Cliche' Alert; Pictures are worth a thousand...
The picture on the left was taken on July 4, 1967, Angeles City, Luzon, Philippine Islands. The occasion was my parents' tenth wedding anniversary, and my sister and I, with the help of our housekeeper, Audrey (upper right corner of the picture) decided to bake a chocolate cake for my parents. It turned out flat, probably because we didn't know how to adjust the oven temperature. Not to mention that Tam and I couldn't wait for the cake to be done, and we kept opening the oven door. Richard and Mary Shortt married in Mobile, Alabama on July 4, 1957, Independence Day: a celebration of a forthcoming war, with all the fireworks. What a fitting time for my parents to take their vows.
You can't see much of her in this picture, but that's my Mom standing on the left with the knife in her hand. I guess my Dad figured it was safer to take the picture. On the opposite side of the table from Mom is my sister Tam, eight years old, and peeking around me is my little brother, Ricky. He was three at the time. He rarely wore a shirt back then, just underwear and shorts. The tropical heat was a bit much for him, and he was constantly getting nose bleeds and heat rash. And then there's me--age nine, the hourly struggle to keep food out of my mouth was clearly a lost effort.
I was too embarrassed to show anyone this picture for years. All I could ever see was "Aunt Jemima", the nickname other kids gave me a few years later, standing there holding the candle. Not to mention that I had no fashion sense. In the morning, I used to throw on what ever was in my dresser drawers, regardless of whether it matched or not. As long as it fit, I wore it. And those striped pants probably didn't fit much longer than six months, if I'm recalling the past correctly. But you can't always trust memory, can you? The mind deceives, especially when you are recalling painful childhood memories. For all I consciously know, I could have busted out of those pants within a week. I'm pretty sure I made a big dent in my parents' anniversary cake.
But I feel compelled to face the nightmares of my past so I can be at peace in the present. This was my childhood; there are no do-overs. As much as I sometimes wish I could travel back in time and change events like Hiro Nakamura in the show "Heroes", I now realize that it would be pointless to that. I would still be Angela, working from the blueprint with the abilities, talents, challenges and personality quirks that I have now. So why bother trying to change the past when I am who I was intended to be? I might as well accept my life as it was and as it is right now.
There is another reason why I am posting this picture. Last night marked the 14 annual publication of Susurrus, Sacramento City College's literary magazine. I read an excerpt from the creative non-fiction story I wrote, called "Diamond Life". The title is a reference to the Diamond compound,which is where we were living at the time this picture was taken. Non-com families were often put on waiting lists for on-base housing when they are given an overseas assignment, so we moved into our house in the Diamond compound at some point in November, 1966. I remember being amazed by the cultural differences in celebrating Christmas and Easter, which would take way too long to describe. Especially during the week leading up to Easter, when young Filipino men used to get into fist fights with each other for the honor of portraying Jesus during the Crucification. That was particularly disturbing to all of us. Watching a young man carry an extremely heavy wooden cross on his back while others throw rocks, kick and hit him with sticks seemed to be an extraordinarily odd way of celebrating the miracle of the Savior.
But that was what "Diamond Life" was about. The story dealt with how our family coped with the racism we encountered in the Philippine Islands. Even the poorer-than-dirt-poor felt entitled to call my family and I derogatory names. I would see flashes of fiery red and take off running after the boys when they called us names. That's what the story was about, actually.
Anyway, I'm really tired from staying up so late last night. But I did want to share this.