Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saved by Zero

Lester used to sing the national anthem of the Philippines.

He’d sing it loud, off-key, and in its entirety.  Bubby and I would join him in song and collapse to the floor in giggles because Grampa couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

I searched for years to find a copy of the Filipino national anthem. …or at least someone who knew the words.  

I came up empty handed.

I relayed this story and sang a few bars of what I remembered for Big one night.

Thanks to the digital age and his 99 cent gift, I now have a copy of Lupang Hinirang.

It sounds nothing remotely like what I remember. 

 I could call Bubby right now and ask him to sing it with me and I guaran-damn-tee that we’d come up with roughly the same melody and skewered words.  Words we have no idea how to pronounce correctly or define.  

Are they even real words?

Probably not.

Today there is a different Filipino anthem than there was in the early forties. Diwa ng Bayan was sung at the time and doing a little research and finding the lyrics, it’s possible this was the song he would sing to us.  The words sound somewhat closer to what I know.

But then again, Grampa was born in Elizabeth, Arkansas.  It could have just been his backwoods southern accent coloring the pronunciation of Filipino words.

I miss it.  I listen to my Uncle Hippy who sounds of him and go to a giddy, happy place.

Grampa served in the South West Pacific theatre in World War II.  He was stationed on those islands and it is a small wonder to me that he came away with such a charming thing to share with his grandkids.

Growing up, his buddies called him Doll. He had these amazing, surreal blue eyes-the kind you’d see on a porcelain baby doll.  He had doll eyes.  He said he never cared for the nickname until he noticed that the little gals all thought it, and he, was cute.  

Then he didn’t mind so much.

During the war, he acquired a different nickname.  They called him Zero, because that was what he did.  He shot down Japanese Zero fighter planes.   I don’t know the particulars unfortunately.  Next Sunday when I talk to Granny, I’ll ask her.

I’ll get back to you.

He enjoyed the Filipino people. He’d shut down on us though, when we’d ask him about the Japanese. He’d just get up and go to the kitchen.

“I need some bristles.”


 I remember once walking into a K-Mart with him.  He stopped suddenly at the front door and told me to go catch up with Grandma.  I asked him why and he told me there were Japanese folks in the store.

He told me this in a more, um, colorful manner.

He left.  

I looked around and couldn’t see anyone that looked Japanese.  I shrugged and caught up with Grandma.  I told her where he’d gone.

“Babe, he always knows when one is around.  He can smell them.  You wait, we’ll run across one.”

We did.

I will never know what he saw and felt and absorbed through the very pores of his skin. 

I never marched in his combat boots.  

…nor my dad’s who served in Korea.

…nor my brother’s who served in the Persian Gulf.

...nor all of you today who were-and continue to be-in harm’s way.

And thanks to all of them, I won’t have to.

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