Letting skeletons out of the family closet | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Travel at any age can be tedious. We look forward to getting to our destinations, but the process of getting there is seldom without a hitch.

Two weeks after arriving from an endless but pleasant Delta flight from Atlanta to Manila, we took off again, this time for Australia, to visit cousins who have lived Down Under for several decades. I do not enjoy living out of suitcases, but any inconvenience is worth getting together with people who have been sorely missed.

An overnight flight is never easy, especially if, like me, you stay awake just to make sure the pilot does not fall asleep at the wheel. It was uneventful. Cabin service was typical PAL—sweet and friendly. But the seat would not recline without a struggle, and I needed two attendants to bring up my foot rest, and again to take it down.

We touched down in Melbourne after almost eight hours. Bear with me while I try not to make this a gripe session.

We were asked to disembark with all our belongings. For me, that meant an oversized purse and a pretty heavy carry-on bag chockfull of “just in case” items and medications.

No one met my sister and me with the wheelchairs we had requested. So we walked from the aircraft to a security baggage check area. I understand this is SOP in Melbourne?  What in the world could we have acquired in the plane, up in the sky for eight hours, after a thorough frisk and pat down in Naia?  I later learned that this quirky procedure has led to the confiscation of booze purchased onboard, and people are complaining.

Both the lift and the escalator were not functioning when we arrived. Passengers were grumbling. They had to climb carrying their bags. We waited until someone came with a key to grudgingly turn the switches on. We were instructed to proceed to Gate 3. It seemed several miles away.

At the holding area, the people on duty were incredibly rude.  They couldn’t have cared less about their special-assistance passengers. When told we had nowhere to sit, the guy, obviously no gentleman, said, “Let them stand around.” Were they airport or airline people? Unfortunately, whoever they were, the national carrier got the black eye.

We finally took off for Sydney and landed an hour later. We were apprehensive. But we needn’t have worried. The two ladies who met us with wheelchairs had the sweetest smiles and the most enchanting manners. They more than made up for Melbourne. Like the natives say: Good on you, Sydney.

There is an upside to this travel story.

The reunion we had so looked forward to could not have been happier. We spent the most glorious two weeks with cousins and their children; nieces, nephews, and their children. Conversation was endless. Stories were funny. Most of the time it began with two words: Remember when? Memories exploded like a display of fireworks.

‘Before the war’

We recalled the days “before the war.” We remembered visits to Beaterio de Santa Catalina in Intramuros, where my father’s sister was a nun. We exchanged stories of how we survived “the occupation.” Almost four years of learning how to fall in line for food rations, riding in dokars and calesas, wearing bakya carved with nipa huts or flowers, hiding in improvised air raid shelters. We hummed “liberation” songs like “Paper Doll” and “Pistol Packing Mama.” We reminded one another of the rich-tasting “preserved butter” the soldiers brought.

Reminiscing is beautiful. The dictionary says that reminiscing means remembering past events.  I say it means remembering without regret.  You look back with a smile. The salty tears that may escape are from joyful remembering.

In between cups of coffee, Cadbury chocolate bars and bites of the most delicious prune cake, we traveled back in time. We visited happy and sad episodes of our childhood, remembered loved ones and missed lovers now long gone.

And through it all, bonds of family were found, strengthened and made whole. We finally solved some of the mysteries which, as children, we were forbidden to ask about. Deep, dark secrets came to light.

For some of us, there was confirmation. For the younger ones, there was revelation. They did not seem too surprised to discover that some of the people we loved and thought of as indestructible and incorruptible had feet of clay after all.

Inevitably, skeletons escaped from the family closet. After gasps of disbelief, there was a hush. Bits and pieces were contributed to complete the puzzle. I heard nervous laughter. Someone dared make a joke.

Finally, howls of merriment rang in the air. The truth had liberated those who had kept the closet locked for so long. The door was wide open and we threw away the key.

I strongly recommend getting together with family, no holds barred.  Do it soon. You, too, may have musty, dusty closets full of dead bones and rotting secrets. Open up. Let the sunshine in!

Remember, as George Bernard Shaw said, “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”

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