Chapter II: 1929-1942
The Ross Family 1929
We arrived from Alaska on August 21st Wednesday noon. On Thursday afternoon, we got paid. In 1929, $60 a month wage was fantastic to a newcomer in the United States. Indeed the $136 that I netted that first adventure in Alaska seemed to me fabulous. I kept multiplying it by two since one dollar equals two pesos in the Philippines. All at once I felt very rich.
As soon as we arrived in Tacoma, Narciso found a schoolboy job for me. It was Thursday August 29th when I first met Dr. and Mrs. William Ross at their home. Narciso did all the talking and arrangement. I was told by my brother after we got back to Mr. Bolong's house that I must go and live with the Rosses beginning Sunday September 1st after lunch. This was the Sunday preceding Labor Day.
Narciso brought me by bus as close as possible to the Ross residence and then walked the rest of the way. I just had two pairs of pants, a few hand me down shirts which he collected from the men of my size at Mr. Bolong's house. Also assorted socks. He was extremely generous in buying my undies. He bought five pairs. I spoke to him that I needed only two pairs. He lectured me for the first time on cleanliness. He emphasized that I should brush my teeth before going to school and before going to sleep. Then the undies were explained, that I should wear one clean pair a day during school days and that I must wash each night what I had used that day. He emphasized that I should be alert at all times - both at the Rosses and at school. Nightly bath was imperative so that I do not smell at home or at school. Then he explained my duties as a school boy.
What he was saying went over my head. I could not understand about mopping the kitchen floor as often as three times or more a week. It was an American custom he said, to mop the kitchen floor every Saturday and to wash the family car. I had difficulty in comprehending the details he was earnestly drumming in to my head to do and remember. So, in a rush, I was indoctrinated to be a school boy to an American family.
The Ross family had a beautiful home at 720 No. Sheridan. It was surrounded by a beautiful lawn with shrubbery, trees and assorted plants. Some were in bloom such as roses, but I did not know about the rest. There was a garage in the back for the shining four door Oldsmobile. It was two o'clock when Mrs. Ross opened the front door after hearing our knock. She politely made us enter and ushered us into the living room. She was a gracious woman and made us feel welcomed easily. She was tall. Mrs. Ethel Ross, as I found out later was a nurse before Dr. William Ross married her. They had two children. Carolyn was seven and Bud (Junior) was three. Both were in the dining room playing.
Mrs. Ross asked Narciso a few questions, what school he went to, what family he had worked for and what is he going to do that fall. Then we met the children. Carolyn was a blond and tall for her age. Bud was neatly dressed for a three year old. Then Dr. Ross appeared. He was in his late forties. He came to me, shook my hand, and put me at ease by welcoming me to his household. I liked him immediately. Then Narciso had to leave and we said goodbye.
All my apprehensiveness of being in an American home were unwarranted. Mrs. Ross took me under her wing and patiently day by day told me what I was to do. First, she measured me for 2 white coats to wear while serving. Then that first day she showed me how to wash dishes, swept the kitchen floor, showed me where to put the garbage, the dust cloth, and all about cleaning the living room and arranging and tidying the recreation room. All these just took me four weeks, because I learned fast.
With her patience, kindness, consideration, compassion, and her love, I learned all that an eager, earnest school boy should know. Besides cleaning the house, she introduced me to the use of the Tacoma Public Library. With Bud, who was three years old at the time I entered their home, she read to us of Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, Fairy Tales and other books for children. In my first years at her home, Bud and I would share an hour of story telling or listening to her read to us. That year 1929 and 1930, my English vocabulary was enlarged an hundredfold. The fairy tales fascinated me and motivated me to read more of them to myself. I read Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, The Three Bears, the Three Little Pigs, Hanzel and Gretel, Alice in Wonderland and many chlidren's books. In the early 1960's when Jimmy was three to four years old, I enjoyed rereading to him all the fairy tales that long ago fascinated me.
Jason Lee Junior High School
I will always remember September 4, 1929, when I met an American High School principal for the first time. Mrs. Ross took me to the Principal's office herself. The school was 5 blocks from the Rosses. We walked. She enrolled me in the 8th grade, talked to the clerk and Principal and left. The principal kept looking at my report card which I brought with me from Vigan. I cannot figure out what he thought of it as he gave it back to me, anyway, I was enrolled.
A lady clerk gave me a schedule and told me to go to room 108 my homeroom, she explained. I entered the room with boys and girls who were all taller than I was although I was seven years older than the oldest of them. Since it was the homeroom and being the first day of school that fall, seat assignments took over an hour. Mrs. Jessica Reed, our homeroom teacher must have taken psychology in college. She was very systematic. She made us stand up against the wall according to height. This way, the short ones were placed in the front seats, while the taller ones in the back rows regardless of sex. With this method, I occupied the 9th seat from the left, since she alphabetized each row from left to right. I was in the middle of the front row in front of her desk. She was very strict, but she liked me because I was the quietest pupil in the room.
During the first weeks of school, I had difficulty talking with my classmates because of my poor accent and enunciation. Gradually many of my classmates understood me well enough and a few became close to me. My teachers too were kind and generous because I believed that they graded me better than I deserved. So, I adjusted myself easily at school even easier than at washing the piled dishes of the day at the Rosses.
I learned from Narcis that he had to work hard and at the same time keep up with his studies. I often wished that I stayed with Apo Ramon since I had earned his love and caring and the plans he had for me. Yes, I always had pleasant thoughts of Apo Ramon for what he had done for me. These thoughts of regret on my part for leaving him came often particularly when I was a schoolboy for Dr. and Mrs. Ross.
By late September, Narciso called me by phone and told me to write a letter to mother to expect $150 dollars in the mail. He said that he is sending the mortgage money of the land that I needed for passage coming to Seattle. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. After placing me at the Ross home, he asked me for the $100. I gave it to him without asking why. Now that he explained about the money being sent home, I cried with joy.
By December of 1929, I received my first letter from home and was informed that the money was received and that all of them were well. They rejoiced in getting more than the mortgaged money. Mother advised me to be careful, study hard, and do all my duties at the Rosses. In succeeding letters she added that I must not forget to go to church be an honest and a reliable man.
On school days Mrs. Ross rose early and prepared breakfast. Carolyn had to go to school, the doctor to his office and I to my classes. While Mrs. Ross was in the kitchen, I kept busy in the dining room, squeeze orange juice for Carolyn (7) and Bud (William Jr. - 3), set the plates, silverware, glasses for juice and milk, cups for coffee, napkins, and place the morning paper by the Doctor's plate. Then I tidied the living room cushions, dusted a few of the furniture pieces and cleaned the cigarette ashtrays. Ate my breakfast and got ready for school. Coming home at four, I washed the morning and noon dishes waiting in the kitchen. Then helped Mrs. Ross peel potatoes for cooking. Mrs. Ross did all the cooking. I served dinner the way she taught me. After the family had eaten, I had mine, wash the dishes and then hit the books.
During Saturdays, I washed the Oldsmobile, helped Mrs. Ross with the laundry, mop the kitchen floor. I mowed the lawn, wash the big living room window on both sides and also Toby (brown family dog) besides washing the dishes. After that I was free for the day. I just had to wash the dishes when I came home at night. On Sundays, I rode with them and they dropped me at church while they attended Presbyterian services. As a rule I had Sunday off unless the Rosses entertained.
I went to Mr. Bolong's house and visit where I would meet Narciso now and then, or go to a show with one or two friends. Then I walked home and studied for the Monday's assignment.
This went on for years since I entered Jason Lee Jr. High, then to Stadium High. I graduated from Jason Lee as an honor roll student, 9th grade on January 30, 1931. Immediately I enrolled at Stadium High School for the 1st semester in 1931. In Stadium High, I also got in the honor roll list in my first semester. That was the end of my honor roll laurels until Senior High. Dr. Ross and family went to Yakima for a better position where his specialty was in demand.
The family, especially Mrs. Ross wanted me to go with them, so I accepted with joy. With Buddy and Carolyn, I learned English faster than I had expected. I read all the children books Mrs. Ross brought home from the Yakima Public Library. It was then 1932 and I was a junior at Yakima High. I graduated with honors from Yakima High School in June 1933. The family bought me a new suit for my graduation present. After graduation, I said farewell to the Ross family that had showed me kindness and a degree of affection. I always had pleasant thoughts when I remember the Ross family. Indeed, I lovingly treasured their good wishes for my well being.
After graduation, I came to Seattle looking for a chance to go to Alaska, there was no luck. I went to work at Auburn in a Japanese farm. Once again I came in contact with mother soil, the giver and source of life. Japanese workers are superior in the fields. It was no contest for one to keep pace with any of them. I just plodded along from early morning until sunset. The Japanese farmer raised strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, asparagus, radishes and onions. All of good quality for market.
All summer long, we start work by 6 am after breakfast. Stop an hour for lunch and resumed work until 8 pm. A 14 hour back-breaking farm laborer. It was in such times that I regretted leaving Apo Ramon. I kept saying to myself, "If I stayed, I would be in the U. of Santo Tomas by now." In a 14 hour day's work, I was paid an amazing 90 cents plus my board and lodging. The good thing about working for a Japanese family is soaking in a very large hot tub. At first, I felt scalded and did not particularly enjoy the soaking. In my third night in the water, I experienced the most pleasant feeling of the 30 minutes soaking. From then on until the end of summer, I looked forward for the intoxicating experience where my tiredness evaporated and a great feeling settled my entire body. The Japanese discovered a pleasant secret of living. I give credit to them.
In 85 days I had earned 76.50 plus a bonus of ten dollars for being a diligent worker. A few of the other workers had a 12 dollar bonus. Years later, when Mr. Ted Yamari, a shrewd Japanese cannery contractor included me in his 80 man crew as a can reformer, I was to enjoy once more the ecstasy of that glorious hot tub soaking. That was 1938 in Port Arthur cannery.
I worked for the Japanese farmer from July 10, 1933 until Friday September 15th. When the University of Washington opened in the fall, I did not earn enough for a quarter's tuition because my ninety cents a day that I earned in the farm was spent in bus rides to Seattle or Tacoma on Sundays to visit acquaintances. I ended up at Mr. Mariano Bolong's house. There I met Leo de Leon from Cagayan who would someday have a daughter to become first lady in waiting in the Seattle Seafair.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President in 1933 and the NRA, CCC and many other agencies were created to put men back to work. I went to apply to the Civilian Conservation Corps, the WPA, etc. But the race prejudice was still strong against minorities. On top of that, I was told that I was not big enough to be hired. So that fall, many of us students were penniless. We steeraged with Pinoys who were lucky to have restaurant jobs such as busboys, dishwashers, cook helpers and elevator boys. They had rooms of their own, so we steeraged with their permission. When they went to work, we joyfully used their beds.
Tacoma had a red light district wherein the Chinese operated gambling. Pinoys frequented these places both the penniless and those who worked. The place was at least warm and so in winter we spent hours there inhaling their opium smoke. They often gave us dry biscuits to go with the hot tea which was accessible to everybody.
The best place to keep warm in the winter was the library. I did a lot of reading in the Tacoma Public library. This is where I met Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emerson, Keats, Shelley, Milton and Shakespeare whom I couldn't understand too well. As time went by, I read bits of Tolstoy, Poe, Kipling, Lewis, Dickens, Whitman and others. In those days I thought of Apo Ramon and kept thinking,"If I stayed I would be much ahead, etc. etc." Regrets of the opportunity I threw away. Regrets.
University of Washington
Finally in 1934 I was able to go back to Port San Juan Cannery under Mr. Herman de Cano, a brother of our well known Pio de Cano who was the first Filipino to buy a house in the city, and who distinguished himself as the first President of the Seattle Filipino Community. Herman de Cano liked me because he knew that I wanted to go to school and that I worked hard for him the first time he hired me. So I was dispatched to Port San Juan Cannery for the 1934 canning season.
Although I netted only $120 that summer, I was happy because I was able to register at the University. So in late September 1934, I registered at the University of Washington where I met Bernardo Acena , Julius Ruiz, Arturo Pacis, Belen de Guzman, Martin Bambico, Vincent Flor, Anacleto Martos, Apolonio Lopez, Trinindad Rojo, Maxine Gunlong, Pedro Montante, and many others. I joined the University of Washington Filipino Club that fall. Every June we put up a big program and called it Seattle Filipino Students Graduation Banquet. In my last two years at the University, the programs were both held at the YWCA June 10, 1938 and June 9, 1939.
Also I was fortunate to find Dr. Mark Matthews and his darling wife Joan. Both were in their early sixties. They lived at Harvard Avenue on Capitol Hill in a big old house. From Capitol Hill to the University of Washington, it took me an hour because I had to transfer to another bus to get to campus. Their daughter was married, and so was Mark Jr. So I worked for two aristocratic people. Dr. Matthews was the pastor of the famous Presbyterian Church at 7th and Spring in downtown Seattle. He was a wonderful speaker. His sermons drew crowds every Sunday. He was a distinguished community leader. Joan Matthews was a popular society matron. A remarkable fund raiser for the needy in the community. Her activities were legion. She seldom ate dinner at home. The same was true with Dr. Matthews. They were in the most important dinner parties.
Even if there were just the two of them, I did not enjoy working for them. Joan Matthews was very exacting. Their bearing was simply aristocratic. Each did not communicate a feeling of interest. I was merely a servant to each of them. I stayed with them until June 1935 when I finished a year at the U. Then I left without regrets.
When I registered at Washington, I had intended to be a lawyer. A dream planted by Attorney Ramon Crisologo of Vigan in my intermediate years at the Immaculate Conception Seminary. However, I knew my limitations. I was a slow reader. I was not sharp enough. I didn't even know whether I could be admitted in Condon Hall.
Eventually my counselor Dr. Garland Ethel from the English Department of Arts & Sciences suggested to take a light course, since I was a working student. He asked me whether I will go back to the Islands. I answered him yes. Then he asked: "Do Filipino people need teachers to teach English?" I didn't know what to tell him. I was aware that there were already many competent English teachers in Vigan. I finally chose English Literature as my major over Education. It took me five long consecutive years to finish my chosen field: English Literature.
Arriving from San Juan Cannery in late August 1935, I was fortunate to find the Paul Gregg family who needed a schoolboy. They lived at 1602 5th Avenue North in Queen Anne hill. The family was Catholic. The were pro pinoys. Ignacio Josue had been with them the previous year and since he did not want to go back, I called Mrs. Gregg. She said she was waiting for Ignacio, but if she didn't hear from him at a certain date, she would take me. There was Mr. Paul Gregg and his beautiful wife Katherine, both in their fifties. Then Mrs. Gregg's mother, Julia in her late seventies. My duties were the same as those with the Ross family. The only difference was that their family dog was a black Terrier named Susie and they also had three lovely grey Venetian cats that spread hairs all over the furniture. So I did more dusting and vacuuming than I did at the Rosses. I worked for them as I started my sophomore year at the U.W. in September 1935.
Bachelor of Arts in English Literature
Mr. and Mrs. Gregg were very interested in my welfare. And of course Mrs. Julia Whalley was more so, since she found out that I was a catholic. Although in her seventies, she was spry and every Sunday morning we walked together to early mass at St. Anne church, seven blocks from the Gregg house. We would come back to the house, eat breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Gregg. I enjoyed their company on Sunday breakfast when I was invited to share the meal with them. That of course was the only time that I would partake a meal with them, until my graduation. Yes, I loved those Sunday breakfasts.
I stayed with these three lovely people till I graduated in June 10, 1939 with a bachelor degree in English Literature. I was very grateful to God for my good health and his infinite mercy to me in ten years of my stay in Seattle. I prided myself as an achiever. Imagine, with only a 7th grade education in my arrival in May 1929, I finished Junior High, Senior High school and 5 years earning my bachelor's degree. All on my own with God's guidance and continuous blessing.
As though it happened only last month, I vividly recall the good Saturday afternoon weather as I came out of the two hour commencement program. Crowds and more crowds all around. Graduates laughing and being hugged by parents, friends and loved ones. Happy parents enjoying the exuberance of sons and daughters holding diplomas. I heard words of congratulations and plans of celebrations, pleasant laughter. I saw smiling faces. I heard the click of cameras. Yes, wherever I looked, people graciously smiled and many sought loved ones and immediately flung into embraces as they met them. More camera clicks, more best wishes. Neither family, friends or acquaintances were with me on that important occasion. Not even a classmate recognized me in that black robe and traditional graduation cap.
I went home to the Greggs, who gave me the surprise of my life. Mrs. Gregg in her loving way requested me to stay in my room until they called for me. I heard the activity in the kitchen and I wondered why I was not there helping to prepare dinner. Then Art, Mr. Gregg's best friend came in my room and took me upstairs to the dining room. They sat me at Mr. Gregg's right facing Mrs. Whalley and Art at my left, while Katherine faced Paul Gregg in the other end of the table. Art and Mrs. Gregg served a steak dinner with asparagus. The meal was delicious.
Our conversation was pleasant and each asked questions of the events in the commencement program.
Indeed they counted me a family member that night as they do on Sunday breakfasts. Joy engulfed me. My profound thanks I could hardly express. Art and Mr. Gregg washed the dishes that night. The good Lord guided me to enter their home and I was touched with their kindness. I shall always remember with pleasure their interest and best wishes for my welfare as I do of the Ross family.
1939 to July 1942
Manong's health was deteriorating in early 1939. His doctor recommended a warm climate or a vacation back to the Philippines. After many consultations with two doctors that we could hardly afford, Narcis decided that he might as well go home so the family can take care of him. True to the doctor's recommendation, Manong recovered his health. After six months of the Narvacan climate and long rest, he recovered.
In 1940, before the war broke out, he married Christina Pascua. In a year, they had a boy Mario, and 18 months later a girl, Rose. They lived in Narvacan with Mom, our sister Pausta and our youngest sister Esperanza. When the Japanese occupied the islands after Bataan and Corregidor fell, they went to the mountains to hide from the brutal conquerors. In 1945, when I vacationed for the first time from Tarlac in a U.S. uniform as a 978th signal corps specialist, I heard the brutalities inflicted to hundreds of filipinos.
Boarding with Rojo, Maliaman, Pacis, Mil, Manzano, Talledo, Gamido and Vera Cruz at Roosevelt Way and NE 45th had its advantages. We split the $32 monthly rent and lived prudently from our Alaska savings, or hotel Meany wages or union wages. Rojo, Talledo and sometimes Manzano worked at Union Local 37 on Main street. Gamido was a cook at Hotel Meany, Art Pacis at Boeing. I recall vividly in November 1941 on a mild friday night four of us, Maliaman, Talledo, Manzano and I sat around a card table at 8 pm and started a poker game. We played until 6 am Saturday morning. Art Pacis came down for breakfast in preparation on his way to Boeing. He came to the table and observed that each of us was drowsy. "Who's losing?" he asked. Two of us answered him that we were about even. He made a merry laugh and remarked seriously "each of you should have exchanged money and went to bed hours ago." And he went out the door to catch his bus to work.
For a time some of us had forgotten self-discipline. At times we did what we thought was convenient for the moment. Myself, I had a commitment to finish my graduate studies. I despised myself whenever I was swayed by my roommates to go to the show, or to chinatown to play in the gambling parlor. "You have to relax for a bit," they would say.
I had been slowly finishing my graduate studies when the Japanese invaded Hawaii on December 7 1941. The week before the U.S. declared war on the axis powers: Japan, Germany and Italy, Dr. John Jessup of the Department of Education, my adviser at the University and I had just agreed on an outline for my graduate thesis: the Secondary curriculum for the Philippine public schools from 1905 - 1935. By June 1942, I would have finished all the required credits for a masters degree in Education. All I needed was to finish my thesis and pass the required examination.
From the declaration of war and hearing the tragic military losses of the armed forces everywhere including the Philippines, my concentration suffered to its lowest level. I barely managed to maintain a C average. That was not acceptable in graduate school.
I was told repeatedly by Mr. Rojo, Mr. Seguritan and others that a B average was imperative for graduation. I was in agony. I had been working for two long years sometimes only carrying 6 credit hours a quarter. I had been looking forward to starting my thesis - the secondary curriculum of the Philippine Public High Schools. I would have finished 41 credit hours that June in 1942 and only 4 credits to complete the 45 credits for graduation plus that coveted thesis and final examination. But that 6 credit hours in the spring 1942 did not count with two C's which was a 2 point average only. It should have been two B's or a 3 point average.