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Family History, World History

December 14, 2010

Originally published on November 7, 2010, in Andrea Peterson’s LiveJournal. Andrea Peterson lives in Quezon City, Philippines, where she works as an editor and sometimes draws comics.

The biggest legend in our family is the story of the first time my grandfather saw his daughter, my mother.

It was 1942, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. My grandfather, a Philippine Army officer, was a prisoner. Though he was luckier than most in that he was held in a camp in Manila, he didn’t have any contact with the outside world. He and my grandmother (pregnant with their first child) hadn’t seen each other in several months.

The story goes that one day my lolo was sweeping the camp grounds as part of his everyday duties and while he was sweeping near the gate, a vendor passed by. When the Japanese guard’s back was turned, my lolo quickly handed the vendor a coin through the gate and bought that day’s paper. And inside that paper that he just happened to buy that day, buried in the society column, was a brief mention of my lola’s name, saying that she had given birth to a baby girl.

Lolo was so excited, he shouted and told anyone within earshot that he was a father. Before long, he was brought before the commanding officer, Lt. Watanabe. Lolo thought he was in trouble for buying the paper. Instead, the lieutenant offered to drive him to the hospital to see his wife and baby. My lola couldn’t believe it when the nurses told her that her husband was there to see her.

Later, when they were returning to the camp, my lolo thanked the Japanese lieutenant, who just replied, “The feeling of fathers is all the same.”

Awesome story, right? It’s been repeated so many times over the decades that every one of us kids, grandkids, cousins, etc., knows it by heart. It’s practically the central “creation myth” of our family history.

Well, yesterday was the first anniversary of my lola’s death. Today we were going through a lot of her old things: letters, photos, etc. In a small wooden box, along with love letters, birthday cards, and my mother’s and uncle’s letters to Santa at the North Pole, I found one of Lola’s old diaries from 1942. There’s an entry for May 12, where her usually small, neat handwriting became huge and wobbly because she was writing while waiting for the ambulance to take her to the hospital to have her baby. There’s an entry for May 14, after the baby had arrived (apparently her being a girl had come as some surprise). And there’s an entry for the evening of May 15, talking about Lolo’s visit earlier that day.

So I thought that was pretty much the most amazing thing I could ever find. But then, at the bottom of that wooden box, I found the paper. I felt like I’d just found the Holy Grail.

Check out the front page. Ripped from the headlines of Japanese-occupied Manila:

Nazis Push Back Reds in Kerch
The feature article includes the line, “As a result of Japanese activities, the correspondent said, Germany may be able to deliver the death blow to Soviet Russia soon.” But who cares about that? Real history is being made on page 2:

baby announcement
Benitez was Lola’s maiden name. They didn’t mention Lolo’s name for fear there would be trouble if it got out that they were related to an army officer.

So there you have it. A piece of our family history. And a little snippet of world history as well.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Nancy permalink
    December 15, 2010 8:11 am

    This is an amazing story. The documents are wonderful, but the story is a family treasure. Thank you for telling this story.

    • andrea permalink
      December 15, 2010 3:18 pm

      You’re welcome, and thanks. :) It’s a story my grandmother loved to tell over and over.

  2. brittannesmith permalink
    January 15, 2011 8:03 am

    Wow. I just discovered your site, and I have to say that I’m in love! What a great idea. I think storytelling like this is absolutely essential. Will definitely be following your “family legends.”

    • January 26, 2011 10:37 pm

      Thanks for your support, Brittanne! If you’d ever like to submit a story of your own, we’d love to hear it. Check out the guidelines at familylegends.ca/submit.

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