The dinner dance party was a magnificent affair. From the word Mahalo, to “Agbiag ti Vintar”, it was evident that it was a night to remember as they all converged at the Ala Moana hotel for the last event of the affair.
He brought with him two camisa de chino; a short sleeve and a long sleeve, both white cotton and have three buttons down the chest. The last time he wore a barong was to attend a wedding ceremony and he wore the short sleeve. It was too tight and it made him sweat a bit. This time he made sure both were loose but snug enough. Since, he can remember, he has been wearing the long sleeve camisa de chino as a grown up. But, only when he goes to bed. He wears them, as pajama tops. He likes it that way. Never underneath a barong.
But, tonight, he was surprised how it made the barong look like a coat when wearing the long-sleeve. He decided to go with it, untucked. He looked himself in the mirror, and cannot help but think, about the revolutionaries under Andres Bonifacio, being portrayed wearing camisa de chino, open at the neck, and untuck. If only he has a bolo in his hands, which would complete the image of an archetypical Filipino. A Vintarinian, he thought. He was laughing at himself.
The affair was already in full swing when he got there. He was met by Rufee and Elsa, husband and wife. They go a long way together. ”You look like a waiter,” Rufee said in jest. “Look who is talking? Magsasaka, that’s how you look with that colored barong,” he parried.
Elsa was in a red gown with embroidered flowers on both butterfly sleeves and front with matching pearl necklace. She looked splendid!
Dress code: For men, it was the barong. For women, it was the Maria Clara. It’s a serious business. Of all the events in the past three days, this one embodied all the promises of the reunion. The women were so regal, so poised, so stunning, so perfectly right, so Ilocana. The men were so manly, so princely, so handsomely, so Ilocano. But, all were so Vintarinian!
All were empowered because they have renewed their sisterhood and brotherhood to their cause, the Vintarinian International. All of them had answered the familiar Angelus bell tolls of Vintar. Here they were together, once more. For some, maybe for the first and last time. For others, just the beginning. Still others, for eternity! If only his son could see them now, his question of what is a Vintarinian would no doubt be answered.
The host from Hawaii pulled it all together with their entertainment presentation, of hula dances, Ilocano native dances, a chorus line and even a zarzuela.
Various groups took the floor presenting line dancing with techniques of Saturday Night Live rhythm, cha-cha, and rumba beats.
The affair ended at midnight, but there were folks who lingered to the wee hours of dawn. He left after saying goodbye to Rufee and Elsa and headed back to his hotel across town. For him, the excitement of the night has not yet died down. He needed to settle down a bit and maybe get some fresh air by walking down on the famed Waikiki beach just after midnight. But while driving his top down rental jeep, closing in at the Diamond Head, he noticed some stars overhead twinkling in the dark of night.
It would have been nice to be inside the caldera to watch the stars on the crater floor since the city lights were blocked by the crater walls, he thought. But he knew, the park gates were closed at 6:00 P.M.
He decided instead to take a walk at the nearby Kapiolani Park just across the famed Waikiki Aquarium. It was dark, so carefully, he parked on a metered parking along Kalakaua Avenue, and got out of the Jeep. Soon, the island breeze was bathing his face and felt calm and peaceful. It turns out, he was not alone. There were walkers going around the park, some were watching a pond, and some were actually gazing the stars.
He hit his stride and then remembered what the kids told him about stargazing in Vintar.
“Tito Jem, told us not to go to bed early that night. He said, he wants to give us a gift for each one of us to carry with us throughout our lives,” said one of the older boys.
They told him that on their last night in Vintar, his big brother Jem took them again on top of the Pallas ridge. It was pitch dark. They can hardly see their faces inside the jeep. The ride was a little bumpy as the Jeep went over the unpaved, gravel road on the face of the mountain. But, it was a steady ride. When they reached a bend on the highest part of the road they stopped and got out of the jeep quickly and walked on a nearby narrow trail leading to a cleared knoll area. It was very, very dark and spooked them a bit. Jem laid down a straw mat on the grassy ground and told them to sit down.
“What are we doing up here in the middle of the night?” They asked him.
Jem noticed them being restless. There was a warm breeze coming up from the Pallas valley below. At night the land does not always cool. The warm air below creeps up the slopes and rapidly engulf the knoll area. But, it does not linger long. Soon, a breeze from the waters of the Bislak river will take over and cools the area as the mountain goes to sleep. He gave them their water bottles.
“Is this our gift?” They asked in chorus.
“No silly Tito Jem said.” “’Look up.’”
The children were amazed about the moonless night as they looked up, and witnessed an extraordinary sight. Twinkling before them were countless stars shimmering like diamonds on a silken black velvet cloth.
“We looked up, and the sight was breathtaking.”
“It was stunning!”
“Stars! Millions and millions of twinkling stars!”
“We got up and reached out to touch them. They seemed so close to us.They were big as our eyes.”
“And shooting stars too!”
“The sky is soooo big!”
“Tito Jem pointed out the constellations and blurted their names loud.”
“We saw, Orion!”
“That is the whole Universe! Tito Jem said, pointing to the sky.” “’Vintar is the center of the Universe. And you are standing in the middle of Vintar.’”
“We are masters of the Universe!” they shouted.
“Yes, you are made of stardust Tito Jem said agreeing with us.” “’You are children of the Universe, Ruler of the skies.’”
“Then Tito Jem surprised us by saying,” “’Now your gift. It is a gift that will stay with you forever.’”
“Even, when we die?”
“Tito Jem said with authority,” “’Absolutely. Up there is Heaven. I’ll name each one of you a star of your own. You see that twinkling star’” “pointing his finger to it.” “‘That is Justin’s star.’”
“Where is my star?
“Tito Jem pointed one that was directly overhead Paul” “’That one there, which is your star, Paul!’”
They told him how his older brother went on pointing and assigning stars until he completed the round of naming eight stars for all eight children.
“Then Tito Jem told us”, “’Remember, when you’ll die, your star will be waiting for you in Heaven.’”
He was getting a bit tired from his walk. He remembered how chatty were the kids about the stars as he sat down on a park bench and looked up at the skies above. The unshielded lights of Waikiki were blurring the glow of the stars. It was degrading his ability to observe and enjoy the natural night sky. Light pollution is everywhere. He knows that man has taken away what was once one of the most common human experiences and that is walking out of your door and come face to face with the universe.
Even now as he watched the starlit skies of Waikiki, he is reminded that he is very much a part of a massive universe and that he is connected to something much greater than he can possibly imagine. He felt this deep connection and within him was a sense of euphoria and excitement.
He knows that the natural night sky has inspired art, poetry, philosophy, and science throughout the ages and he is glad that the children had the opportunity to see the grandeur of the Milky Way before it is totally obscured by man’s folly of perpetual artificial twilight. He thought that there should be a conscious effort to protect the natural night sky of Vintar. This made him remember how disappointed the kids were for not seeing stars in LA.
“But, Tito,” turning to him, and asking together, “Why don’t we see our stars here in LA?”
“You only see stars in the dark. Without darkness, we’d never see stars,” he explained emphatically.
He surprised himself by saying this to the kids. It was a forgotten simple yet powerful line, that he read once from the Bannawag;
“Kada agsipnget,”Kari dagiti bituen,“inkam’ gumilap.”
In the same vein, his Nanang used to say;
“Kada agsapa,”insapata ti Init, “innak bumangon.”
He never knew what it meant, as a young boy. All he remembered was asking her, and she told him in endearing terms; “You are too young to understand it. But remember this: ‘Namnama’.”
As he grew up, whenever his day did not go his way, he always remembered that another day is coming up. That is ‘Namnama’, he told himself. ‘Namnama’ is when you are able to see the light in the dark. Or, when you convince yourself, that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Or, when in your darkest hours, you’ll find your true friends, no one but the shining stars in your life can be seen.
This is what he told the kids about seeing the stars in the heavens, only when it is dark enough. This is what he felt and seen as well with the folks in the reunion, who saw the light at the end of the tunnel and so ventured far and wide away from Vintar to reach for the good life. ‘Namnama.’ This is the ethos of a Vintarinian, he thought.
The cool night breeze has calmed him down. It was a fabulous day for him, and he wished he could freeze it forever. But, he knew he will have to be in LA tomorrow and needed to get ready for it. He got up from the park bench and headed toward his Jeep.
The reunion has awakened him to a warm feeling of being at home. He has been away for more than forty years and has forgotten how it feels like to be at home. It amuses him to think that a lot of folks trumpet the idea that home is where the heart is. For the Vintarinians who were there at the reunion that was never the case. Vintar will always be the place for which they feel the deepest affection, no matter where they are in this Vintar diaspora. Their hearts live in Vintar. He now feels that way too.
Longing for his home engulfed his soul, as a clean and warm ocean breeze wafted by and danced on his night kissed face bringing him a moment of pure bliss. Before he got into his Jeep, he took one last gaze upwards to the starlit skies of Waikiki, knowing fully well that the reunion has made him aware that he himself embodies the meaning of a Vintarinian. He is now more than ready to face his son and tell him what represents a Vintarinian. He’ll bring to him the religious legacy of the Vintar churches, the enchanted story of the Bislak River fairy, the rite of passage of the Vintar Dam graffiti, the glorious sunset of the Pallas ridge, the wisdom of the firefly dance of Lubnac, and the heavenly starlit skies of Vintar. Once he has aligned all these threads of childhood perspectives and stitch them together to form a cultural tapestry, it would be easy for him to answer the question of what is a Vintarinian.
“Welcome back, Dad,” his son said enthusiastically. How’s the reunion?”