We were going home – to a home we didn’t know yet. What would it be like, on the other side of the world?
Behind a giant V-spray of water, for 21 days our MATS transport ship muscled the sea out of its way, leaving behind spouting whales – and sometimes, escorting flocks of flying fish. Finally, finally it settled into a thrumming drift towards the Manila dock. Arriving at the pier, impatient dependents crammed against the railing, calling out to joyful fathers and husbands. The dock below was a mass of men with grinning faces and waving arms. We excitedly spotted who we belonged to, pushed down the gangplank, did fierce whirling hugs – and then agonizingly waited to be processed. Stuff had to be offloaded from the cargo, slowly swinging on hooks and ropes.
That done, a government car picked us up and hauled us away to distant Clark Field. It was full dark by the time we got there. The road had been full of bumps and mysterious shadows, headlights briefly illuminating… something. I could see nothing outside. We eventually passed through Clark Field’s tall gates – formerly Fort Stotsenburg– a prewar post my mother had always spoken of in reverential tones. We pulled up to the commanding officer’s mansion. Here we would spend a few days until we traveled on to Daddy’s post. And new home. Plantation-style, these Clark Field commander’s quarters were grand. Second floor bedrooms had screened balconies and wide porches. Downstairs, too. Inside, the floors gleamed with overlapping circular patterns of wax. How fancy, I thought. How did they do that?
How? The next day I saw how – barefoot house boys swooped around on coconut halves, bending and skating in sweeping circles to bring back glow and shine, scuffed up by footfalls. Boy-powered waxing/buffing machines! Intrigued, my eyes followed their graceful moves, sometimes with a candle stub grinding under the coconut against the floor. “Missy do?” They grinned. “Oweeee!” I yipped… the hard coconut cups hurt my feet. I toppled off, giggling. As I walked around, my bare soles picked up a stiff layer of wax. (Shoes did too.) But the floors gleamed richly, in this commander’s showplace. Candle wax subbed for floor wax. We were in a land of make-do. Mama whispered “Yankee ingenuity.” “Mommy,” I said – “looks like Filipino ingenuity.” She sniffed.
Was our house going to be grand – like this? “No, no, buttercup…” said my daddy. “Our house is nice, but not a mansion. But it’s built on a concrete pad… You can even roller skate in it!” Oh boy – I could settle for that. Our new home would be just the best.