From Hello to Goodbye.

JAC My Friend, The Visitor, The Moth

I visited a friend, big man Jeremias A Canonizado (JAC to many of us) at the Los Baños Doctors Hospital at Grove on May 27 Tuesday at about 1500 hours Manila time; he was confined at Rm 413 and the doctor’s order was to limit visitors at any one time to 2. There were 5 or 6 of them inside the room aside from JAC. Nobody was paying attention to the doctor’s orders.

I had learned by email that he was at the hospital from Felix ‘Jun’ C Joaquin, a nephew of JAC now residing in California. He told me about the lymphoma, but you know me, I’m the eternal optimist. So I was going to visit JAC to convince him to try some natural medicine. I was thinking: Even when the doctors give up, we shouldn’t.

I had not seen JAC for at least 15 years. We had always had a healthy respect for each other, and I knew I was a difficult mind to attend to. I was a smart aleck; I was argumentative – you couldn’t win any argument with me. He was a good man as far as that goes. He helped me survive a few empty years. It takes a real friend to attend to a friend in need.

When I peeked into the room, the wife saw me and I asked, ‘May I?’ And she said, ‘Yes, but he may not recognize you anymore.’ I said it’s all right. She whispered to JAC’s ears, ‘Frank’s here, he’s visiting you.’ No response. I got in and held his hand – no reaction. I held his arm – no reaction. I could see he was breathing regularly but not the way I liked it. I looked at the monitor and the line was almost flat for RR. I asked what it meant and someone said ‘Respiratory Rate.’ I looked at the other 2 lines and they had peaks and valleys, so I thought I wasn’t visiting in time for The End.

I wasn’t alarmed or anything. The people in the room didn’t look alarmed either. I took a little time when the wife sat by my side to tell what only I could tell about JAC. And yes, pardon me, but these little stories have something to do with me.

It may have been 1986. I was working for the FSSRI (the Farming Systems & Soil Resources Institute of UP Los Baños) under Director Elpidio ‘Pids’ Rosario, President of Madecor Group of Companies. JAC was working with Madecor too, and we saw each other there every now and then. One time, he addressed me seriously and said, ‘Frank, you are very intelligent. You should learn all 3 software.’ He was a genius with all 3, not to mention statistics. He was referring to word processing (WordStar, WordPerfect; Microsoft Word was unknown to us), spreadsheet (Lotus 123 was more popular but his favorite was Symphony; he used it even for word processing), and database management (dBase was the only game in town). I don’t remember if I did say anything; I wasn’t inclined to follow his advice. I respected JAC, a very intelligent forester (and an Ilocano like me – he was from Natividad and I was from Asingan in Pangasinan), but Frank Hilario learning 3 different computer programs? This genius was going to stick to his writing.

I don’t remember if it was in the same occasion, but JAC accosted me one day and said, ‘You should learn WordPerfect.’ He knew I was into WordStar 4. ‘But WordStar 4 is the best!’ (You know, I always have a smart answer, even when cornered. I knew WordStar 4 was the best – the best WordStar.) ‘How do you know it’s the best, you know only one program!’ Point well-taken. If I know me, I would have smiled and nodded and said nothing. You don’t usually get me mad if you find me out – I smile, or I laugh it off, in embarrassment. Nobody’s perfect.

At a previous time, 1980 or 1981, I don’t remember exactly where or when, it was probably in his office, when he was already Assistant Director of FORI (the Forest Research Institute under the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), and we felt he had a good chance of becoming the next Director. He said if he became the Director, would I join him? Of course! I was very happy for him. Then JAC became serious when the conversation turned to the giving of credit whom credit is due, and he said: ‘Truth to tell, there were only 2 people who made FORI: Pete Bueno and Frank Hilario.’ Who made FORI famous internationally. Frankly, I didn’t know that. I was only doing my best, and my best was creative thinking leading to creative writing.

JAC was referring to the fact that FORI had become popular even at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (a hard-to-please audience – they were writing for copies), as well as internationally well known, as adjudged by feedback from abroad, arising from the enriching substance and engaging style of the publications of FORI – Pete Bueno was an the unofficial Head PR Man of FORI and my Chief (Technical Services Division) while I was founding editor and often the writer and often the photographer of (a) Habitat, the FORI quarterly color magazine that I patterned after National Geographic; (b) Sylvatrop, the FORI quarterly technical magazine in forestry; (c) Canopy, the FORI monthly newsletter. I was writing (and rewriting) most of the manuscripts that appeared in those publications; I was ghostwriting for FORI Director Filiberto S Pollisco on policies. I graduated with a BS in Agriculture; I didn’t know Forestry, but I knew enough to read on the subject, ask questions, listen. Truth to tell, Pete Bueno had the good sense of leaving me alone most of the time, and I thank him. And I thank JAC for recognizing geniuses when he saw them. It takes one to know one!

I first knew JAC in 1975 when I started working for FORI. I noted at once that he was a genius working with statistics and the Monroe Programmable Calculator – the personal computer was just being invented in the United States. When JAC didn’t become FORI Director, I was sad for him, and for me. Geniuses don’t always get what they want.

I asked the wife if JAC ever did stop smoking, and she said yes, years ago. Where did he get his lymphoma? Viral, the doctor told them. He had been sick for one year.

After my little sharing with JAC’s wife, I left. I had never been much of an oral story teller, and I wasn’t about to start being one now.

About 0240 hours the next morning, I woke up and couldn’t sleep anymore. I noticed several yellow moths (all yellow, yes) inside this little computer room I am in right now; they had gotten in attracted no doubt by the night light that was on and the window panes that were open. I drove all the moths away. When I opened my email, here was Felix C Joaquin with his email, informing me that he had received an SMS from his sister Lynn a few minutes ago informing him that his Uncle Jerry had passed away. The news had travelled fast to California and came back to Los Baños, to me. He was almost 61; he was born July 27, 1947.

My visit had in fact been at The End. JAC was gone. The monitor had in fact been telling me to say ‘Goodbye, JAC’ but I wasn’t really attending to it. Often, we are not attending to something when we should be.

But this my little JAC story doesn’t end at Rm 413 of the LBDH where I saw JAC last. At home the morning of my visit, my wife noticed one yellow moth perched on top of the big Samsung poster we have in the small living room, and she begged me to come at once and take a picture. That’s him, my visitor, the moth. The happy, celebratory faces you see are inside a Samsung LCD at the foot of which is written the big word You. And we noticed that the moths I thought I had driven away were all in the house; they had returned. The question was: What was there to celebrate? I didn’t realize at once; now I know – one, that I had known him, and two that he had attended to a friend, and that was me.

Was JAC trying to tell me something? I believe so. I believe he was trying to say, ‘Frank, thank you for visiting, my friend. I’m sorry I couldn’t attend to you.’

Goodbye, JAC, my friend. I’m sorry I couldn’t attend to you.

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