"One In A Million." Who, me?

Bibang & PideASINGAN, PANGASINAN - 10 May 2012. I am visiting relatives whom I didn't notice I rode with on the same bus going home from Cubao, Quezon City the other day, the Garcias (here shown are Bibang, more than 12 years younger, and Pide). The ancestral house was the third house from ours. Physically, the distance is still the same, but not the personal, social, spiritual - I have been staying too long away from Asingan and I don't visit relatives and neighbors like I used to when I was very much younger, in high school, more than 50 years ago, when I was a teenager.

The Garcias are relatives. The father was Lakay Celoy (Marcelo), the mother Baket Teryang (Emeteria), both gone to Heaven. Manang Pide (Fidela) is the eldest of 6: Manang Eling (Cerelina, a Teacher) follows her, then Litang (Violeta, Teacher), Lito (Carlito, Nurse), Bibang (Genoveva, Nurse), Cora (Corazon, Nurse). Today, I'm 72 and talking to Manang Pide who is 74, and Bibang who is 62, who is visiting from Chicago, and who lives next door to Cora. With Manang Eling and family, they attended the wake and funeral in Quezon City of their sister Litang, who had retired, and who apparently died of a stroke. On their way to Manila from Hawaii, Manang Eling's husband himself, Barry, had a heart attack and they had to go home to Hawaii without visiting other relatives in Asingan. He's fine now, according to Manang Pide. Manang Pide's husband Gil is gone, and so is Lito; both were heavy smokers. You may not catch up with your relatives, but your life has a way of catching up with you.

The more we should appreciate what we have. I was telling these two ladies that when people greet me, "Kamusta?" (How are you?) I always say, "Buhay!" if the asker is Tagalog, or "Nabiag!" if the asker is Ilocano. Alive! That you're alive is a damn good reason for giving thanks to the Lord.

What else do we talk about except the good old days? I know I had a crush on Manang Eling; I also knew she was a close relative - in any case, I was a very shy boy.

Bibang remembers her Manong Frank passing by their house, in front of which is a crossroad: the short road coming from the bangbangkag (plural of upland farm, dependent only on the rain for irrigation) and from the Chico River, a tributary of the Agno River), the longer route to the right (to the town proper of Asingan) and to the left (to Villasis). She remembers him passing by standing on the back of a carabao and singing with a beautiful and loud voice, "One In A Million." You know the song, don't you? What I remember is this: "One in a million / chance of a lifetime ..." So, already I was funny when I was that high!

She remembers the teenage boy who was fair-skinned and good-looking - "Nagguapo!" He was very handsome. I admit I was that boy. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things, like pride of a face. And yes, I've grown accustomed to my face; it always makes my day begin!

No, I don't remember that very good-looking boy standing on that carabao proudly singing as animal and human make the left turn going home late in the afternoon. But I remember he has been out to pasture the animal the whole day, and I am sure there is a good-looking book or two somewhere inside the jute sack laid across the back of the carabao. The books are for reading; I'm sure at this time, one book has already been read. The jute sack is to protect the bare, sensitive human legs from the hard, itchy animal hairs. I remember that young boy whose family loves to raise native swine and cooks for them soft weeds and vegetables. I remember that young boy who likes to read out in the open when he's out pasturing a carabao, and who it turns out likes to sing out loud. Those were the days of swine and voices.

Manang Pide and Bibang are asking me why I didn't come during the last town fiesta on the 2nd week of last month, 16-22 April. I tell them really I wanted to very much, but I couldn't, because I was thick into producing a significant, history-making coffee-table book for a government agency, the Agricultural Credit Policy Council headed by Executive Director Jovita M Corpuz, and I had to deliver the finished product for the launching by Secretary of Agriculture Proceso J Alcala on 25 April on the 25th Anniversary of the ACPC at the One San Miguel Building in the City of Pasig. Alcala is Chair of the governing Council of the ACPC. Get me to the launch on time!

I tell Bibang part of that story (Manang Pide has left to attend to something else). The book, The Filipino Farmer Is Bankable, is 150 pages thick with more than 100 photographs, all in full color and printed on glossy paper. It is important to note, after that, that this is a one-man job and I am a happy One-Man Band, if stretched to the limit. The book came out, advanced copies, exactly on the date of the launching and, boy, everyone was so relieved! They couldn't believe I could pull a trick like that out of a black hat. I never doubted myself.

If you look at me and my birth certificate, I'm 72 years old. But I feel like I'm 52, and only beginning the 2nd half of my life. Not the years but it's the attitude that counts.

Like I said, I had only 2 months to come up with the coffee-table book, from scratch, and I took the challenge. I knew I could deliver the good (pun intended), because I knew I had total control of the whole process: I could write (as fast as you please); I could take photographs (as good as it gets); I could do desktop publishing (as well as any layout artist and 10 times faster yet) - and I had the monumental nerve to try the impossible! I told myself if anyone could do it, I could.

The week before the launching, every single day I was being asked about the status of the coffee-table book by someone at the ACPC. Here's the Countdown to D Day:

Day 5 - "Sir Frank, are you sure we could come out with the book in time for the launching?"
Day 4 - "Mr Hilario, it's okay if you say it cannot be done so we will not expect anything."
Day 3 - "Sir, are we really coming out with the book?"
Day 2 - "Ma'am is asking if we could really produce the book on time."
Day 1 - "Mr Frank, please make sure if we can really come out with the book because it's in the program."
Day 0 - Day of launching, after I delivered the first 25 copies right to the door of the board room of the ACPC about 11 AM and told Miss M - "Titingnan ko muna," she said. (Let me look first.) I suppose she had this lingering doubt that I could deliver the finished product that was as good-looking as it should, all pages in full color on glossy paper, hard-bound, and not with obvious mistakes or not a hodgepodge rush job on sight. They were all incredulous. One fellow said to me, "Tapos na?!" (Finished already?!) His question really meant, "I don't believe it! It's impossible." Well, I don't blame him because up to the week before the launching, the members of the management committee of the ACPC in my presence were still going over the pages one by one, with me showing the book onscreen via an LCD projector. (You want a biased judgment of the book? My daughter Graciela, who is not fond of praising my work, said when she first saw my copy: "Ang ganda!" It's beautiful.)

Yes, I delivered the good. I did what they thought couldn't be done. I myself had no doubt I could do it. I had only one caveat: God willing. I never forgot that, but I never panicked or felt something near anything like that.

I am telling Bibang it's all because I'm self-taught and I knew exactly what I could do. I taught myself to write in high school in Asingan yet. It happened that our new Tagalog teacher, Miss Constancia E Cruz - I'm sure about the name because I had a crush on her - was looking for a Tagalog editor for the high school (Rizal Jr College) newsletter, and she was holding an essay-writing contest. Although I'm a GI (Genuine Ilocano), I joined that contest because I had a vague feeling that I had a good chance of winning. I had been avidly reading Liwayway and Bulaklak, 2 Tagalog magazines. I won! And it was against native Tagalog speakers too. So I told myself, "This is where my talent lies. I'm going to be the best!" (I know it was a silent speech, of course, and I'm sure it was in English.)

Bibang says, "Uray idi ket nalaingkayo nga talaga." Even then you were bright.

You know what, I tell her, in my workshops, I always tell people, "I'm a genius, but so are you! Don't tell me God blessed me so much I'm the only genius in this room! You have the genius in you, except that you have been able to release it."

Except teaching, all my skills are self-taught. I taught myself to type, write, take photographs, edit, do desktop publishing entirely with the personal computer, with Microsoft Windows and Word 2010 (no, not with Adobe InDesign). Yes, I'm the Filipino freelancer who dared turn Microsoft Word into a desktop publishing program, beginning with Word 2002 (Word XP) yet. If I didn't love writing and the English language, where would I be now?

In this Age of Knowledge, if we Filipinos don't love the English language, the best we could hope for is stay in the dustbin of history!

Look at my gray hair! I'm 72. How old are you? If you're 62, you can do it. If you are 52, all the more reason. If you are 42, don't give me excuses. If you're 32, you have a lot to learn. Look at me, there's hope in you!

Filipinos, yes I'm One In A Million. But only if you don't do anything about what you can do about it.

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