Camera Familia #17 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. 1956. Lucina de Llacuna was poised, dignified, and rich with virtue. Also kind, steady, cheerful but not jolly, a bit on the stoic side as witnessed by the photo. According to my brother Mike, Lucina was plenty shrewd enough to handle our mother, which might explain how they got along. No disrespect intended to Mom, but consistency was not her strong suit.

Lucina was from Laguna de Bay, which I always assumed bore some relationship to her surname. It did not. Taxonomy — Llacuna, a town near Barcelona, Spain. I didn’t look into it until starting this essay.

We never knew her age. Malays have a tendency to wax ageless. The information was not volunteered. Dad thought it would be impolite to ask. We’re thinking close to Dad’s age, forty-one at the time.

My parents may or may not have known what became of Lucina’s husband. If they did, it was never mentioned. I was six. Lucina was my amah. My instructions were to show respect, do what she told me, and stay out of the way. At no point in our relationship did she tell me the story of her life, and I can’t say I was curious about it. I knew my Uncle Bill for fifty years, and never asked him any questions either.

Occasionally, in the presence of my parents, Lucina might say in Tagalog something along the lines of, “I know what time you came in last night” — without using the word ‘hala’ (shame on you), because they knew what it meant. I wasn’t afraid she’d tell on me, but her approval mattered. I would ask forgiveness, and make promises I couldn’t keep. It was a ritual, an affirmation of her authority, and a great deal more. I’m sure it brought her joy.

Lucina stayed with our family for the duration — eighteen years. Dad established a pension account in a Manila bank. Last I checked, it was still paying out. That would have made her one-hundred-nine at the time. It’s not impossible, and besides, there are boundaries to honor. If she was still living, good for her. If not, it’s none of my business who’s cashing the checks.

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Camera Familia #16 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. 1956. Our first chauffeur did more than drive the car. Leno Lenore was guide, interpreter, teacher, guardian, mechanic, emissary, courier and caregiver. He was a very nice man. Life would not have been the same without him.

Around 1960, my parents sponsored a stint in technical school, after which Leno took a job at Meralco’s meter repair department. I understood the proposition. I was happy for him, but it was a sorrowful loss.

Twenty years ago, his daughter tracked me down and I called him. He told me about retiring from Meralco with a pension, and how grateful he was for Dad’s patronage. It was a wonderful conversation. He’d experienced a successful, rewarding life.

If I’d any sense, I would have asked more questions. The chauffeur always knows the family secrets.

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Camera Familia #15 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. September, 1957. This is the same dinner party as seen in #14, following the group photo, after which I was turned loose on the guests. I wasn’t wise to everything going on, but I wasn’t deaf, either. If someone said, “Have you met so-and-so’s querida?”, I would soon receive instructions not to repeat the conversation, otherwise I absolutely would.

Guaranteed, I’d ask what a ‘querida’ was. Then I’d ask what a ‘mistress’ was. It was quite the education.

Long before I knew what CIA stood for, I knew who some of the officers were. We’d see them on the golf course, and Dad would sometimes remind me not to let on that I knew.

I’m pretty sure everyone knew.

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Camera Familia #14 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. September, 1957. Everyone in this photo had an extraordinary story to tell. I wouldn’t hear any of those stories until I was older. If they’d worn costumes I would have asked questions, but nobody ever did that at dinner parties.

In 1918, at the age of eighteen, Ty Norton (not present) boarded a ship in San Francisco to take a farm job at a Philippine pineapple plantation. We knew a man who flew with the Flying Tigers in Burma. A few of my parents’ friends were in Manila when the Japanese invaded. A man assigned the postwar task of destroying U.S. military equipment instead diverted jeeps and trucks into the black market. Years later, he was described as something of a gangster, but he didn’t look or act the part. Who would have guessed?

Not me. I was a little kid. Intrepid adventurers. Captains of industry. Deal-makers. Diplomats. Soldiers. Spies. Entrepreneurs. Rascals. Romeos. Workers. Parents. Church-goers. Sophisticates. Philosophers. Artists. Athletes.

It was a variety show, the likes of which I will never see again.

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Camera Familia #13 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. 1956. Everyone in this photo has an interesting story to tell. Most, but not all, were foreign nationals and of these, not all from the United States. Many of the parents were in-country on temporary assignments. Others had resided in the Philippines for decades. A few of the families were Philippine citizens, firmly established but not necessarily Filipino.

There were said to be fifty-thousand Americans living in and around Manila when I was there. Military kids typically attended school on base. There were other private schools, including Catholic institutions, teaching classes in English. Mail-order home-school academies were an option. We were not the only world-traveling first graders in town.

At the American School campus near downtown Manila. The chemistry teacher was German. The music teacher was Russian. I was awkward and shy. Pretty much everyone else was swash-buckling.

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To India and Beyond — John Dyer Writes

On Sunday, August 28, I will be an honored guest on Books Charming, India’s Top Book Blog. It’s kind of an accident, arranged by a promotion service, but curiously apt — my Science Fiction books are replete with allusions to South Asian culture. I actually have followers in that part of the world, although I don’t know how it happened.

It’s not as if I posted, “SciFi for readers in India.” or, “Sanskrit spoken here.” or “Look for Devanagari script on the cover of ‘Resilient’.”

The latter may be found below a neon sign, made in the image of a coffee cup. The word is, ‘Kaphi.’

Anyway, I’m running an eBook promotion, starting the same day. The Illusion of Gravity. Free for three days. Sunday, August 28. You might also read the interview, thus motivating you to read the book, which you will get for free, that same day, or for two days thereafter, as stipulated above.

In other news, I’ve been publishing a serial memoir about the expat life, 1950s Philippines and forward. Relative to my other essays, it’s been exceptionally well-received. Check it out.

Camera Familia #12 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. July, 1956. Electric companies are among the largest of all industrial enterprises. The product is manufactured by the Generation division. Delivery is carried out by Transmission and Distribution. Alan Razovsky’s job was Manager of T & D. Draw a box around the power plant. Assign someone to be in charge of everything else. Mission. Apparatus. Logistics. Staffing. The big part. The spread-out part. For workers, the dangerous part.

Linemen were paying the price for inadequate tools. Dad’s assignment was to build out the infrastructure. His personal mission would be to serve the workforce, and in doing so, save their lives. By the end of Dad’s tenure, Meralco would be a reliable power utility, operating with first-class line service equipment and a model safety program. In this photo, Alan Razovsky and his colleagues, about to roll up their sleeves and get it done.

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Camera Familia #11 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. June, 1956. My brother Mike was fifteen. He’d been in boarding school since our father died, so I barely knew him. My step-sister Carolyn was fourteen. For her, the arrangement was supposed to be a summer visit. That’s not how it worked out. There was drama involved.

Carolyn says she might have been nervous about the flight if Mike hadn’t been along. Mike reports the flight attendants were good-looking and personable. He remembers Manila International Airport as fancy, ultra-modern.

I met Carolyn for the first time in Manila. I was six, untroubled, with no reason to be otherwise. I showered her with kisses. That’s the kind of days those were for me.

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Camera Familia #10 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. March, 1956. San Lorenzo Village was (is) an Ayala Group planned community, established 1954 in the sand flats east of Manila proper. The name of the district, ‘Makati’, is a Tagalog word meaning ‘itchy’. At the time, local leaders explained the symbolism with words like ‘itchy to grow’ and ‘restless’. You didn’t have to drive far to visit historic landmarks, but you couldn’t see them from where we lived.

Our address was 16 Nakpil Street. We had a four-digit phone number. The next-door neighbors were French. The Philippines is a beautiful country. Filipinos are a beautiful people. It was not a hardship post. Far from it.

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Camera Familia #9 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. February, 1956. Our first couple of weeks were spent at the Bay View Hotel. Mom snapped a photo from the room. I remember a trundle bed, and an instance of lunch in the restaurant, where I ate frozen dairy for the first time in my life.

I don’t know how long they let me call it ‘Manila ice cream’. Until the novelty wore off, I guess. If my parents were in any way intimidated by the changes going on in our lives, I sure didn’t pick up on it.

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