Bittersweet
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - May 30, 2013 - 12:00am

Anaheim, California — It was a homecoming like no other. I was going “home” to the city my parents Frank and Sonia Mayor called home for almost two decades, and which I called home for a few cherished vacations. You know how your parents’ home is HOME, how its very scent (my mom’s home was of gardenia and lilac potpourri) evokes “comfort” memories?

Anaheim is the home of the world’s very first Disneyland, and from Dad and Mom’s patio, we could see its nightly fireworks and hear their friendly crackle. We were like children, even when we already had children, every time we visited Dad and Mom.  But the last time I flew to Anaheim in July 2010, it was to be by the side of my dying father. So I had always wondered how it was going to be like to go back to a city of bittersweet memories.

After Dad passed away in 2010, Mom decided to shuttle back and forth between the Philippines and the US. (She wasn’t in Anaheim when we visited because she was attending the wedding of a grandniece in New Jersey with my sister Dindin.) But I couldn’t erase Anaheim from my map of happy places because my sister Mae now lives here. She migrated here with her son David three years ago and now lives in an apartment unit near the one my parents once occupied. I hadn’t seen Mae since we buried Dad in Manila three years ago.

My husband Ed and I flew here primarily to visit Mae, and it was a sweet reunion. Bittersweet. The minute we saw each other in the arrival area of the John Wayne airport in nearby Santa Ana, Mae and I both burst into tears as we embraced each other tight (even if we just had an argument over the phone the night before). The last time the two of us were at John Wayne in 2000 after a side trip to San Francisco with our sons Chino and David, Dad had come to pick us up and took our pictures near a statue of John Wayne.

For me, visiting Anaheim now was coming home to the reality that Dad is really gone — not just far away somewhere in this planet. Many of those who have lost loved ones sometimes just condition themselves to think their dearly departed one is just abroad, on vacation, just out of sight. It was the first time I was returning to Dad and Mom’s home after his death changed our lives forever. Will the fireworks from Disneyland still sound the same?

From the airport, Mae took us to South Coast Plaza, where Dad would often take us shopping with Mom. Ed pointed out to us the bench where Dad would usually wait for us while we indulged in retail therapy. It was still there. My Uncle Jun Reyes met up with us for a late lunch, and it was almost like old times. Almost.

On our way “home,” Mae asked us if we wanted to pass by the hospital where Dad died, where I had rushed to in the hopes of seeing him alive one last time on July 6, 2010. I shook my head. I wasn’t THAT strong.

Before dropping us off in our hotel, Mae pointed out to us the two-story apartment complex where Dad and Mom used to live and where she now resides. I felt a tug in my heart.

***

It is early summer in Anaheim, which is in Orange County, and the sidewalks are lined by tall jacaranda trees with lush lilac blooms. I had often wondered why the county is named “Orange” when there are more jacaranda trees with lilac blooms than oranges here. My parents’ good friends Harry and Josie Aquino say it is because orange trees used to line Anaheim’s sidewalks till the mid-‘80s, and oranges would actually fall far from the tree.

On our first night back in Anaheim, Mae took us to her apartment. We passed by Unit 200, where Dad and Mom once lived. Oh, how many times had my sisters Mae, Dindin and Val and I rushed up the stairs to Unit 200! I remember Dad’s wing chair, Mom’s blue and white sofa. Unit 200 has a new occupant and I was glad its door was shut. 

Mae, Ed and I just gave it a glance and moved on to Mae’s unit across the corridor, a few feet down the hall. Yes, we moved on. In more ways than one.

***

Mae has carved a new life for herself and her son in Anaheim, and she has no regrets migrating to the US. She had not expected Dad to be gone when she decided to migrate here, but she didn’t look back. Once when we were on the freeway, I asked her, why do you like it here?

“Because of this,” she answered pointing to the road ahead. I stared at the bumpers of the cars before us and was about to ask her to elaborate when she added, “Don’t you see the order, the discipline and the organization of the lifestyle here?”

Making it without Dad’s moral support was difficult, she admitted. “But you just gotta do what you gotta do. If you have no option but to survive on your own, you just do it. You just make things work. And then you realize that if there is any place where you can make your dream come true, it is here.”

Mae, who holds two jobs, is looking forward to getting closer to the American Dream soon. She worked for 21 years in the US Embassy in Manila before deciding to migrate here even while the US economy was still in recession. She has always been hardworking and seeing how hard work and how the system here worked for Dad, she is confident the same formula will work for her, too. She has accepted the sacrifices, the occasional homesickness, the challenges of living away from most of her relatives and close friends.

“Your sister is a survivor,” Ed says of Mae, who is a single parent.

Mae has learned to move on, with gratitude for the past, and hope for the future. That is how Dad would have wanted it.

Revisiting Anaheim isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I see Dad in all the old familiar places. And I see Dad in Mae.

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

AFTER DAD ANAHEIM DAD DAD AND MOM ED AND I HOME JOHN WAYNE MAE MOM
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