Sunday, June 23, 2013

Filipino Road Trip

My brother and mom in the old Chevy van at the beach
It is that time of year again that we plan the family vacation.  My husband tried to persuade me to "road trip it" from Texas to Virginia and my heart sank.  He romanticized the notion with childhood memories of meandering through small towns and enjoying the countryside of America.  When he was growing up, he recalled there was no need for hotel reservations or extensive planning.  If there was no place to sleep, his family would simply pitch a tent at the nearest national park.

His story did not convince me.  My memories were far too different.  Imagine a van from the 80's - a beige Chevy, an empty shell with no seats, no windows, or seat belts.  We had a mattress in the back, five kids, grandma, and "the bucket".  Eventually dad outfitted the van with chairs when he could afford them, but not in the early days.  I recall weekend trips to Galveston.  My brother was charged with sitting on the cooler so it did not move or spill over with the latest catch of red fish, piggy, flounder, croaker, and sometimes angel fish.

The childhood trip to California was the most grueling memory.  There was no Facebook then, just grandma.  She would rely on the power of the family tree.  If you shared any DNA in our family, and grandma knew how we were connected, she would call upon you for a free place for our family of eight to sleep for the night.  In the Philippines, grandma helped many families.  Friends, recipients of her patronage, as well as their relatives did not escape the obligation.  I know this now, but back then they were all just "Titos" and "Titas" to me.

In San Jose, California - I remember Apo Cadio.  He had this endearing habit of snorkeling a runny nose accompanied by an emphysemic cough and a collection jar of mucous.  Toys of his grandchildren scattered the floors, with the name "Gentry" written.

Then there were relatives in Union City, not sure which of us five kids clogged the toilet, but it was embarrassing for the family.  We did not escape a free overnight stay without some kind of payment.  Our distant relative managed to recruit my parents to take part in a "lucrative" business to buy, and possibly sell, Vitamin K type supplements.  This was a pyramid scheme popular in the '80s.

I recall the wonder of the sky. As a young child looking at the different stars of the the lands we drove through and the forming figures in the clouds nurtured the imagination.  Boredom turned into endless journal entries and mix tape memorization exercises.  Back then, some small towns were not used to seeing our kind.  In New Mexico we were Mexican,  Arizona we were American Indian, and in North Dakota we were Eskimo.  Curtains opened slightly with suspicious locals making sure we were just passing through.  A few times I got nervous, hoping dad would just hurry up and pump the gasoline so we could leave as quickly as possible.  Maybe it was just my imagination.

It was always a pleasure to finally get to our destinations, stretch our feet and shyly meet relatives we never knew.  I enjoyed watching my parents delight in their own memories with their distant cousins, brothers, and sisters, their parents.  Endless nights of karaoke and getting to know cousins was always like old friends picking up where they left off.  We could all relate to our issues because we all came from the same tree that originated from the same town, in some ways the same house.

My challenge as an adult is to somehow continue this connection.  I use Facebook, but I should probably call one of my cousins out on a free overnight stay.  They are always welcomed to do the same with us.  I still miss grandma telling us how we are connected in more ways than blood through stories from far away.  How do I continue the same drive to make a drive worth it?  Keeping in touch should be easier these days.  Our stories are a lot different. Nothing replaces the intimacy of face to face and connecting the tree.  Is being American making us accept we ventured beyond the tree and we never looked back?

Flashback to that van, apparently it survived 14 years.  Some guy at Chevrolet wanted to study it to see what made it last so long with 368,000 miles.  The Ford guy said these vans were not meant to last that long.  When the van was done, she was eventually equipped with chairs and a stereo system, not sure about seat belts though.  Along with her went the memories of many road trips and fishing expeditions.  Back then, I was glad to see her go, but now I am frantically looking for a photo to post so I can remember what it looked like and the memories that went along with it.  There is one photo, once I post it,  I will post of my family hanging from the van doors during one of our many trips to Galveston.  Will someone study these stories one day too?

Maybe a road trip is not so bad.  Let me first check those frequent flier miles...

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