III. THE INTERVIEW: Part 2
(Continuation of the Interview between ERMIN GARCIA and A.C.J. at the SUNDAY PUNCH OFFICE, Dagupan City, Dec. 22, 1964)
Excerpts from the words of ERMIN GARCIA:
I spent my childhood mostly with my GRANDPARENTS in San Fabian.
They loved me very…they used to treat me the way I treat my children now. Very rarely my grandmother would whip me. My grandfather was called “The German” in San Fabian…he was called “Aleman” because boy, he was very irascible…I took after him…and domineering. Very domineering. He was the cacique of San Fabian and he was, boy…but he would never punish me, I remember. And he was very fond of me. I was always…I was his favorite. I was aware of that and I never abused.
One time I had pets in San Fabian, with my…with the other cousins, because Tony was too young. We would play together. We had poults. You see, my grandfather kept a small poultry. We took care of a poult each. To each we gave a name.
And I had a dog and the name was Comfy—Comfy was a comic strip before…my dog looked liked Comfy.
My children—I don’t care about their grades, as long as they can honestly tell themselves that they did their best—even if they flunk. For me, the grades do not matter, but their development as men, or as young ladies. The grade is a matter of opinion of one man. It is their health that counts. I would rather see them flunk, than see them sick. When I see them I say, “After all, these children were brought into this world through no fault of theirs.”
The way I see life…life for me is…I did not see much happiness in life, even before Karina’s death…so when the children were born I’d say, “My gosh, they had to be born because of me. I OWE IT TO THEM TO MAKE THEIR LIFE AS HAPPY AS POSSIBLE. I try to give them whatever they need.
So even now I deprive myself of things. I buy my shoes only once in three years. I don’t know…my shoes keep… like these shoes I am wearing now… this is my newest pair, and they have already been re-soled. My pants—many of them are worn out in the seats. I don’t go for—you know… Everything that the children need, I give it to them. Especially with their medicines. I am very strict with their medicines. But my own health—what the hell—sometimes I…when Pauling puts out the medicine just as I am going out the door, “Next time!” I tell her. But with the kids—boy! I watch them take their medicines, whenever I’m around.
The topnotchers in class are not always the ones who succeed. I want my children to be practical—to solve their own problems.
ACJ: What is it that motivates you to work, say, for the Red Cross?
EG: A sense of duty.
ACJ: For humanity?
EG: As long as I can do something…they ask me to do something, and I can do it, I think that to be honest with myself, I should not say no. That’s how I feel about it…if I can do it, I could not say no.
But I never do anything for myself. And in my prayers I never…I don’t ask for help for myself. No, because I feel—God knows what I need and I don’t have to tell Him. If He wants…if He thinks He should give it to me, He will give it to me. Why waste my prayers? Why don’t I instead offer my prayers for something that I am more interested in?
ACJ: Speaking of breakdowns, don’t you think you need a rest sometime… take a break.
EG: Well….. you know, the only rest I had was when I really got sick…the lungs. The January after Karina’s death. And one of my friends, Dr. Samson of the Chest Clinic brought a portable x-ray to my house. He did not tell me what he saw but the way he said, “Ermin, please. This is serious. Please. For the first time—you lie down. You stay in bed. Make an effort to stay in bed.” And also my father Dr. Luis Garcia… he was worried. I could see it because they were together. I had to be in bed for almost ten days. That was the rest I got. And since that time, after I got sick, my appetite was very good, and I put on weight. But then, after that, it petered out again, back to the same old thing. I cannot…I don’t think I’ll be able to take a rest, because if I’m in bed, I’m restless. I get worse.
ACJ: If you don’t do anything you…
EG: I get worse. I get worse… You know, sometimes, there are times when I feel I am really sick. I do not tell anybody. There was one time the children happened to brush against me, and they sensed that I had a high temperature. “Boy—Papa is…”and they rushed for a thermometer. But what I did was put it in the middle of my mouth and it didn’t touch my tongue. I just stay home. I treat myself, I don’t want them to worry.
ACJ: You don’t care too much about your health.
EG: THE FACT IS I AM NOT AFRAID TO DIE… I HAVE CONFIDENCE IN GOD, GOD’S MERCY. I KNOW THAT GOD UNDERSTANDS ME… HE KNOWS THAT I’M TRYING MY BEST.
ACJ: But if you should die now…
EG: Of course…
ACJ: Your children still need you.
EG: Yes, that’s it.
ACJ: You have to live. For their sake.
EG: Yeah… that’s also…yes…with the grace of God…
ACJ: Please tell me about Karina.
EG: Karina…..Karina showed a great capacity to understand me, my nature…my personality…and she tried her best not to impose on my nature or my weaknesses. What I admired in her was the effort she took never to give a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude….
I remember I would ask her what she would like for Christmas….she would say nothing although I know that she appreciates nice things. But, “What is it that you want for Christmas?” “Oh, never mind…anything. In the first place I understand we have no money.” I said, “We have enough money.” And then she tells me, just to give an answer, several items which of course are fabulous, and very expensive and she would laugh.
She is very grateful for every little thing that she receives. And that’s why I always got a kick out of bringing things for her and her sisters when I come home from other places, so much so that whenever I buy things for the family, it is always Karina that I pictured receiving- the gift—her reaction, picturing her reaction wherein she would—her joy would be full and spontaneous.
While she seemed naturally carefree, she took a serious attitude on many things. And of course whenever I would talk to her I would always tease her. And then if there is something that I would say that seemed objectionable, she would say “Papa” and then she would hug me. As I see it all now, she must have been the instrument to keep me within the fold of salvation. Those times when I went to Communion, she was very happy. She’d be very proud, and always took pains to see to it that I do not forget the old requirements for Communion: about the fasting, for instance. And when I would go downstairs for water she would follow me, watch me, and see that I don’t take anything else. And she did it not in the way of a fussy, intrusive, impudent person: she did it caressingly, jokingly.
IN THE SUNDAY PUNCH OFFICE….
Usually, she would enter…open the door like that, or else she would knock, and pretend that she is some outside visitor, peep, then close the door. Then I have to stand up and open the door. Or she’d just barge in here and once she’s inside the room, she’d jump…she would be opening everything here, then getting the books, reading, choosing the books which she would like to take home.
I had an album here which I bought. She wanted to have a scrapbook. And she didn’t tell me that she liked it. But she showed it to Miss Liwanag. And when Karina died, Miss Liwanag told me about it. “Karina was very much in love with this album. I hope you’ll use it for a scrapbook for her.” “Definitely,” I said, “For nothing else will I use it.” Karina never told me because she knew I would give it to her, but she thought it would be painful for me to part with it, probably.
You know, the last time she came into this room was the Feast of Christ the King, October 27. I was working alone here, and she entered. She entered solemnly, but she was smiling. I could see that her hair was mussed up, and she looked tired, and she sat down right there. She told me she came from the procession.
She said she got off the bus, and came here. “We’ll go home after I finish something.” “Yes.” And then when we went out, I opened the door and I saw her three classmates inside…no…as she was going out the door, she told me, “Papa, I would like to ask you a favor.” “What is it?” “I have my friends here, and because the bus would not take them to their home, I invited them to come down with me and I told them we would take all of them home.” “Sure,” I said, I was very pleased to do them a favor for her sake, and I was very happy.
And I asked her, “Why did you not tell me as soon as you arrived that you were with them? I would have asked them to wait inside my office.” “But you were very busy,” she told me. “No, they could have stayed in the room even while I was working.” And I was very nice to those girls, and Karina was very happy about it.
She would be waiting. I would find her there, we would tease each other…it was Karina, always, who made my homecoming something to look forward to… She would remove my shoes and give me my slippers.
And I would lie in the sofa there in the living room. There wasn’t much room on the couch but she would squeeze herself beside me, even if I would be busy reading something.
I joked so much with her because she jokes back with me. No fear, no pretence. She is so open with me. As if she treats me like a friend. She jokes. And of course she answers my jokes. And of course I enjoy it.
When I joke with somebody and she doesn’t do anything or she just respectfully smiles at me, why…..nothing! But if she hits back, that’s what I like. I was very fond of Karina. Because she can take it. She’d joke right back with me.
I would kid her, for instance, about the way she pronounces… when she was smaller, for instance, she had a classmate, Remedios. But she could never pronounce that name correctly. Always ‘Meredios’. So, “Meredios, how is Meredios today?” Along that vein. All inconsequential.
It was about September or October. I came to the house early. And I found her alone. “Why are you in the house?” I said. “I came from Catechism class.” She said, “You”—when I was lying down on the sofa, “you stay there. Don’t move.” “Why?” “You stay there. Don’t move.” She got hold of this picture, this poster with a stick which you turn over, she was explaining the picture.
I got fascinated and she was doing it very well. That was one time I did not joke with her. I was merely smiling. And she saw that I was very happy about it. A very beautiful coincidence is that when she did that, she was at the age of twelve.
That was, you know, like when Jesus was found in the Temple. He was twelve years old. He was teaching the older men there, and that is how I look back at it. The significance that I can derive from there is the fact that Karina was just a child, but she was actually the one teaching me.
(End of INTERVIEW: Part 2)
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