Thursday, February 7, 2008

"Hitler" is gone

When we were in high school, we often had our class parties at Erlyn’s house in Laguna District. The reason being that they had a big sala and that Erlyn had the proverbial “strict-ang-parents-ko” father. That’s why we called Erlyn’s dad “Hitler” because he would not allow Erlyn to make lakwacha or even go to the library at night. Whatever research materials Erlyn needed, he would buy them just so that his precious youngest daughter would not be out of their house gallivanting with her barkada after dark.

And now “Hitler” has passed away last January 28, 2008. His name was Noe A. Cabanag.

I remember having lunch at their house last December 31, 2007, the day Erlyn was to leave for Manila after Christmas vacation here. Erlyn said, “Dad, do you remember Meling? My high school classmate. Meling Nuique.” Her dad said, “Oh, classmate pud mi sa iya papa. Paryente pud gani mi.” Erlyn and I were surprised. In all our years of friendship we never knew that our fathers were classmates, much less relatives! I had serious doubts though because my father often has high school reunions too but Erlyn’s dad was not among his high school barkada. Mr. Cabanag continued, “NOE – NUIQUE, paryente mi!” Erlyn’s and my eyes grew big with amazement. At 93 he was making jokes like that!

During the wake, many stories about Daddy Noe Cabanag came out. Some stories I have heard many times through the years, some stories I heard for the first time.

For example, Daddy Noe was always inventing things, from scratch. Before purified water became popular, he was already making his own ozonated water. But he did not have the knack for following through his inventions. One time a colleague of his copied his idea and got a national inventors' award for it. About twenty years ago he was afflicted with cancer and being a chemist he concocted his own medications from plants, herbs, dried bats and other such things.

Though they were not rich, the children did not grow up feeling deprived of any material thing. Whatever toys the other kids had, their father made for them too. If other kids had scooters, they had home-made wooden scooters as well. Their father always stimulated them intellectually. They were required to write a movie review after every movie that they watched! And Erlyn was not allowed to read the trashy Mills and Boons paperbacks which were so popular during high school. So when story telling came, Erlyn had no trashy thing to share.(Erlyn's comment: hahaha actually, kamo my friends ang dili magpabasa nako og mills and boon. Thus I never also developed the love for reading novels to this day)

Mr. Cabanag believed in good education and he encouraged all his relatives to study in Silliman. His house in Laguna, built in 1962, has been home to numerous relatives whom he and his wife generously helped through school. He had the gift of making a person feel special and important. Almost everyone of his children, grandchildren and relatives would say, “He made me feel like I was his favorite person. Ako jud ang iyang paboritong anak/apo/pag-umangkon/ig-agaw/etc.”

During the evening services during the wake, several people shared their memories of Daddy Noe. What I remember the most is an acronym put together by several people: the Pastor of Silliman; Oliver, the eldest son; and Bobby, the son based in Australia. NOE - N for nurturing, for that is how Daddy Noe nurtured his children and his extended family, O for Obedience, and E for Enduring. The practice of "obey first, ask questions later" was deeply ingrained in his children. And Enduring, for indeed the man had been through a lot, had endured a lot.

Perhaps the Obedience and Enduring had roots in a part of Daddy Noe’s life that called for a lot of obeying and enduring. This was the time when he was a Filipino soldier in World War II. I have seen and heard of some war stories but they were of distant people, distant places. The following vignettes were actual experiences of Daddy Noe as retold by his wife of 60 years, Ma’am Rosa, our high school teacher in Spanish.

Noe Cabanag was a chemistry college student in Silliman when war broke out and the ROTC cadets underwent a brief and intensive military training to prepare them for battle. (I tremble inwardly thinking of my youth friends, my students, my own teenage sons, being trained for war.)

Mr. Cabanag became an officer of the 71st infantry division and he was a survivor of the Bataan death march. One time he was in a crossfire and the only protection he had was a rock as big as his head. He placed the stone in front of his face, thinking that even if any part of his body got hit, as long as his head was spared, he would make it. He obviously did. (Erlyn's comment: this story dad related to us with a spiritual color. as he hid behind the small rock he prayed that God would protect him. And surely HE did. After this shelling, news broke out that the whole 71st infantry division was wiped out.)

During the height of the war, his troops were losing. There were many casualties. He wanted to surrender to spare his men but somebody told him “Do not surrender or else they will surely kill you because you are an officer.” And so they tried to escape but they were captured and they became prisoners of war. He recalled that they had very difficult living conditions as POWs. There were so many of them in so little space, they were squeezed like sardines, shoulder to shoulder, body to body. They did not have clean water to drink. They would drink the water from places where the carabaos were soaking and cooling themselves in. Brown, muddy, bubbly water. Many of his co-prisoners, including himself, were afflicted with dysentery, malaria and other kinds of illnesses.

At some point of their incarceration, the Japanese decided to transfer them from Bataan to Capas, Tarlac. Thus began the Death March. They literally walked on a sea of bodies. Bodies of comrades who were too weak to walk or even stand. He remembers trying to help one soldier who had fallen to the ground. A Japanese guard bayoneted his soldier friend and hit Mr. Cabanag in the stomach with a rifle butt. He had to walk on and leave his dying friend behind. The sea of bodies again. Their boots could not step on ground because the ground was covered with bodies of the dead and dying.

And when they reached their destination, he saw another sight. A horizontal parade, he called it. Filipino soldiers would carry dead bodies to a ditch full of more dead bodies. And the men carrying the dead were dying themselves, when they reached the edge of the ditch, the stench engulfed them and they fell on their knees. The Japanese guards would tell the next Filipino soldiers carrying new bodies to kick in the fallen, barely alive carriers into the ditch themselves. A horizontal parade, he said.

On February 2, 2008, Mr. Noe Cabanag had his final parade. At twelve high noon, a twenty-one gun salute heralded the culmination of a man’s full life, well lived.

The following is a collection of some pictures (scanned at 3 am by friend Irma!) of Daddy Noe with his favorite song playing: "When your hair has turned to silver."

Indeed when their hairs turned to silver, they still loved each other just the same. Last September 2007, Noe and Rosa Cabanag celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary! More about that later...

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