Archive for the ‘Growing up in the Philippines’ Category

Wending My Weary Way Home to Kibalabag

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010
Enjoy the Emmrod Kayak King Fishing Pole for all your Eloika Lake Fishing

Enjoy the Emmrod Kayak King Fishing Pole for all your Eloika Lake Fishing

Packrod Spin, Fresh Water
Packrod Spin, Fresh Water


Heaven or Hell? Highschool 41 years later.

Friday, August 13th, 2010

High School is not a happy memory.  In fact, I have often said prior to my first four years in Spokane, Washington, it was the worst 3 and a half years of my life.  I just attended my 41st year High School Reunion. I feared going and almost backed out at the last minute.  In the end, I went and am glad I did.

From Jan 1964-April 1969, I attended Faith Academy just outside of Manila, Philippines.  We returned to the Philippines in January 1964. My parents, brother and two sisters went on to Mindanao where we worked.  As there was no school beyond 8th grade for me to attend, I stayed in Manila to attend the boarding school for missionary kids, Faith Academy.  This school comprised kindergarten to twelfth grade.  I joined in the middle of my freshman year. There were 320 souls k-12 the year I graduated, 1969.

I never felt at home at this school.  Why?  I missed my family and all that was familiar to me in Mindanao; I was an interloper who jumped into the puddle at the middle vice at the beginning like a huge number of the kids who had gone to school together since they were little; I am old short and fat now–back then, I was young.  In a school where basketball prowess establishes social standing, I was swinging on the outhouse door.  I also made my share of stupid mistakes which aided the alienation.   Finally, I think the angst of being a teenager wore heavily on my psyche.  If all had been perfect, I would still have struggled.

Was High School all bad?  Of course not!  There were many bright spots.  Wrestling Coach Steve St. Claire was not a bright spot, he was a beacon!  He was a lighthouse on a distant stormy shore.  I do not know how many times he comforted me in my unhappiness. I do not recall him ever giving me much advice, he was just there to listen.  This continued into my adulthood where he and his wife, Dottie gave me advice and succor many times over the phone, in person and in letters. This still continues from time to time.  There were teachers who encouraged me greatly:  Miss Sommerville, my English teacher.  Mrs Brunemier, who thought I hated her as we butted heads often, apologized to me at graduation.  She had no need as most of our headbutting was because I never shut-up.  Mr. Musgrove and several others whose names escape me at the moment were kind and helpful.   While many of the kids were cruel, others were wonderful.  Annie and Glee Ritchey, Becky Eames, Joy Brown, Jim Long, Jay Kyle, and Paul Lavender are individuals who come quickly to mind.  There were very good experiences as well.  The Senior Play, wrestling (Finals for the league tournament: 2nd my Junior year and first my Senior year.)  Cross Country (Coach St. Claire said of me “Atherton, you are the only person I ever met that run’s slower than he walks.”  I treasure that to this day!  It was so true.)  There were some nice trips to Pinatubo mountain and the ocean.  I loved attending the Union Church in Manila.  I am sure many of the sermons derived from Barth’s musings have at least a sub-concious impact on me to this day. And finally, a trip to Carol and Emily Gordon’s home with my friend Paul Lavender has been a sweet taste in my mind on many occasions over the past decades. Included are the bus ride, the long hot shower where I used up the hot water, the time at the beach and just being in with a group of people for a while.

Yet, I left school very angry.  Angry at a couple individuals and certainly angry at Basketball.  I have long since lost my anger–but not yet developed love as demanded by Scripture for those who despitefully use you–for the individuals. As for basketball, I feel no scriptural need to seek its forgiveness or–regardless of what poetry in motion those big professional ball players are–develop an interest in or love for this sport. I shall enjoy hating it until I cross the great continental divide. I am sure “it” mourns my disdain.

I looked at my experience at Faith as a very dark umbrella overwhelming the few points of light underneath and that feeling has persisted for four decades.  I have tried to bury it, eliminate it, hide it and make it go away.  Unfortunately, it has been a zombie climbing up from the pit at the slightest tug of memory. It is so persistent.  This reunion has helped in many ways.  I would say the umbrella is still there. But, because the points of light under it have increased both numerically and in intensity, the umbrella is now a light grey and not so overwhelming.  The good is finally beginning to balance out the bad.  I am very thankful I went.  Here are some of the factors from this reunion which have brought me a measure of relief.

First and foremost.  Paul Lavender was a very good friend to me during our mutual sojourn there.  I do not know if he made a conscious effort to do so, but, I felt somewhat protected by his friendship.  He was a year older than I and I missed him greatly after he graduated in 1968.  For years, rumors circulated regarding his stint in Vietnam and his struggles after Vietnam.  Because Paul was going to this reunion, I could not cancel.  To see Paul happy and contented with a wonderful wife–no doubt a significant causal part of his contentment–was a great joy for me.  Thank you Helen Eyestone for having Paul publicly share the circumstances surrounding his receipt of a silver star.  For those who do not know, the silver star is functionally the third highest possible award one can receive:  Medal of Honor, two different distinguished crosses, then, the silver star. Much of the award process runs around rank and politics.  For an E5 to earn the silver star, you must really do something extraordiany because everyone around you is doing amazing things.  Paul, I am sure I join the three men whose lives you saved and their families in thanking you! But, no surprises here, you had already earned the Medal of Honor from me for high school.

Emily Gordon came up to me at the airport and gave me a hug and asked if I recalled pulling her out of the ocean.  We all dream of rescuing a beautiful damsel in distress.  Emily, HOW COULD I POSSIBLY FORGET!  Emily’s encouragement and friendship are a wonderful thing.

My class was pretty much AWOL from this event. Thanks Kitty for showing up.  You are still your sweet self after all these years.  I am happy for the joy you found in the later part of your (still young) life.  Great to see you and your Sis again.

Spending time with Paul Hendricks and his wife Linda was really great as we have a shared interest in wrestling and bees.  Look for a special blog on the little buzzers. Paul was THE man on the wrestling team during my Junior year. He had to eat a lot to break 115 pounds. He wrestled 2 or 3 classes above that. Only one wrestler stove off his prowess and avoided a pin. Of course, that was because Paul insisted on pinning him with the Banana Split move. I imagine that guy is still holding his crotch in agony at those tortured inner thigh muscles. 8.75 minutes out of nine being stretched as if you were on the rack. Congrats to you, who ever you were! You deserve a medal for toughness.

Being able to sit down with Coach Hardeman for a few minutes and discuss Faith was also healing.  He has given over 40 years (along with his wife) to this school, the Philippines and the kids of Faith. As the CMMIC in charge of basketball, we shared letters several years ago regarding my issues. It was good for us to talk in person. Thanks Tine for the time.

Finally, the many people who were friendly to me at this reunion and especially those who were younger than myself. A number were very warm to me–beyond the generalities of a shared experience–which led me to believe I may have touched their lives in someway during my time at Faith.  I choose to believe that and that relieves much of the burden of what I felt were pretty much wasted years. Never forget great roommates (Sandy, Rick, Kieth and one other who I did not see much.)

To those who I did not get a chance to sit down and talk with, Brian Boyce pops in my mind, I am sorry we did not have opportunity to talk. I would have liked to discuss your time in the service and your motorcycle which I happened to see as you were leaving. Your Dad was helpful to me as my dorm father. Thanks for sharing him with so many of us. I am sure that was difficult for you.

I have a friend of nearly 4 decades, Don (and I will protect his last name.) who says “No matter how bad things get, you can never loose your ability to laugh at those that are less fortunate than yourself.” While I disagree with that statement-as does he in reality-it is poignant in this discussion. As a teenager, I and likely most of us, was wrapped up in my own egocentric evaluation of the depth of my misery. The problems of others were invisible to me. I was amazed as I talked with or listened to others who I thought were very blessed–and we will not discuss individuals–who made my sadnesses and problems pale in comparison. While I missed my parents, I did not doubt their love. While there were some stresses between me and my siblings, we were not played against each other by our parents. While sometimes I felt left out, I sought out friendships outside of the school to augment those within the school. Others felt a total sense of isolation. In short, I can now rejoice my problems were really so insignificant. On the other hand my heart turns for those of you whose problems dwarfed my own. You all hid them so well!

Finally, Helen, Joni and all the unseen hands that helped put this reunion together.  Thank you so much!  Like an iceberg, the good time at the reunion is visible, the great mountain of work below the water level that supports the visible tip dwarfs the final performance.

A final PS goes to my wonderful sister, Debbie Warkentin.  I am so glad you came.  We see each other far to infrequently.  It was good to be together again and I really enjoyed our date into town.

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Emmrod Compact Fishing Rods, Kayak King

Emmrod Compact Fishing Rods, Kayak King

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Swimming: Water Buffalo Wallow or Clean Crystal Clear Spring

Sunday, February 28th, 2010
Beautiful swimming and mud fishing lake

Beautiful swimming and mud fishing lake

Swimming: Water Buffalo Wallow or Crystal Clear Spring

Growing up at Nasuli, Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines, my friends and I had a beautiful, 30 foot deep, crystal clear swimming lake fed by several springs.  we swam in it, bathed in it, our drinking water came from it, I fished it for minnows, eels and mud fish (snake head fish), and caught frogs along its banks.

Not far away, there were several water buffalo wallows.  The water buffalo has no sweat glands.  It is a beast of burden, ploughs, harrows and works very hard.  To keep your water buffalos healthy, you have to give them cooling off time.  They love a nice pond or slow moving river as much as the next guy, girl or fish.  On the other hand, a little depression in the ground full of water works just as well.

They lie in these wallows for several hours getting rid of all that built up heat.  They lie there contentedly chewing their cud daring you to end their respite early.  In the meantime, they churn up the bottom of the pond and conduct all sorts of bodily functions in the water and move around creating a fine slurry of water, what they produce and the mud on the bottom.

We kids loved to emulate the water buffalo!  We spent uncountable hours jumping in and out and swimming these wallows.  We played in them until every fiber of our short pants, when we wore them, was completely surrounded by and infused with water buffalo wallow muck.

Our mothers screamed with frustration when we got home.  “You have that beautiful clear swimming pool with crystal clean water and you go swim in that foul, disgusting muck filled with carabao (water buffalo) poop and who knows what else.  What is the matter with you? You filthy little urchins!”

Some 40 and more years later, I have come to the conclusion the issue was the same spiritual battle we all fight.  On one hand, God has so much for us that is good and wonderful.  Yet, when offered the choice of His magnificence, you guessed right, off to the water buffalo wallows we go!  He so understands my mother!

Oh for Grace to stay on the right track!

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The big Purple Orchid

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

To my mother’s everlasting delight, I was born at a very young age.  Shortly thereafter, I began training with my parents for our move to the Philippines.  Of course, my memories of this training are dim indeed.  I do know from hearsay I almost died of malaria or some related disease in a Mexican jungle during my parents “Jungle Training Camp” which was a course where they learned how to deal with jungle living.  My second birthday was held in great festive manner aboard a tramp freighter in Manila Harbor.  I know this is true because I saw, like George, John, Paul and Ringo, the photograph.

My memories do begin filtering in after that.  Most of them deal with growing things or doing things in the jungle.  I have a visceral need to grow.  Everywhere I have gone in my almost sixty years, I have had some sort of garden.  One of my early gardens which spanned about eight to ten years was my orchid garden.  While living in Mindanao, Philippines, I had a huge playground.  Probably a hundred square miles of jungle, rivers, streams, swamps that I roamed, mostly alone but, sometimes with other American kids or Filipino friends.  Inevitably, I found interesting orchids on each trip.  Sometimes, they were in the ground, sometimes I climbed huge trees to get them.  Gradually, my collection of orchids grew.  I had over 50 different kinds all growing on the trees in my yard or hanging from wooden pots filled with shredded coconut husks which I made.  For a kid growing up where there were absolutely no jobs, I managed to earn some spending money by selling these orchids.  When they were in bloom, they sold.  Ten centavos here and ten centavos there and I had enough money to buy rubber for my slingshots and hooks and lines for my fishing. 

In 1964, we returned to the Philippines, but, I did not go back to Mindanao.  I stayed in Manila to attend high school at Faith Academy.  During one short vacation, I went with the Mayfields up to the allocation where they worked with the Negritos.  These folk were shorter and had emigrated from somewhere other than where the more brown skinned Asian looking Filipinos had.   Their skin was darker and hair more curly.  Papua New Guinea? Australia’s aboriginals? I do not know.  What I did know was they lived remotely and in the Jungle.  Just my cup of tea.  While up there, I continued my orchid hunting habits and found a very nice one.  This type of orchid grew a new spike each year.  The spike hung rather than stuck up in the air.  Each year, the new growth would be longer than the previous growth.  During the cycle, the leaves would fall off and in their place a bud would grow.  Oddly, this orchid was fragrant and strongly fragrant.  It was a vibrant and beautiful purple. 

At the end of the semester, I headed back to Mindanao for a vacation and put this new acquisition on the front porch along with my others.  I never saw it bloom again because it bloomed during the school year and I was away in boarding school. During my senior year, my dad took a bloom, put it in a small Gerber’s baby food jar with some water soaked cotton and somehow got it sent up to me at school.  For some reason, the administrative staff gave it to me while I was in class.  I opened the jar and the fragrance permeated the atmosphere in seconds.  It was so beautiful.  The memories of the flower, the fragrance and my father’s love still mist my eyes 40 plus years later.

I never saw my last childhood home again.  After graduating, I left directly for the US.  I have made a couple trips back to the Philippines but they were limited to Luzon and Palawan and they were business with little time to go on a vacation.  Maybe it is better to retain the sweet memories of my childhood than to actually go back. 

The final note on The Big Purple Orchid was for the remainder of my parents term in the Philippines, my dad said whenever that plant was in bloom, people both Americans and Filipinos from around the area would come to look at it and take pictures of it.  In the final year they were there, it had 32 huge blooms on it. 

My dad is long since gone and my mom is not that healthy, but both the memory of growing up with them and that orchid is fresh as spring.


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The Day the Ocean Almost Ate My Son

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Over the course of my life, I have had a number of occasions where Mother Earth gave me a glimpse of her raw, naked power.  I know why we attribute a female nature to “Earth.”  We do not say “Father Earth.”  It is always “Mother Earth.”  It must be that ability to go from Peace, Light and Beauty to raging, unbridled explosion of the energized screaming heebee jeebees in virtual nanoseconds, and then, return to Peace, Light and Beauty as if there had been no change since the previous calm.  Perhaps I need to have Billy Joel add a verse to “She’s Only a Woman to me.”  Well, I digress.

Today’s memories will be three vignettes of Mother Nature’s wildness as demonstrated by the Ocean.

I made two trips to the Sulu Sea.  In my first trip during the very early 1960’s, we left Mindanao on an inter-island freighter.  Even with the expanded memories of my young eyes–10-11 years old at the time, I do not recall this freighter being very large.  Perhaps a hundred feet long.  I do not recall a lot of steel like the freighters that plied between the US and the Philippines which I clearly recall from my trips back and forth across the Pacific. In my mind’s eye, I recall a wooden boat.  It had a main cargo bay in which most of the people also sat.  The primary cargo was copra.  Copra is the fruit of a mature coconut after the coconut is halved and the meat is popped out.  The meat is dried, bagged in large burlap bags and transported to processing centers where any number of products are made. Much of it is squeezed dry and the oil saved for use in soaps, lotions and cosmetics. In its unprocessed state, it has a very strong odor.  Not unpleasant, in normal circumstances.  These inter-island boats are powered by large diesel engines which, in this case seem to leave a lot of the fumes in the hold.

As we started our journey from Southern Mindanao and hopped from island to island loading and unloading goods and people on a journey that would almost reach Indonesia’s outer islands, the ocean was smooth, loving, nururing and pleasant.  Several hours into the trip that changed. I do not recall the transition, although there must have been one.  I just remember vividly as the waves grew, the violence of the freighter’s shaking motion grew. The waves were over the top of the boat and at least 30 to 35 feet high. The babies were crying, the mothers were vomiting.  The copra was emitting its fragrance in seemingly more potent quantities.  The diesel engines pumped more fumes into this cacophony of smell and sound.  It became unbearable to me and I felt myself becoming ill.  I was regretting the fine supper I had experienced before boarding. Finally, I went up to the top of the freighter.  Although seeing the violence of the ocean was frightening, the wind did clear my head which magically calmed my stomach.  I remained up top for the rest of the trip.  I do not know if Jonah was on board and the crew heaved him over the side or if there was another reason, but, within a few hours, the wind died to nothing, the sea was glassy and smooth with the rest of our voyage moving forward without incident.

On another day in the late 1980’s, I went fishing off the rocks about a half mile beyond the end of the road in Makaha, Waianae Coast, Oahu, Hawaii.  These rocks, while old, are not so old as to have been ground down by the forces of the winds and tides.  On the contrary, they are razor edged from almost any angle you touch them.  They are not smooth but full of ridges, crags, valleys, cuts and breaks.  When walking you need to pay attention.  You better not try them barefoot.  But, if you can get out to the edge, you can catch some very nice fish.  All that makes these rocks hard to walk on makes them great habitat for fish.  On the day I went fishing there, the ocean was calm, the sky was blue and it was just beautiful out. Now, waves come in sets, typically, about 7 in a group.  You start with a small wave and the waves grow in size until the seventh which is the largest, then, it starts over again.  You must watch the waves when near the edge.  I do not think most of us out on those rocks that day were paying much attention.  Suddenly, one wave came roaring up from the depths.  It dwarfed all the large waves of the preceding hour. It was as if Neptune had been forking a bit out of each wave that came by to stockpile for a single big onslaught against the interlopers on the rocks. The wave came boiling out of the depths, crashing over the rocks in places almost three to four feet deep.  Fortunately for me, I was on a rock a bit above the fray.  Unfortunately for one young lady, she was in a bit of a low spot.  The wave grabbed her, threw her down on the rocks and drug her about 50 or 60 feet back in towards the path.  Then, with a barely a whimper, the water all dribbled away.  However, the witness remained.  This lady was wearing a bathing suit. Her right leg had been dragged over the lava rock the entire distance and was sliced, diced and lacerated from her thigh to her calf.  It was an ugly site indeed.  Someone called an ambulance to come to minister to her.

Finally, on another day, probably in late 1985, I was outside of our Makaha condominium playing on the beach with my daughter and son.  My daughter was up a ways playing in the dry sand.  My two year old was a bit lower and I was even closer to the water fishing.  Suddenly, this same Neptune thrown abnormal wave came roiling out of the depths. Before I knew it, Willie was rolling towards the Ocean.  Had I been three feet further away, I doubt I could have caught him. But, thank God, I was able to grab him before he became victim of the Ocean’s insatiable hunger.

Thus, over my life I have learned, the power of Nature is awesome.  Do not take either the calm or the storm for granted.  Our lives are nothing against it.  I thank God for protecting me and mine in those cases were the line between life and death, health and ill can be so thin.

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High Times in the Sulu Sea c. 1964?

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

At this point in my life, I am having a hard time recalling exactly when I took this trip.  It would have been in 1962 or 1964.  So, I was about 12 or about 14.  My parents were missionaries in the Philippines.  We lived in the second largest Island, Mindanao.  Even then, the seeds of lawlessness which pervade that part of the country were there, never-the-less, it was somewhat of a fairyland in my mind.  I loved it!   One summer, I took a trip to Balut Island with Ken Marriott to visit the island where he worked as a translator.  While the drive took almost 13 hours, it was only a bit over 100 miles.  The highway was a wide gravel road where you drove in the middle except when passing.  At one point, the road was out for some reason.  We had to do a detour over a jungle mountain.  There might have been some sort of dirt road, but, I clearly recall the bus going in the mud up to its hubs.  The fact they got it out of the mud, going uphill, and got it over the mountain is a testament to the “Indomintable” spirit of the Philippinos.

We finally arrived in Cotabato City late in the evening and made arrangements to catch an outrigger canoe to go to Balut Island.  I am not sure how far out that was, but, the total trip was estimated at five to six hours.  We were leaving about 10 or 11 pm.  The canoe was about 25 feet long, two and a half to three feet wide and about 2 feet deep.  There was a bamboo cross piece about 1/3 of the way back and about 2/3 of the way back.  At the ends of the bamboo and about 10 feet or a bit more out on each side there was an outrigger made from a couple pieces of bamboo.  As most of the readers here are fishermen and women, I know you are seeing cane poles in your mind.  There are lots of kinds of bamboo.  Virtually 80 percent of several of the houses I lived in was made from about three or four kinds of bamboos.  In this case, the bamboo was about 5 to 6 inches thick and probably 30 feet long before being trimmed down for the outriggers.  About midway in the boat, there was a diesel inboard engine.  Sorry motorheads, I have no more information on that subject beyond it turned a propellor somewhere that made the outrigger canoe go.  The helmsman sat in the back and steered with a rudder.  


Well, we finally pushed off the sandy beach and headed out onto the flat, moonlit sea.  Soon, the combination of diesel fumes, the monotonous rocking of the boat and the steady hum of the engine lulled us all to sleep–likely including the helsman.  BANG! With a shuddering crash, we came to a halt.  As the moon had gone down and the sky was pitch black, a lantern was lit and we discovered we had ploughed through the outrigger of another canoe and our bow was nestled neatly on the side of their canoe.  Needless to say, There were four very unhappy Philippino men blaming each other for the accident.  Truth was, no one had lights on their boats and it was pitch black out.  After about 15 minutes, they parties resolved their differences and pushed apart.  Their outrigger was broken, ours had been knocked loose with the ratan lashingings broken.   So, I climed out on the far outrigger and one of the Philippino’s climed out and retied the broken lashings.  We continued on our way arriving at Balut Island as the sun was rising.  The end to a perfect night!

Here are the PS’s! 

#1.  The guys in the boat we hit had the hugest red snapper like fish I had ever seen.  Must have weighed 50 pounds or so. 

#2.  Looking at the map, we may actually have gone to General Santos vice Cotabato.  In my mind, it was Cotabato City, but looking at the map, because Balut island is just off the point of Mindanao, that makes more sense to me.

#3. Otherwise, this is all a true story, not just a fish tale.  For those, you need to get an Emmrod fishing system appropriate to your needs, head out into the wild, catch a few fish and send me an email with your fish stories!

Check out the Emmrod products at,,,   Thanks for visiting us!  Dave