The Little House

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One of my earliest reading memories is turning the pages of this classic children’s book, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.

The story is of a little house built in the country, where the owner hopes his family will live for generations, enjoying the sun and trees and birds and flowers. The image of the little red house fixed on the center of the page of this little book is one of few images etched on my memory.

Once upon a time there was a little house way out in the country. She was a pretty little house, and she was strong and well built.

Over time the house remains but the city and progress move closer to its green surroundings until finally it is enveloped into the dust and busyness of progress itself.

This must be living in the city, thought the little house, and didn’t know if she liked it or not.  She missed the field of daisies and the apple trees dancing in the moonlight

In recent days we are discovering, like the little house, how the whirlwind of life has pushed our limits, has moved us past recognizing the dust and rush of the clock that has dilapidated our schedules and our home life.

Now it was not so quiet and peaceful at night…..everyone seemed to be busy and everyone seemed to be in a hurry

Everyone and everything moved much faster than before.

The retreat to our homes, our little houses, whether they are in the city, suburbs or countryside, is forcing us to redefine our concept of home.

In the quiet do we find peace here?

Not only the peace of our surrounding but the peace of our souls?

In the nights she watched the moon grow from a thin moon to a full moon, then back again to a thin moon; and when there was no moon, she watched the stars.

In the extra hours my husband and I declutter life, fifteen years in this house where we have raised four children, one dog and three cats. All are gone now except for one cat, our only companion as we rewind favorite movies during quiet evenings on the couch.

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Weeks before this pandemic broke open I prayed for peace, for my home, for my husband who gratefully is always planning for the future. I encouraged him to count the blessings of raising four children, for them giving the gift of great educations, that they are able to stand on their own.

And as life slows, the sun rises and falls, time is measured by silences or conversations by phone or actual face to face time with those in our household.

Were we meant to return to this pace of life?  Was there nothing else that could slow down the treadmill we were on? The demands of technology: phone calls, texts to answer, emails, had us rushing by people. Places. Moments. Blue skies.

During this crisis time and space move much more slowly. Our planners are not quite as full. Not quite as pressing.

Day followed day, each one a little different than before…but the little house stayed just the same.

We return to the joys of simplicity. Completing puzzles. Revisiting a sonata we were able to play years ago.  Trying new recipes. Bringing out old recipes passed down by our mothers and grandmothers.  Long walks around the neighborhood. Conversations that happen when we walk side by side alongside a loved one rather than face to face.

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As the Little House settled down on her new foundation, she smiled happily. Once again she could watch the sun and moon and stars. Once again she could watch spring and summer and fall and winter come and go. 

This is a time when we build a new foundation. For the foundation we had has been torn out from under us: our jobs, our bank accounts, our mortgages, our rent. Our home is not just four walls but a shelter where we hunker down, stock our pantries, and prepare meals at home. This is what home meant generations ago, when everything we needed was gathered and prepared within the walls of our own house. This crisis is forcing us to reexamine the definition of home.

One definition: home: noun: any place of residence or refuge

Our residence has become our refuge.

The story of the Little House brought joy to me when I was a little girl.

But the truth that the Lord God has been our dwelling place, our refuge, has been passed on for generations. It has been passed on from the time God’s created dwelt in the garden, to the time he led His people through the wilderness by a pillar of a cloud by day and fire by night, to the dwelling place God’s people built for him as a tabernacle.

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

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There has been no greater time of uncertainty for our generation than now. Our parents and grandparents faced uncertainty through two World Wars and the Great Depression. We have been a generation and are raising generations that believe we are in control of our destiny, our progress, our future.

Until now.

This crisis forces us to search for something larger than ourselves, for this pandemic is greater than anything we have experienced.

In the midst of this thing that is greater than ourselves, will we seek out the One who is greater than we can ask or imagine.

Jesus.

He is our dwelling place. Our refuge. He longs to for us to be His dwelling place. For Him to fill our hearts and lives so completely that we will not be overwhelmed by the uncertainty and the unknown.

Do we know what we believe during this time of uncertainty? Do we believe that there is an eternal home, a refuge?

Now, more than ever, I believe there is an eternal home. I witnessed with my own eyes the struggle of my mother to leave this world and move towards her heavenly home.

We had been keeping vigil with her at night after hospice had been called in. One night I walked into her room and felt this heaviness, this presence.

In Hebrew, the word is kabowd.Weight. The weight of glory. God’s glory.

My mother’s weak hand reached toward the window, as if she was reaching to cross over into glory. But as she saw me, she hesitated, as if she was not ready to let go, just yet.

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She crossed over into glory two mornings later. I was not there with her.

I am grateful is dwelling in her eternal home now, away from this crisis that compromises those who are homebound as she was.

Before she left, she would often say, “I want to go home.”

I would say, “Mom, you are home with us.”

She would shake her head, no, smile and silently point one finger up.  “No, that home.”

I pray that home uncovers different meaning for us as we find refuge here in these days.

And I pray that we are preparing our hearts, as we have been readying our homes, to reflect upon the doorway to our heavenly home.

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Italicized text from The Little Houseby Virginia Lee Burton, 1942, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

An Affair to Remember….one couple inspires the destiny of four generations

 

Today would be my parents 60th wedding anniversary.

The influence of my parent’s marriage was shaped by the events at Pearl Harbor commemorated only a few days ago.

For their life as a couple brought together in the Philippines after WWII and their dream of establishing life in America have impacted not only my family but generations to follow.

Their sacrifice opened the door of opportunity for others to come.

To follow a longing for a better life.

To persevere.

To establish a dream come true.

Their first date was in a theater in Manila watching the American Film, “An Affair to Remember”.

They watched the iconic images of American life flash by on the big screen.. the polished kitchen beautiful furniture, lovely clothes, big automobiles.

My father turned to her and asked, “Would you like to have a good life In America?”

She turned to him and answered,  “Yes.”

Six weeks later they wed in a civil service ceremony before he returned to the United States after a four week leave as a sergeant in the US Army.

This is their only photograph.

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The union of two lives impacted by historic events

opened the door of destiny for generations to follow.

Three days ago I attended the 78thanniversary of the Pearl Harbor Memorial. Every year my father would announce on December 7, “Today is Pearl Harbor Day”.

I sat among those who had survived Pearl Harbor, the event that changed the course of history for the world. For my family.

I sat next to a woman wearing a lei, nestled in a red wheelchair just like the one I had pushed my mother in for years.  Her crown of grey hair, the way she lifted her chin to smile reminded me of my mother who I lost only months ago

Her name was Elsie.

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She came as an invited guest here, a Pearl Harbor survivor. Her sister Matilde was only 12 years old when shrapnel from a bombing hit her in the chest and killed her.  She was standing on the steps of her house that morning, the morning Elsie remembers hearing the planes flying overhead.  She has never heard and will never forget that sound she said.

The first wave of planes had already bombed the harbor. Her father was on the way to help.  She and her mother were scavenging the house looking for emergency materials, s that could possibly be of any help on base when the second wave occurred of bombing occurred

Her mother cradled her sister in her arms.  Her sister only one year older than her.  They did not tell their father until that night when he returned home, after the longest day of his life, coming to the aid and rescue of those injured at Pearl harbor. He came home to find his daughter killed by the shrapnel of an errant missile.

from ww2online.com HAWAIIAN CIVILIANS KILLED IN CAR DURING ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR ON 7 DECEMBER 1941

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Matilda Kaliko Faufata, the sister of Elsie Miraflor

My father was on another island hundreds of miles away in the Philippines.  Hours later his life was impacted by the events initiated at Pearl Harbor, the act that precipitated US involvement in World War II.  Behind the M1 Carbines in the bunkers of Fort Stotsenberg he would hear the same drone of the Japanese Zero planes over head, catching another fleet of US Army unprepared for the bombing overhead.

The crippling of the American Fleet in Pearl Harbor and hours later on Clark Air base in the Philippines marked the beginning of the end for the troops on ground to fight in the jungles of Bataan, just south of Manila.  My father fought in bunkers and jungles alongside American soldiers from December through April 9.  One day after Easter. But the day that marks spiritual freedom for others became the remained 75,000 exhausted and emaciated soldiers last day of freedom.  American troops surrendered to the Japanese the next day, for, as their leader spoke,  there is only so much a man can endure.  These men have endured all past endurance

Miles from here another 12-year old, my mother, took her toddler brother by the hand, and walked with him sixty miles from her province towards Manila.  Her brothers had been tortured by Japanese soldiers, one brother, a priest, killed, accused of being a spy.  She fled on foot to safety with the crowds of others moving towards Manila

Meanwhile my father had escaped the line of troops captured by the Japanese.  Slipping into a rice paddy face down into the water he lay prone for hours until the troops passes.  Shaking from malaria and emaciated from the previous months with no food supplies, my father made his way  on foot to his mother’s nipa hut in the province.  He recovered there until the troops barreled by in trucks to return to his unit at the end of the war.  For his service he was awarded US Citizenship. 75 years later he would be awarded the Gold Congressional Medal of Honor.

 

from Historynet.com “A Dreadful Step” 2010

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My mother Ludivina Bermudez received the Gold Congressional Medal of Honor one day after her 94th birthday last year. Her grandson Daniel Mogg wears his grandfather’s Army fatigues

These acts of bravery determination and endurance have passed on into our lifebloodas their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews carry on.

Children of his nieces and nephews who first stayed with my parents in their split-level suburban home have gone on to serve the United States. One is a Major in the air force,  one a Lieutenant Colonel in the army, one a Captain in the air force.  My father, an enlisted man  would beam with pride that his name lives on in an officer’s uniform.

“The fact that we are here today citizens and friends of the greatest land on earth is a  manifestation of the immeasurable debt we owe to them and to those who wear the cloth that defends us now.  The greatest generation underlined a pivotal role that we may enjoy the freedoms we enjoy today for boldly defending America in her time of greatest need.” Ambassador Harry Harris,US Ambassador to Korea at the Pearl Harbor Ceremony

 

The greatest generation paved the way for generations to follow

This week my cousin’s daughter will open a restaurant in Seattle.

My cousin, a daughter of the Philippines.  Her daughter, a daughter born in America.

Her mother remembers receiving airmail letters postmarked from America.  When she was 12 years old she would hurriedly bring the letter to her mother to open. Spilling out of the envelope would be black and white photographs of my sister and I in matching outfits in front of our split level yellow house, and in neat cursive handwriting scripted by my mother stories about our life in America.

It seemed like a dream to my cousin.

A decade later my cousin would sit in the kitchen of the home she only dreamed about in photographs, discussing with my mother as she cooked over the stove the possibilities open for her life in America.

This restaurant is a place inspired by four generations of family determined and dedicated to building a life her and preserving the life of family

“If you want to know what Musang is and you want to know me and  what my family is look at my cousins they are the craziest people in the world we raised each other..  we raised each other   if you want to know me and why this exists it’s because of them and their kids.” Melissa Miranda

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Third generation cousins born in America with Melissa Miranda and her father, Musang

The same kitchen where her mother first found shelter when she immigrated from the Philippines is the same kitchen where a 12 year old Melissa girl peeked around the corner observing the dance of a traditional Filipino meal two decades later,

and the same kitchen where her grand aunt first served the lumpia shanghai she serves on platters this opening night.

It is the same kitchen where her own mother sat at the countertop, listening to the advice of her granduncle, my father, the one who signed the affidavit of support for her to come to the United States.  The one who fought in the jungles of Bataan.  The one who always remembered Pearl Harbor Day.

The dream was always of a better life.

My father would fight so that one day he would have opportunity in America. Generations behind him would also find opportunity.

Nearly eight decades after his fight

his grandniece stands on the floor of a newly refurbished restaurant, with four generations that represent his family

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Melissa Miranda, owner of Musang Seattle with her grandfather, Juanito Bermudez

 

His brother and wife, my mother’s sister, the first generation to join my parents.

The second generation of cousins emigrating to America.

The third of those born in America.

And the fourth, those born to them,

stand together on the threshold of a dream,

a dream that carries on the power of family

and grit through the obstacles.

 

A dream built from a family raising each other.

Raising each other up to be their best.

Being there for one another.

Having each other’s backs, even after backs have been broken

to complete the construction of a vision

that carries on all that really matters:

love, laughter, support

and really, really, really excellent

Filipino food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 7. Pearl Harbor Day.

 

 

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On this day, 77 years ago, the day that would live infamy, bombs stormed over Pearl Harbor.

Several hours later, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

My Father was a Philippine Scout being trained under the command of the United States Army at Fort Stotsenberg the day that Japanese fighters appeared in the sky, firing over troops that had only few hours earlier received word about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“The bombing and raiding of Fort Stotsenburg and Clark Field within hours of the raid on Pearl Harbor went virtually unnoticed by the average person in the United States. The attack occured at little after noon, while all our planes—the bombers and P-40s—were lined up in a row on Clark Field.  Finally after what seemed like hours of bombing and strafing, everything became quiet, except for the cries and screams of the wounded lying intermingled with the dead all over the field.  The history books associate Pearl Harbor withe “the day of infamy,” but for those of us in the Philippines it was our day of infamy also.”              Lester I. Tenney, My Hitch in Hell, pg 21

I visited Pearl Harbor last month, gaining a greater appreciation why, growing up, my father would announce on this day, “Today is December 7. Pearl Harbor Day.”

Scratching the surface these past months of my father’s written records of the military service he never verbalized, I understand now why he was quiet.  Why he was silent. What visages must have remained in his dreams and memories that haunted him.

How much in meant, in December 1946, one year after World War II was over, that my father was granted citizenship to the United States of America for his service during the war and for surviving and escaping the brutalities of the Bataan Death March.

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It is because of his sacrifice that his name lives on, BERMUDEZ, here in the United States of America, even through three grandnephews who carry on his service today as officers in the United States Army and the United States Air Force.  To you, Julian Bermudez, Michael Ishida, and Chris Ishida, I commend you for carrying the service that my father began.  He would be so proud to see you commissioned as officers in the United States Armed Forces.

It is because of his sacrifice that our family and extended family live here today, educated in major universities, bearing the college degree that he never received but always dreamed of for ourselves and our children.

Yesterday his youngest grandson stood along the train tracks in College Station, Texas, to witness the train of the 41st President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, roll past, carrying his casket on its way to his final resting place at the George Bush Library on the campus of Texas A&M.

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President Bush’s service as a naval pilot in the Pacific, and my father’s service as an artillery man on the front lines of Bataan made them both part of the Greatest generation.

Next week my father’s youngest grandson will graduate from Texas A&M University, awaiting admittance into medical school. 

After his graduation ceremony our family will pay tribute on the library grounds to the 41st President of the United States.

But my son’s graduation from college will be a tribute to the sacrifice and dreams of his grandfather.

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SGT Jesus C. Bermudez received the Gold Congressional Medal of Honor for his service during World War II on April 15, 2018

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Missing Autumn

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returned to the Northwest this season, observing fall for the first time in thirty years.

I watched the trees behind my cottage transform from greens to yellow to gold.

The morning sun hits the bank just so, highlighting shades of crimson and sienna and umber against the verdant backdrop along the ridge.

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I walk the beach where gold and yellow tumble with stones and sand.

I climb the hill lined with limbs still holding on to gilded gifts.

One releases, and flutters side to side, descending lightly to the ground to rest.

 

It is right I am here this autumn,

this season of transforming, maturing

grasping, holding on to gifts–

my children, all grown, branching into careers, marriages.

the youngest two in college, one soon to graduate.

my mother, just out of hospice, quieter now

still sees me, translucent, and smiles.

We spend time browsing through sheaves of photographs

Some in her season, her prime.

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I see myself reflected in her smile

those years when she was young

surrounded by friends

and family

when she was a young mother

holding on to us

then letting go

her season follows traveling with Dad

places they dreamed of Rome, Israel,

now alone, in her autumn.

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autumn

uphill journey rises

crests at forest’s peak, descends 

as crimson leaves fall

 

autumn: n.

a time of full maturity, especially the late stages of full maturity or, sometimes, the early stages of decline

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In this autumn 

I will watch leaves drift unto the path

gathering with others that have done the same.

I will hold in wonder their change

the beauty of ripening, then release.

I will stand still 

to catch my breath, not listening to former urges

to press forward.

 

Instead I will gather leaves

that descend upon my way

Press them into my book

to remember.

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Messy Edges….Lola’s story in print available today!

 

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Lola, as my mom is lovingly known (Lola means “grandmother” in Tagalog), celebrated her 94th birthday last weekend.  The greatest tribute I could give my mother is to write a story about her beautiful heart.  On her birthday I had the honor of presenting for the first time an essay entitled “Messy Edges” at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This story briefly encapsulates the beauty and the heartbreak of caring for my mother in my home for eight years, and the release I found during that time through the gift of watercolor painting.  The essay is published in an anthology entitled, The Wonder Years, 40 Women over 40 on Faith, Aging, Beauty and Strength, edited by my dear mentor and friend Leslie Leyland Fields.

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(excerpt from “Messy Edges)

My mother is still with me as I write this. Today, I stop when she notices a red geranium, just like the ones she used to have outside her home.

 “What flower is that, Mom?” I ask her. 

She looks at it and smiles. “Geranium,” she whispers. 

She smiles and time stands still. She pushes me to see beauty and wonder in every small thing, as if for the first time. My mother, even in her illness, gives me this gift, this gift of seeing. When I paint, these are the moments I try to capture. A field of sunflowers, a field of lavender. I try to keep the colors pure and vibrant on the paper, not muddied.   I try to use brushstrokes that remain fresh and lively, not overworked. For previously I was holding on, too tightly, to the brush, to mom’s health, to life, afraid to loosen the grip, to lose control of the things I could not control.  Now I understand  that beauty unfolds in the letting go, in allowing the messy edges to bleed. 

My story is one of many, glimpses into the lives of 40 women and the firsts, lasts, and always moments they have experienced during this season of life.  I am honored to have Lola’s story tucked between authors I admire such as Ann Voskamp, Elisabeth Eliot, Madeline L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Brene Brown, Lauren Winner and Jill Kandel. Each story is beautifully crafted, leaving the reader with a takeaway that could make you laugh out loud, cry, or sigh in relief knowing someone else shares your voice.

The greatest joy of this story is the hope and strength I have received in being able now to transform a difficult time in my life and my family’s life into a place of encouragement  to others along the same journey.

Please pick up your copy of The Wonder Years today on Amazon.  If you need more convincing, please check out Lola’s promotional video below!  I had the privilege of reading it out loud to her, and she wholeheartedly approves.

 

“What more important, Lola?  Faith, Beauty or Strength?”

“All of them,” she says with a smile.

Anthem….…..a tribute to our Filipino fathers who received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor

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My father survived the World War II Battaan Death March in the Philippines.

He never spoke of it while he was alive.  I suppose there were no words.

In the community where I grew up in the 1970’s there were other men like him. Filipino soldiers now US citizens living in a neighborhood a stone’s throw from the Army base from where they retired, working as veterans in the community, living their version of the American dream: build a house, build a family, drive an American made car.

Most of them are gone now, but their families continue on, and yesterday our fathers were honored at the Filipino World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Awards Ceremony, Region 8, in Renton, Washington.

I knew this was the highest honor a civilian could receive. I knew that it was 75 years too late. I knew that many had been fighting for years for our fathers’ recognition for the sacrifice they endured during that pivotal time in history.

What I didn’t expect is to see the faces of my father’s compatriots in this gathering of their sons and daughters.

Cabellon. Crisostimo. Culanag. Felizardo. Irigon. Mocorro. Pancho. Sibonga. Solidarios.

Bermudez. My father’s name emblazoned on the Army jacket his first grandson proudly wears today.

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In this company a rekindling of Pinoy heritage and pride resurfaces, recalling what It meant to grow up in a community born of fathers who had sacrificed their lives to have a better life in America, holding more tightly the truth that our lives and the lives of our children are born out of the suffering and atrocities they endured.

One by one these names are called out and a family member steps forward to receive the medal from US Army Brigadier General Oscar Hillman, a medal that would have been presented years ago had President Truman not rescinded the benefits that should have been awarded to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As POW’s captured by the Japanese, these men were forced to march 100 miles from Bataan to Manila. Seventy six years after those tragic steps taken on Philippine soil, then a US colony, they were finally acknowledged for their pivotal role in preventing the further expansion of Japanese forces deeper into the Pacific by Congress and President Barack Obama in 2016.

Only one contemporary from my father’s group remains to receive the honor for his brother.

Felix Pancho, in a turtleneck and sport jacket and a movie star smile, is just as I remember him during our Filipino gatherings growing up.

His stride still strong and confident he receives the medal in his brother’s name. He turns around with a smile, waving. I greet him afterwards. He shows me his brother’s photographs from 1950 with his former troop in Manila and his proud stance in the US in 1960 in front of his prized car, a Falcon.  My father has a similar photo in front of his 1958 Buick Special.

My father’s widow is pushed forward in her wheelchair by my sister. She has no recollection of what is happening, but senses this is something solemn. When she asked all the way to the event, where are we going? where are we going? I told her, we are going to a ceremony to honor Daddy.  Her mind grasped the thought. Daddy? She asked. Yes Daddy. She processes the thought for a moment, then acknowledges with a nod.

They announce his name, Jesus Bermudez. She smiles as she receives the bronze copy of the Congressional Gold Medal into her hands by the general. 

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She is resplendent in red, one of the colors of the Philippine flag, the flag that was honored during the color guard ceremony, when the Philippine National anthem was sung out proudly by a Filipino soldier dressed as Philippine Scout. My mother, silent the entire morning, mouths the Tagalog words as he sang.

Buhay ay langit sa piling mo;

Aming ligaya na pag may mangaap

Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyi

Beautiful land of love

O land of Light

In thine embrace tis rapture to lie

But it is glory ever, when thou art wronged

For us thy sons, to suffer and die

The faces of these sons who suffered years ago, now gone, are mapped in the faces of my compadres, my living brothers gathered around me, whose smile and gesture they bear.

We gather now for a photo, those who are left holding the medals our fathers would have proudly borne, those who are left: sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters.

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Widows.

My father’s widow sees another widow left behind, her best friend she has not seen for 10 years. She does not recall her name.  But she recalls her. Their tearful exchange reveals this truth. They reunite silently, exchanging embraces, tears, and smiles. They hold hands quietly. For many years they held each other’s pain. Now they hold each other in silence.  For there are no words.

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