed—Eunice Poethig was editor-in-chief, associate editor, managing editor, literary editor and saleswoman at large.
A constant supply of fleas, ticks and other forms of irritation was adopted by the family. His name is Hagen, only because the rest of the family didn’t like the name Stanley.
Richard Poethig became Philippine Correspondent for COEMAR and as a result got a free trip to the U.S.A., some expenses paid. Like to a loving husband that he is, he took his wife along, who thereupon succeeded in boosting the entire U.S. economy.
Kerry, yes Kerry. The only reason she is with us now is because she was one day late in catching a plane from Manila to Dumaguete. The airplane the day before crashed.
Margaret (aged 8 in case you had forgotten) has joined the ranks of student organizers. Dissatisfied with her third grade teacher, she circulated a protest letter among her classmates objecting to “harsh and unfair” punishment (or something like that), and allowed them to add any other complaints they might have. For some odd reason she is now sitting at Table Four instead of Table One.
The greatest accomplishment of my year was the printing of our school yearbook. We broke a previous school records by releasing it only 3 month late. This is quite an accomplishment when you realize that the 1969 yearbook hasn’t been release yet making it 1 year and a half late. My father says it is the Protestant work ethic because the three main editors were Protestant. I like to think it is our natural good looks.
A third category for the events of 1970 contains the only non-disaster of the year—the election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention although the delegates elected were not as independent as had been hoped, they are, as most people feel, the only real hope the Philippines has for peaceful political, social and economic change. The last Philippine Constitution was written in 1935 just before the Philippines achieved Commonwealth status. A British journalist on TV noted how unusual it is to have a constitution written by representatives elected by the people. In most cases, a constitution is written by only a tiny group of men and offered to the people.
So went our 1970. If you should ever write a history book about the decade of the 70’s just remember we opened it with a bang!
Bang! And Merry Christmas,
P.S. from Eunice
As this letter “goes to press” we are still without electricity (from Yoling) in most of Manila, and most of us don’t have a regular supply of water. The telephone will be out-of-order for ages! The air rings with the sound of hammers as roofs are restored. Dick’s secretary lost the roof to her family’s house. The artist for the songbook we are working on lost his whole house. The children were saved only because their grandmother hustled them all under the dining room table before the roof crashed on it.
Kerry was babysitting with the three Leon children (ages 7, 5, and 1½) while their parents (Dick is pastor of Union Church in Makati) were vacationing in Hong Kong. The house first was flooded and then the roof ripped off the master bedroom. As soon as the typhoon passed she bundled the children up and their driver brought them (along with a yaya) over to our house where they camped out until their parents could get back. The children were very good, if scared.
The Pope—Pope Paul V1—arrives tomorrow. It is an exciting event though many student groups were to use this opportunity to air their complaints against the Church and its hierarchy. He’s supposed to be attending the Pan Asian Bishops Conference to which Dick is an observer from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
Today is Thanks giving—which we will celebrate with a profound feeling of humility and gratefulness this year.
We’re still gasping for breath. This has been a week! We had little damage from the typhoon—though pieces of wood from the RC Church’s rectory landed in our yard. The rectory—about a block from our house—lost its roof and then its walls collapsed.
We were getting water at night for a few days—but last night there was little. But to our surprise electricity came on yesterday—though the house next door has none.
We invited the Magavern family over for Thanksgiving. They were at UP several years ago and Jim is back now with the United Nations at the UP Institute of Planning. They are our neighbors in PhilAm. Robin is teaching English at JASMS High School. They are from Buffalo and have 4 bright, interesting children—7, 9, 11, 12. She’s Jewish and he’s Unitarian. They enlivened our celebration with original poems and songs. We had the usual food and Margaret had planned games for the children. In fact, Margaret had dressed up in a Pilgrim costume. She looked authentic we all agreed.
So we are watching TV this AM. The Pope is due to arrive any minute. Cip Malonzo came over to watch also.
As you know by now there was an assassination attempt on Pope Paul when he arrived. Fortunately, it wasn’t a Filipino. It was a very unprofessional attempt by Philippine standards. But it’s been a very warm welcome. There were no student picketers—someone must have convinced them not to disturb things. (Correction—there were some this PM.)
Dick was among the group of “Experts” at the Pan Asian Bishops Conference. Yesterday the Pope attended their meetings. All the Bishops greeted him. Dick got to shake his hand and give him greetings from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. He was given a medallion. Scott, Margaret, Cresing, Annie, and I saw it all live on TV. We were duly excited!
This Sunday morning (today) the Pope led mass at the Quezon City monument circle near UP. At 5:30 a.m. we could hear the traffic along Hwy 54. Cresing and Annie walked to the circle and waited until 8 a.m. for the mass to begin.
Dick had a pass to attend the Pope’s speech at Radio Veritas after the mass. In his own inimitable way Dick cooked up a way to get Scott in, too. They had a hard time getting there because of the traffic, but were among the 200 at the radio station—the rest were Asian Bishops. They and 2 others were the only Protestants. Scott didn’t get to shake the Pope’s hand, but the Pope passed twice only a few feet from him.
This afternoon the Pope is at Tondo in the foreshoreland area. This meeting has been planned by ZOTTO (Zone One Temporary Tondo Organization) and the priests at the Don Bosco Youth Center. The Pope said he wanted a simple stage—so they gave him one—a dump truck!
The ZOTTO is the community organization group with which the UCCP has been working in cooperation with some Catholic groups. There is a lot of hostility in the area toward Don Bosco because they got a huge piece of land deeded to them when no one else could get the land promised for 20 years now to the squatters.
The Pope spoke in Italian from the dump truck and a young woman from ZOTTO read a greeting to him which presented the desires of the residents. Herb White (from COEMAR) has been working with ZOTTO since he arrived in September. After typhoon Yoling Miserere (a German R.C. group) gave ₱60,000.00 to the residents through ZOTTO. ZOTTO used it to buy GI sheets to replace roofs lost in the typhoon.
We’re still listening to the radio. The Tondo children are singing. The Pope prayed in a little chapel there, visited a family—winding in through the houses, over a wooden plank walk! He’s through now—45 minutes in Tondo!
Now the Pope’s meeting with Protestant church leaders and later Muslims. Then he leaves at 7p.m.
December was a strange month. “The Bleakest Christmas in memory,” wrote the Manila Bulletin. ”There’s a rumor that tomorrow is Christmas.” “There isn’t any Christmas spirit,” was the general consensus. It was all true. The agony of the typhoons and the excitement of the Pope’s visit left people spent. The students began demonstrations again to remind everyone that the injustices remained. Several were killed—senselessly—and the son of a good friend of ours was wounded in the neck by shrapnel from a bomb thrown by a school guard which killed another student and wounded many.
In our family, however, the children were adamant in their insistence that we have a real Christmas. It was very important to them to have the assurance of history and the hope that Christmas brings. Margaret began buying presents and wanted decorations up before Thanksgiving. She found the Advent wreath as a surprise for the first Sunday in Advent. We had made fruitcake. We put up our aluminum Christmas tree trimmed with huge crêpe paper flowers. We hung swaths of Korean, Philippine, and Muslim silk, and Scott’s big cardboard “Peace Hope Joy” on one wall.
The kid’s gift-buying was, as usual, hilarious and hectic. It follows a pattern—Margaret is the first to buy and wrap her presents. She gets them all out of her ₱2.45 a week allowance and never asks for a subsidy. This year her presents included a piece of lead she found after the typhoon which she gave to Scott to melt into peace symbols, and a box of carefully burned matches which were usable as charcoal for Johanna to draw with. She made chokers for Kerry out of velvet ribbon trimmed with buttons or lace. I got a block print she made at school and a baby bottle.
Johanna saves her money, plans presents carefully and in advance, and often gives expensive gifts. This year she ordered from a shoemaker in Marikina the popular very wide belts to be laced up in front and worn with peasant-style dresses. They didn’t arrive on time because the man’s wife had a baby, but when she did get them they were a big hit.
Scott take presents very seriously and loves to shop for them. He can never keep a secret, which is just as well this year since four times he bought presents duplicated by others. He and Kerry bought Dick identical umbrellas; he and Johanna both gave me a telephone book (dog Hagen ate up the last one); he and Martha Clark both gave Johanna an art pen; and he bought Kerry a book of poems she had already gotten from someone else.
Kerry never has any money, can’t think of what to buy, and usually ends up giving Dick a collection of her poems. In self-defense she usually goes together with someone in giving presents. This year Scott gave way to her and let her give the umbrella to Dick; I volunteered to receive the poems; Johanna picked out sunglasses for Scott; and she contributed to the group present to Margaret.
Everyone was worried about Margaret’s Christmas. She wasn’t in any programs or parties at church. The school didn’t have any. They all felt she wasn’t having the same wonderful Christmases they remembered when they were 8 or thereabouts. I had planned a dollhouse for her, but couldn’t get a carpenter because everyone was busy with the typhoon. So I planned a new and unique doll house to use with her Barbie dolls. It had to be a type that could be put away and was very flexible.
So I ordered picture frames and we hinged them together in pairs so they could be free-standing walls. (That was Scott’s job.) Kerry made the walls out of cardboard cartons cut to size and covered with wrapping paper to look like wallpaper. Johanna spent two days having a glorious time making clothes out of velvet ribbon and felt.
But before all this got underway, I made a discovery—the existing Barbie dolls were a mess. None was newer than 1962, and some were bought in 1959! And in November, Hagen had discovered that Barbie doll arms were good chewing and had ruined two of them. Margaret couldn’t find Skipper’s body because the head was cracked and always came off.
I was really in a stew, since they cannot be bought anywhere in Manila. So, I did what it is illegal to do, I told my grief to Marie Laing, who has PX privileges and she volunteered to save the situation by seeing what Sangley Point PX had to offer. She came back with one Skipper and a Christie, and the day was saved!
It was a real family project. We spent all day Christmas Eve day working on it. (Except me, that is. I was sewing Scott’s costume for the play at Ellinwood Church that night.) I remarked that the lanai was like Santa Claus’ workshop at which Kerry replied, “Well, I know now Santa Claus is over-rated. The credit should go to the elves.”
There wasn’t as much going on at Ellinwood Church this year. We did enjoy a fine performance of the Messiah, but the choir just didn’t have time or energy for special performances. For the first time since I can remember, they didn’t go around caroling. But I did have my annual Christmas Carol Sing!
We were glad Scott was in the Christmas Eve play, “The House By The Stable,” directed by Joy Virata (whose mother Doreen Gamboa is the principal of JASMS and husband Cesar is the Finance Secretary of the Philippines). It was a symbolic play of the contest for the soul of man. Scott played Hell—and that was the costume I had to make! What would Christmas be like if I didn’t have to make some costume—it’s been oxen, kings, shepherds, angels—but this was the first time I’ve dressed Hell!
But we seemed to be batting against a stone wall because of the perennial problem of health. After typhoon Yoling in November sickness swept the city. We all took medicine for intestinal worms. Kerry and Margaret felt better. Scott got a bad cold. Johanna became frantic when she discovered a fungus growth on her face. Two hours before 25 people were coming for dinner before our annual Christmas Carol Sing, Margaret had an accident. She was practicing a carol on the recorder and ran into a door. She cut the roof of her mouth on the recorder. Her whole jaw was painful, but I couldn’t get the doctor so we just put her on a soft diet. It’s OK now. Dick barely made it through Christmas, he felt so achy. In fact, Christmas Eve as I prepared a corned beef sandwich for him, he fell asleep on the couch.
Kerry continued to feel bad, have headaches, red swollen eyes. So the Wednesday before Christmas I called the doctor for some advice. He said she should see an optometrist. So in a rush I found one open and sure enough she is astigmatic and far-sighted and needs glasses. Now there were new problems. She’s not unhappy about wearing glasses, but they must be mod. She has a difficult nose to fit—a high bridge which pushes glasses up. But she can’t have the glasses too close to her eyes because her eyelashes are so long they get in the way!
Kerry has other problems. She began International School (IS) on December 15. It is a real emotional adjustment for her. She loved UP Prep and didn’t want to leave her friends. But through that week strange reactions came out. She found several teachers exciting—biology taught by an American and English taught by a Filipina. She didn’t understand anything in Algebra. When Geography got into the population explosion in the Philippines it got more interesting. She decided to drop the class in Filipino and get a study period. But she felt alone and out of things. She couldn’t understand why they saluted the American flag each morning—in an International School? In the Philippines? Several times that week she went down to UP Prep after her IS classes and was welcomed back warmly.
Then Friday she attended the Christmas Convocations at both schools. She came home terribly upset. For the first time she gave vent to really negative feelings about a Filipino way of doing things. The issue was how the different student bodies had reacted to the program numbers (songs, plays, etc.) in the Convocations. At IS the students were attentive and clapped equally for all the performers (teachers, students, choirs—not all too good, she said). At UP Prep the students were inattentive, laughed at mistakes, and didn’t clap at all for those they didn’t like. It shook Kerry up. For the first time she began to feel like a real outsider—that there were different values—and she was on the other side. She felt very alone in this world!
It has also come home to Scott that he can’t finish his education here. He has had his first freshman semester in the University of the Philippines (UP). His fierce loyalty to UP is shaken—partly because classes are so disrupted by demonstrations. He doesn’t think the disrupters are all very fair to the university. And so a few days before Christmas he announced he thought he might like to study at Oxford! So Dick made a quick trip (which seemed unnecessary to me) two days before Christmas to the British Embassy to get information. It wasn’t very encouraging, but, I realized later, it was an important trip. It is part of trying to put some future in the picture of his life. And that’s an important part of the Christmas feeling—a faith that the future has meaning and hope!
Johanna in these last few months has taken that step from childhood to womanhood and is all wrapped up in herself. All her old clothes are too babyish and small. She is obsessed with her appearance (therefore the panic over the fungus on her face). In the last month she’s grown an inch and is now almost 5’10”. Still mostly legs, but she’s thinning out and filling up in the right places. She and Kerry get so silly sometimes, I can’t stand it, but actually, she’s blossoming beautifully.
As we were shopping downtown we got stopped in traffic. As usual, the car windows were open and Dick’s arm was resting on the window ledge. Suddenly a young man darted out and ripped Dick’s watch off his arm, then disappeared with it into the North Harbor shacks. Dick was furious. That ended fruitful shopping. The traffic on Avenida Rizal was terrible. So many people in the streets NO room for cars. Dick was so tired he decided to go home with the girls while Scott and I finished shopping. However, traffic was so slow that after Scott and I finished shopping we met Dick in the car stalled in the middle of Corriedos Street (behind Quiapo Church) so we got in the car and headed home together. Slowly.
The future has strange forms for Ma and Pa, too. Dick knows his work here is over, but can’t see another alternative at the moment. And I, who had thought I was entering another stage of life, am surprised, but pleased, to find myself back at the beginning of another 18 years of mothering. It was a Christmas we all needed each other.
We could hardly follow our tradition of opening presents Christmas Eve, everyone was so tired. We had all gone to the Christmas play at Ellinwood and came home to our delicious Noche Buena dinner. But open the presents we did, for Johanna’s and traditions’ sake.
Margaret’s Barbie Doll House was set up on a table, with a miniature tree, new dolls dressed in new clothes, candles to light the rooms. It looked like what every eight-year-old should have on Christmas. Margaret was thrilled.
We had a lovely time gathered around our aluminum tree. It reflected the tiny lights lighting up the colorful flowers tucked in the branches. Scott’s “Peace Hope Joy” display declared the message of Christmas.
Christmas morning we opened stockings and relaxed, enjoying our gifts. This year some of Mother’s gifts had arrived from the States which was nice. We went to dinner at Robin and Jim Magaverns with their United Nations friends. The Magaverns were the friends with whom we had celebrated Thanksgiving after the Yoling monsoon.
We came home to prepare for our annual trip to the mountain city of Baguio.
We always look forward to our vacation in Baguio. Scott and Kerry got up at 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning to get an early bus, though the buses were already crowded by that time. We finally got the rest of us off at 10:00 a.m. and had an easy drive as far as the zig-zag road up the mountain. Then problems! They are cementing the road in parts. Six buses had broken down (no doubt overloaded) and it was one 40 kilometer uphill traffic jam. But we made it.
Kerry and Scott had made the beds, bought groceries, picked flowers and I was very grateful, for I had reached the limit of what I had to give. I just let the others wait on me. Baguio Vacation Cottages would provide comfort and relaxation for the next week.
Baguio is beautiful at Christmas. I once wrote a poem that began:
Bare is the trunk of the Baguio pine,
Bare and black to its tufted crown;
Red the poinsettia that blooms at its feet,
Red in its Christmas gown.
The poinsettia bushes are six feet tall and aflame with flowers. The air blows cool. It is quiet and the view across the mountains restful.
Dick was involved in the Annual Baguio Religious Acculturation conference. It was an ecumenical feast of anthropological research, archeological lectures, religious reflections by Episcopalians, Jesuits, we Presbyterians, Maryknoll sisters, a Belgian priest from Ifugao, and Southeast Asian studies by the famous Dr. Robert Fox.
Scott, Kerry, and Johanna did homework and cooked and washed dishes and slept, and I did likewise. Margaret got pink cheeks, and we spent long hours playing games and enjoying each other. So, we did have the Christmas gift of Love Hope Joy. We feel ready to start the New Year.
Eunice, Dick, and Scott, Kerry, Johanna, Margaret, and The Little One Who is Coming
(As you can see from the photo to the left, we look forward to Spring of 1971 when the Poethig Four will become the Poethig Five.)
As we look back at 1970–My 40th Birthday Year—I realize it was not just a Turning Point for me, but for the whole Poethig family as well as for the Philippines.
I Love You, compiler Eunice Blanchard Poethig, New Day Publishers,
Christian Literature Society of the Philippines, 1971.
From Everybody I Love You, compiler Eunice Blanchard Poethig, New Day Publishers, Christian Literature Society of the Philippines, 1971.