My Dad Used to Talk to the TV

I’m re-posting something I wrote a couple of years ago.  Missing my dad this Father’s Day . . .

Yup, he told Lawrence Welk that the Lennon Sisters should sing in every other number, and told Walter Brennan he needed to do a better job in protecting the McCoys. He told Walter Cronkite that Americans were bullies in the Vietnam War, and let Lyndon Johnson know that lives were being wasted in a stupid war. He let Vic Morrow know that he was the hero in Combat, and informed Sargeant Joe Friday when a clue was right under is nose.

Dad liked serious shows, like Gunsmoke and Route 66. He disapproved of comedies. So when Dick Van Dyke and Carol Burnett came on, Dad shifted his conversation to me and Mom. He told us how silly they were and that watching them were a waste of time. Somehow, Red Skelton escaped his critique.

Ed Sullivan was hit or miss for Dad. He liked Louis Armstrong; the Beatles were definitely out. Elvis was okay as long as he sang gospel music. Forget the pelvic gyrations.

Dad made it through the third grade. He was orphaned at 14, and was raised by Catholic nuns in the town of Narvacan in the Ilocos Sur province ofthe Philippines. In 1946, at 19 years old, he immigrated to Hawaii to work on the plantation in Lanai City in Hawaii. There was no real city on that tiny island and plantaton life was not his idea of America, so he moved to the main island of Oahu. He worked as a housekeeper at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki. When he retired in 1975, he was the longest standing employee — 30 years.

To put my brother and me through parochial schools, he took on a second job as a waiter in a Waikiki restaurant. He’d work from 8AM to 4PM at the hotel, eat a quick dinner, change and go off to his restaurant job at 5:45. He’d come home after 11PM, smelling of his customers’ cigarette smoke. On weekends, I used to stay up and help him count his tips.

When Dad was home, the tv was his to command. My brother and I were the “remote control,” and we took turns changing the channel. There were only three.

The television was my Dad’s binoculars to the world. He watched the news whenever he could, and knew the events and capitals of many countries. He was very critical of the United States in foreign affairs, and yet when I was a teenage peacenik, he chided me for not appreciating my own country. He remained a citizen of the Philippines throughout his life.

The television was also his main companion after he retired and my mom continued to work. He’d call me at work just to chat, and I could hear Judge Judy in the background. I could only imagine what he told her.

One day in my office, he asked me, “What is dot com?” I did a brief tour on my computer and he was amazed. “Who’s doing all that? . . . How do you know that’s true? . . . Can people see me?”

He was flabbergasted when we IM’d my son Marco. “You mean he’s sitting in front of his computer right now? How did he know I’m in your office?” When my mom made a couple of witty remarks in her IM with Marco, he chided her, “Don’t joke like that!” Always the serious commentator.

He never had a computer because that was “just for smart people.” But I think he would have eventually succumbed to technology had he lived longer. He would not be able to resist another pair of binoculars, another landing for his commentary.

I can just see him now, talking to the computer. He would read this blog and say, “You mean everybody in the world can read about me?” And “Shouldn’t there be serious picture of me instead?”

And the beat goes on

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth
–  from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Me August 1954                Marco April 1981           Rocco February 2015
Kodak Brownie                      Nikon F3                           IPhone                  

Three generations.  Each baby is less than a month old.  Even cameras are generational!

A Portal in Paia

Paia door

My daughter, be patient while I remember
for I have seen this door before
and my memory is but sporadic happenstance
a forgotten love letter tucked among my photos
on paper creased by old promises
that only time can caress

It might be the door of our tiny plantation cottage
where my sister Minnie and I jumped rope in red dirt
that we washed off in the kitchen sink before Mama braided our hair
and put us to bed next to our baby brothers
near the wood stove still warm from dinner

It might be the door that brought Papa into his nightly haven
from the ubiquitous cane that sweetened the tea of the luna’s wife
in a tropical parlor that overlooks a landscape checkerboard
of fire-blackened squares and green patches of seedlings
tended by sun-ripened men paid a dollar a day

My daughter, take me away from here
The vestige crusts of paint are the color of fading bruises
cowering behind doors of iniquity and shame
and if such a beast does exist in past reincarnations
then I prefer to misplace the key that unlocks that door

* A luna is a foreman in a Hawaii plantation.

To Sit in the Shade

Let me just play on the beach for now
And one day I promise to save the world
Or at least don a First Communion veil beneath your stained glass
And win the spelling bee in the fifth grade of parochial privilege
And fasten the first college diploma to our immigrant family tree

Let me just bathe in the sun for now
And one day I promise to be June Cleaver in a pink business suit
Or at least know how to debone chicken for the perfect roast
And find the perfect stain remover for rainy day sleepovers
And keep the light low as I complete my report while you dream

Let me just sit in the shade for now
And one day I promise to be the complacent white-haired matron
Or at least the gracious dame who forgets old trespasses
And recall the generosity of generational patriarchs
And bequeath the wisdom of womanhood to girls who play on the beach

1 New Recipe a Week: Week 7 (aka Painted Fish)

Fresh seafood was a staple on our dining table as I was growing up in Hawaii.  On weekend mornings, we’d go to the beach, catch fish and gather limu (seaweed) and, if we were lucky, find an octopus or two or some panapana (sea urchin in Ilocano).  These items would be simply prepared, sometimes steamed with ginger, sometimes fried to a wonderful crispiness, many variations of seafood stews, or sometimes eaten raw (like the sea urchin) and limu. 

I like my fish unadulterated. I want to taste the ocean that they breathed and the seaweed that nurtured them. Whenever I go back to Hawaii, I eat poke, a popular raw fish dish in Hawaii that has a variety of preparation methods.  Ingredients might include fish, shrimp and octopus, and might be flavored with seaweed, green onions, kukui nut, sea salt, chili water, even kimchee seasoning.  The main thing is that the fish flavor is enhanced, not smothered.

The few glazed fish dishes I have eaten in restaurants were either over-cooked or over-sauced.  It was as if someone covered dark, rich koa or cherry wood with a thick paint.  Quite disrespectful!

In the interest of trying a new recipe, however, I set out to look for a glaze that might help me be more open-minded.  I found a wonderfully simple recipe from America’s Test Kitchen (yet again!) that had only three ingredients to add to the salmon.  Now that is simple.

In fact, it was too simple, so I decided I needed to stretch a little and bake a peach  cobbler from a recipe I found in an August 2005 Martha Stewart’s Living magazine. The peach filling is tasty with just a touch of ginger, but it is the taste and texture of the topping that renders this dessert a lavish end to a simple meal.


The preparation time for this meal was 40 minutes, which is the time it takes to cook basmati rice in a rice cooker.  The actual time for the preparation of the maple-soy glazed salmon was about 2 0minutes, including the gathering of ingredients and cutting a side of salmon into fillets.

I simmered a 1/2 cup of maple syrup and 1/4 cup soy sauce for a few minutes until the mixture was the texture of syrup.  I baked six salmon fillets, skin side down, at 450 degrees for about three minutes then basted each piece with the glaze.  I baked it about three more minutes adding a little more glaze at the end.

I then sprinkled chopped up green onions and toasted sesame seeds on the top and the dish was ready.  It was served with rice and a mixed green salad with ginger tofu dressing. 


p.s.  In my quest for a balanced meal, I rounded off this healthy fare with . . .


1 New Recipe A Week: Week 4 (aka Viva la Salpicón!)

Until I lived in Texas, my experience with Mexican food was very limited.  I ate a lot of bean burritos (no onions) from Taco Bell across the street from my office.  The only Mexican food I made at home was tacos using McCormick dry mix, prepared corn tortillas and bottled picante sauce.  Not proud of this; just stating the facts.

I’ve had great Mexican food in Texas, and two are my favorite.  One is the brisket taco from Mi Cocina; it goes great with a marguerita on the rocks.  The other is any food from a taquería.  Taquerías remind me of lunch wagons back in Hawaii.  The food is home-cooked, authentic and basic, plus it always hits the spot.

The 2009 Texas issue of Saveur Magazine quoted the owner of Casa Jurado restaurant saying, “We don’t eat Tex-Mex here. . . No combo plates.”  The article intrigued me and I decided that new recipe #4 is that of this El Paso restaurant owner – salpicón, a shredded beef salad with lime and avocado.  It was described as “pure, fresh-tasting food.” I hoped it was also easy.


Sangria ala Ricardo

As I was planning the meal, Richard offered to concoct a sangria, a new addition to our drink menu.  He researched various recipes and came up his own original recipe:

  • a bottle of dry Spanish red wine  
  • 1/2 cup cointreau
  • 1 1/2 cups of fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup of Roses lime juice
  • 1 lime thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon thinly sliced
  • 2 fresh peaches cut in 1/2 inch cubes

He refrigerated it in the morning and its fragrance was quite heady whenever I opened the fridge.  I was tempted to take a sip before dinner . . . but didn’t even stick in my pinkie for a tiny taste (applause).


The recipe called for two pounds of beef brisket, which is from the breast or lower chest of the cow. This is a very muscular cut; it has a lot of connective tissue  because it supports 60 percent of the weight of a standing or moving cow.  Thus, it needs a long cooking time to tenderize. 

I simmered the meat with two smashed garlic cloves, two bay leaves and a large sliced onion.  At about 2.5 hours, I was concerned that the beef didn’t seem to be getting any softer.  I prodded it a lot.  At about three hours, it started to come apart, and I let it simmer for 15 more minutes for good measure.

After it cooled, I shredded the meat and prepared the additional ingredients that included cubed Jack cheese, three Roma tomatoes that were cored and seeded, chopped cilantro, fresh lime juice, scallions,  and chopped chipotle chiles en adobo. 

The latter is a new addition to our pantry.  In my Filipino culture, adobo is a term we use for chicken and pork that’s been cooked in various ingredients, the primary of which is vinegar.  Spanish adobo is different.  It refers to the immersion of raw food, in this case, chipotle chiles, in stock and spices.  It was originally used as a process to preserve without refrigeration and enhance flavors.  The chipotle chile en adobo has a wonderfully smokey flavor and I added more than the tablespoon called for in the recipe.

The result is a dish that truly tantalizes the palette.  The different flavors complement each other, and because of the chunkiness of the ingredients, one is obligated to take several bites to savor the fullness of flavors.

We served this on warm corn tortillas and the sweet headiness of the sangria ala ricardo rounded off the meal quite impressively. 




p.s.  The peaches in the sangria must be eaten!

Settling In (Part 3)

For three weeks, I helped my parents look for an apartment. We looked in several communities in town – Makiki, Kalihi, Kapahulu, Mo`ili`ili. Too small, too far from the garage, too close to the highway, too many apartments on one floor, too many people with pets, too many people at the swimming pool.

One day, after assuring yet another building manager that we would call him tomorrow, I muttered to my mom on our way to the car, “I don’t understand why none of these apartments are good enough. What do you want, anyway?”

“We got used to the beach and the ocean. But we don’t want to live in Waikiki. Too many tourists,” she replied.

“You live by the beach now. You don’t like it there, remember?”  I felt like a petulant child but couldn’t resist it.

“Don’t worry, Trina,” dad said. “We’ll find something soon.”


Their apartment hunting went on for four more weeks — without me. I suggested that it might be easier for them to look for a place without my butting in. They agreed.

In the meantime, I did some hunting of my own. I had come to realize that I didn’t like Lanikai much either. I rarely socialized with my rich neighbors, and they didn’t seem to care either way. Besides, after the way my parents were treated, I lost whatever neighborly aloha I might have felt towards them.

Mom and dad finally found a small apartment unit in a two-story walk-up in the Salt Lake area.  The neighborhood was congested and noisy, but my dad thought it would be quiet during the day because everyone else would be at work.

I asked them to go holo-holo (cruising) with me to the North Shore the next Sunday morning. “We’ll have brunch on the way,” I suggested.

We ate at a popular Kahuku oceanside hotel, and by 1 PM, we were driving along Sunset Beach on the North Shore. “Look,” my mom point out the window, “there’s a Catholic Church. And look at those yards. See the kalamunggai trees? There must be a lot of Filipinos living here.” I chuckled and kept driving.

I turned onto Papailoa Drive, a narrow road makai (ocean-side) of the highway in Hale`iwa. Except for its shoreline location, it was hard to tell that this narrow stretch of houses fronting Papailoa Beach was pricey real estate.  What were once exclusive summer homes of rich town folks now comprised an eclectic mixture of 40-year old tropical houses with an assortment of cottages and nouveau riche beach palaces. 

The kids kicking the soccer ball around in the street were typical of Hawai`i, a mixed bag.  I drove by a cream-colored Lexus, a rusty Dodge SUV, a souped-up Honda and three Harleys in a row before I entered a short driveway.

As I walked towards the front of the house, my dad said with one foot out of the car, “Trina, wait.  Whose house is this?  We’re not dressed for visiting.  Plus, we didn’t bring anything to share.”

“Just follow me,”  I responded, and they obeyed, albeit with great reluctance.

The vacated wooden house was of old vintage, but held up well.  It smelled old and salty and the screen door handles were slightly rusty.  But the white and light yellow paint on the interior walls seemed young, like new skin on a crab shedding its old shell.  We walked into a big living room that blended into the nearby shoreline and panoramic ocean views. 

We peeked into four small bedrooms and checked out old fashioned bathrooms.  My parents glanced my way every now and then, wondering what I was up to.

We went to the back door and looked out. I could tell that they liked what they saw. The backyard had character; it was perfect for the abutting beach. Part of the yard was slightly rolling, with grass poking out of small sand piles. There was even a small plastic yellow bucket with a red shovel abandoned in the corner of the yard.

We made our way to the kitchen, in the middle of which was a huge well-used woodblock table. The ceramic knobs of the glass kitchen cabinet doors were yellowed by ghosts of previous residents. I stood in the middle of the kitchen and announced, “Next month, this is where we’re having our Sunday brunches.”


My parents immediately felt at home. My mom had the neighborhood kids over within a week, and she taught the next door twins how to crochet. Dad started a garden, and soon shared his papayas, kalamunggai leaves and eggplants with our Filipino, haole (Caucasian), Japanese and Hawaiian neighbors. A few times, the retired Chinese engineer from down the street helped him with the tilling and weeding. Sometimes they shared a beer on our front porch.

One day, dad took a nap because he was very tired after thinning out our mungo bean trellis. He never woke up. Our neighbors came to the funeral, and brought over dinner every night for two weeks.

Eventually, I had to hire an architect to retrofit our house for ADA standards because mom needed a wheelchair to get around. The kids still came over, and sometimes I had to referee arguments about who got to push her wheelchair. When she died, a couple of the neighborhood girls asked me if I wanted them to sleep over at my house to keep me company. Of course I said yes.

This morning, as I walked along the beach, I stopped to watch some kids trying to stand on a surfboard in shallow water. One of the kids fell and cut his head. It wasn’t a bad cut, but he was scared and crying. I brought him and his friends to my house. I patched him up, and gave them some juice and snacks.

One of the girls peered into the living room. She looked at me and said, “Eh lady, dis one real nice house, man. How come you get dis house? You wen marry one haole?”

I laughed and said, “I’m single.   I was lucky to find this house for me and my parents.”

“Hol!” she exclaimed in awe. She scrutinized my face. “So, what nationality you anyway?”

I looked her straight in the eye and said, “I’m Filipino.”

Note: Parts 1 and 2 are pretty much the original short story, but for some reason, I felt I needed to tweak a few scenes in Part 3.  Though the plot remains the same, the storyteller changed lens a bit, or perhaps just matured as a writer.