Saturday, November 29, 2008

Finding Harvey Jewell

Have you ever lost contact with someone special in your life?

I was named after my father’s friend, an American navy man named Harvey Jewell. As a child, I grew up hearing stories of my dad’s friendship with him. According to my father, they were such good friends that he had wanted Harvey to be his future child’s “ninong” (godfather). Unfortunately, Harvey J. had to leave the Philippines the night before I was born, but not before receiving a promise from my father that the baby, boy or girl (no ultrasound tests in those days), would be named Harvey. And so it came to pass that a Filipino baby girl was named Harvey.

Immediately after getting back home, he did write my father. With his letter came a picture of him and his bride, Norma Jean. They were married in Lafayette, Indiana in 1946. My father had kept that picture and letter through the years, which he would show to relatives or friends when he had to explain how I got to be named Harvey.

For many years, I was resigned to the fact that I would never get to meet the man after whom I was named. My hopes were raised with the introduction of Internet, and especially Google. I would “google” his name but finding no real leads, I soon gave up.

However, last December, a friend urged me to search for Harvey again, reminding me that new information is being added to the Internet everyday. I followed her advice, and googled for Harvey Jewel (I had mistakenly thought that his family name had only one L), but nothing came up. I searched for “Harvey Jewel Lafayette Indiana” and again nothing. I tried Harvey Jewel Norma Jean Lafayette Indiana and boom… an entry in the Lafayette Gazette appeared… Harvey E. Jewell and Norma Jean, married March 23, 1946. Bingo!

From there, I tried one of the best sources of information if one is trying to locate a person. I went to 411, and entered his name and Lafayette, Indiana. There were other Jewells, but not Harvey or Norma Jean. I decided to expand my search, and simply put Harvey E. Jewell. Quite a few Harvey Jewells were listed, but one entry said “Lt. Cmdr. Harvey E. Jewell. My heart skipped a beat, and with my fingers shaking with the exciting thought that I had found him, I clicked on his name.

Then, lo and behold, there it was. His age was listed as his 82 – a very plausible age. But, there was no email address – only a home address. I wrote him a letter and mailed it on December 2, 2007. In that letter, I told him that I was leaving the U.S. on December 8, but gave two cellphone numbers and all my landlines in the Philippines, plus, of course, my email and home address.

On December 14, I saw an email from a Gary Bement that I almost deleted because I did not know him, and I thought it was spam. I was very thankful that I went on to read his email, and discovered that he was Harvey Jewell's son-in-law.

Since Harvey did not do emails, we communicated through Gary. We soon had an exchange of emails going back and forth. Gary would write for his dad-in-law, based on letters that Harvey would write on paper. He had many stories about my father, and it did not take long for me to decide that I wanted to meet Ret. Lt. Cmdr. Harvey E. Jewell in person!

To be continued…

Sunday, June 08, 2008


It was still early enough so my husband, my daughter and I could go our separate ways in the mall and then meet up for dinner. My husband asked – “Where do you want to have dinner?” It was important for my daughter and I to agree on a place because whenever we were undecided or could not agree, our default place was my husband's favorite (maybe perennial is a better word) restaurant, David's Tea House.

I wanted us to decide it then, but my daughter, who was still not ready with her choice, said – “Let’s call each other when it’s almost dinner time.” My husband agreed.

Concerned about how we were all being spoiled by technology, I reminded my techie family that before the days of cellphones, we would agree on where and when to meet before going separate ways. “We are too dependent on our cellphones, and calling is expensive!” I exclaimed.

Just our of curiosity, my daughter asked, “What did you have before cellphones?”


“What did you have before pagers?”


What did you have before beepers?”

Feeling defensive at this “interrogation”, I said sarcastically “Smoke signals”

“Before smoke signals?”

Now, getting a little peeved but determined to keep my upper hand, I just insisted: “Let us agree on the time and where to meet, and make sure our watches are synchronized.”

“Before you had watches?” There she goes again!

I was determined to win this argument “We would look at the sun and define the position of the sun to tell the time, and agree to meet at…”

“David’s,” my husband chirped in.

End of discussion! We all laughed at that very clever move.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Compliment from a Stranger

Sometimes, we get compliments from strangers that affirm what we already know about the people we love.

The other Sunday, John, Kathy and I were attending Mass at the Greenbelt chapel, a modern, circular structure surrounded by ponds and gardens. Families with young children usually listen to the Mass from this grassy area outside the chapel to keep their noisy youngsters from disturbing people quietly praying inside the church. We, too, prefer to stay outside so John could easily walk around the chapel when he gets restless, as he is wont to do when he sometimes finds the homily uninteresting.

John had stayed through the end of the homily when we noticed a Caucasian man scolding an Asian woman who was carrying a child who looked like the baby could be their child.

He was very agitated and told her to stay put at that spot, which happened to be near where we were standing. Then he left her and we wondered if the woman was his wife or his baby’s yaya (nanny). We wondered what she did that earned his ire. Moments later, he was back again, mumbling something at her before leaving again, weaving in and out of the big crowd that attends the 4:30pm Mass. He was still huffing and puffing when he came back again, and continued to scold her. We were not sure if they were having a marital spat but when we heard the man say, “You should have looked at where he was going,” we knew right away that he was concerned about a missing child.

John approached him immediately and escorted him to a security guard who quickly notified other guards in the area. I saw both John and the man walk back and forth, passing in front of me several times as they scoured the area both inside and outside the church. Kathy left me to do her own search until I could not see her anymore. (Based on her own insight – there were at least a couple of instances when she was separated from us when she was a child - she went a little farther from the church, going to the places where she thought little children would be attracted to go – to the fountain, the pond where ducks swam, and to the restaurants).

When it was communion time, and people were queuing to receive the Holy Sacrament, I thought I should look for John and this man to suggest that they make the announcement using the public address system of the church, but John was already on his way inside the church with the missing child’s father.

The mass lector made the announcement about a missing three-year-old boy, describing him as wearing blue pants, blue shirt and white slippers. The priest, an elderly American by the name of Fr. Jim Perry, made an additional appeal to anyone who may have seen the boy and offered a short prayer for them to be reunited, and then finally, the father himself appealed to the mass goers, describing his son once more and adding that he did not speak any English or Tagalog as the mother is Thai (He did not say where the mother was at the moment). Just a couple of minutes later, before the final prayers were said, Fr. Perry announced that the little boy had been found. The mass goers clapped their hands in hearty cheer. (He was found by the park security, wandering - unfazed and not crying- near Café Breton, more than 50 meters from the church).

While this afternoon drama was going on, an elderly woman who stood beside me, noticing what John was doing, faced me and remarked, “Your husband is a good man. I hope there will be more people like him.” After the father and the son were reunited, John and Kathy came back to where they left me, and I asked the elderly woman to repeat to John what she said to me. Lightly touching him on the shoulder, she said, “You are a good man.” I proudly nodded in agreement, whispering to John, “I’ve always known that.” But as she probably did not notice Kathy join the search for the missing boy, I whispered to Kathy, “I’m proud of you, too.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

Padasal for My Mother

Today, I went to my hometown of Paranaque, now part of Metro Manila, to commemorate my mother’s 30th death anniversary.

During death anniversaries, the tradition here is to have a “padasal,” a prayer session for the dearly departed, usually conducted and participated in by some of the oldest women from our part of town. This we held this afternoon at my cousins’ house (my parents’ house burned down a few years ago and was never rebuilt).

While waiting for old relatives to come for the padasal, my cousin suggested that we honor my mother by talking about what we remember of her, and this is what I shared:

When I was a child, we were poor and could not afford electric fans or air conditioning. During summer months when heat was unbearable, my sister, two brothers and I would all sleep on a banig (women mat) on the living room floor so we could take turns being fanned by my mother.

Unlike my siblings, I had a hard time going to sleep, or staying asleep when I was feeling too warm. My mother would lie down next to me and she would stay awake most of the night to fan me with an anahaw hand fan. As soon as she noticed me tossing and turning, and probably while she herself was half-asleep, she would raise her arm and swing her fan to and fro to create a breeze over my face.

This is one of my fondest memories of my mother, who passed away thirty years ago of ovarian cancer at the age of fifty-five.

Dear Nanay,
I thank you for taking care of me when I was growing up. I miss you. I will always love you.
Your daughter,

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Language of the Heart

Should we speak in our native tongue, the language of our heart, or in a second but more universal language, such as English, even though we have not mastered it?

Different people reacted differently to Filipina beauty contestant Janina San Miguel’s fractured English. Some people in the audience heckled, as she struggled to speak in English, confusing her p’s and f’s and committing many mistakes (her interview is on You-tube ( but the judges must have disagreed with the less-than-kind audience because they declared her a winner here and named her as our official representative to the Ms. World 2008 pageant in Ukraine.

When she goes into the question-and-answer portion again, some say she should speak in Pilipino and ask for an interpreter. My own humble opinion is that she can do as she chooses – to speak in her own mother tongue, or make the valiant attempt to speak in a language she has not mastered. (I liked the way she laughed at herself when she realized she was having a hard time trying to answer in English). However, since the contest will be held in Ukraine and not in an English-speaking country, trying to speak in English may not matter, and she just really might be better off speaking in the language of her heart.

This language issue brings to mind a recent conversation with my future son-in-law, John.
John is Dutch and wanted his parents and himself to follow the Filipino tradition of “pamanhikan.” (
Unfortunately, his mom is too frail to travel, and he asked me if it would be alright if his parents wrote to us instead, to ask for our daughter’s hand in marriage. But since his parents speak and write only Dutch and a couple of other European languages but not English, (and my husband and I only know Pilipino and English), he wanted to know if we were okay with receiving his parents’ letters in Dutch.

I said “of course.” I explained that to me, what is important is not the language we use but the message that we want to put across. Even more important is the fact that we want to connect and communicate. (We don’t have to look far for an interpreter -John being the best for this task). If they chose to write in Dutch, to me that would mean they are speaking from their hearts, and that would make it very special. But if they chose to try to put together a letter in English (or get someone to translate for them) I would take it to mean that they want us to have an easier time understanding what they want to say, and that would be sweet, too.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

An environmentalist group is organizing Earth Hour to happen tonight from 8 to 9pm. During the hour, we are supposed to turn off all lights, to let the darkness serve as our reminder that we need to protect Mother Earth and her resources from abuse and overuse.

I thought – it may be difficult to do that in one of our studios because we have a photo shoot that might go beyond 8pm, but surely, we can easily turn off lights, even air-conditioning, in our Alabang house.

Well, I came home to Alabang to find that whether I like to or not, we’re participating in Earth Hour. It has been almost two weeks since we came home (got too busy and stayed in the studio), and I found the front yard littered with newspapers, flyers and, horror of all horrors, – bills! One of them was actually a termination notice from Meralco, the electric company. I looked at the date of the termination notice – March 28. That was yesterday! They cut off our electricity yesterday!

Rushing out of the house to go to Meralco to pay our bill and request for reconnection, we got there at 12:25pm. To my dismay, a sign on the door says “Office Hours – Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturdays, 9am to 12 noon.”

There is nothing I can do until Monday.

In the meantime, we are joining Earth Hour, which to us, will be Earth Weekend. My husband, who is still at the studio, just sms’ed: “just put up a big sign that says ‘We support Earth Hour 24/7.”