Martel
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez () - September 1, 2011 - 12:00am

But summer’s not forevermore

No matter how we tried

The trouble with hello is goodbye

(from The trouble with hello is goodbye by Sergio Mendes)

She is the summertime of friendship because she represents that which is warm, caring, genuine — and perhaps vanishing — about a true friend.

She is the good neighbor who keeps an eye on the mail and packages on my parents’ doorstep when they are not around. She drives for my mom when she knows the latter needs to run an errand or simply de-stress at the mall. She drops by my parents’ place on her way home for some chit-chat, a cup of coffee or a glass of beer and some pancit and lumpiang shanghai (egg rolls).

She would put her shoulder under a bamboo pole bearing the iconic bahay kubo when neighbors are moving houses. Except that there are no bahay kubos in Orange County, California, where she and my mom Sonia and late dad Frank have been neighbors for the last 16 years. But she would if there were bahay kubos to move.

In many ways, Martel Prater is like the good neighbor rural Philippines had an abundance of in the good old days; the type who would readily drop by when a neighbor sweetly smiles, “Daan muna (Please drop in).”

She is the type of neighbor who would commiserate with you with every toothache and rejoice with you with every job promotion. The type who knew your children’s names by heart and their likes (she knows JFK is my idol and so she once sent me a glass paperweight with his image embedded in it) and dislikes.

She has an endearing Southern drawl that puts you right at ease, a warmth as comforting as a home-made quilt, and a listening ear not unlike Oprah’s or your favorite guidance counsellor’s.

 My parents Frank and Sonia Mayor met Martel when they rented apartments a few feet away from each other in Anaheim, California, a few minutes away from Disneyland. And their friendship reverberated with the same cheer as the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

Martel and my mom were BFFs — they both love Democrats, shopping and having their nails done. The always well-coiffed Martel would drive Mom to the mall during their free days — they both loved extended lunches and shopping for nice clothes. It was Martel who encouraged me to buy my first Pucci (which I did, pikit mata) at a boutique at the South Coast Plaza, saying, “Go, Girl, you deserve it.” But she was also there to accompany Dad and Mom to the hospital when he was too weak to go behind the wheel.

“His doctor said it is not going to be a walk in the park for him,” she told us, quite frankly.

Martel rushed to Dad’s bedside on July 6 last year when she found out he had passed on, comforting Mom and keeping vigil with us all. “No father could have been prouder than your dad was of you all…” she told us.

***

Martel is a survivor. She was only 19 when she had her first (and only) child — and she delivered him at home. Her doctor said she wasn’t due for a couple of weeks, so Martel went home, and hours later went into labor. Her son is now a dutiful preacher.

Martel’s faith saw her through life’s obstacle courses, including her separation from her husband and a bout with breast cancer 30 years ago. A very spiritual woman, she goes to Sunday service every week and does so in her Sunday best — in an outfit some of us would probably wear only to our children’s graduation. But worship to Martel was a big event, and she dressed for the part.

Every time I saw or bumped into Martel when I would visit my parents in Anaheim, she looked like she was always ready for the cameras. Not a hair out of place, a fashionably-knotted scarf around her neck, lipstick that didn’t fade no matter how many Margaritas she’s had, and nails whose lacquer polish never seemed to chip. If Martel encountered any discrimination in life it would have had to come from her, because she could look down on anybody with her height, poise and self-confidence. But she wouldn’t do that because she is the kindest soul. She wasn’t just kind to my parents; she was kind and accommodating by nature. She would drive for another neighbor when the latter had to visit a sickly son. When I was visiting Anaheim, my mom wouldn’t think twice about asking Martel to drive me to Target or Macy’s. But Martel was also straightforward — she would tell you if she wasn’t available, but in the same breath would tell you when she would be, “if you can wait, Girl, I’ll be ready in two hours…”

During my dad’s last Christmas, all his grandchildren flew to Anaheim to share the season with him. The family had Noche Buena at Morton’s, and only two non-relatives were invited to the cherished gathering: Martel, and another good neighbor, David Rearwin.

When my sister Mae migrated to the US and lived with Mom after Dad passed away, Martel also took her under her wing. She would always counsel Mae to “Trust in the Lord” whenever Mae was feeling discouraged. Mae says Martel would always be so positive her very smile already lightened her load. Martel was also Mae’s rah-rah girl with her trademark cheer, “Go, Girl.”

After a year in the US, Mae not only has a job, she has job offers. She has a spiritual support group and she has a friend like Martel.

But Martel is now going back home to Georgia. Mae recently sent us photos of a despedida she and our family friends Harry and Josie Aquino gave Martel and the photos left some of us with a catch in our throat.

“The end of an era,” wrote my sister Geraldine. “Dad is gone, Martel is going back South and Mom is in Manila.”

The Anaheim Mafia that was the cocoon of our memorable visits to the US is disintegrating. Oh, how we (even as grown-ups) looked forward to visiting Anaheim then, when we would wrap tightly around us the quilt of love and care and cheer that they all knitted for us.

Yes, Dad is gone, Mom shuttles back and forth, and Georgia is a long way from us. Maybe Martel will call, or text. But it will never be the same again. My sister Geraldine is right: the Anaheim years were part of an era in our lives that has come to pass. Those were summer days, but fall is now here.

We will miss you, Martel.

 The trouble with hello is goodbye.

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com)

ANAHEIM ANAHEIM MAFIA BUT MARTEL DAD DAD AND MOM MARTEL MOM
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