Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Searching for Grandma

I am an indie novelist writing under the name Elena Maria Vidal. Once in a television interview I was asked the reason for using a pen name and I replied it was in honor of my grandmother, Maria Magdalena Vidal Strong.  As a child I used to say to her, "Grandma, tell me about your life." Maria Magdalena was born on May 25, 1904 on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. Her great- grandfather, Kiamko, was Chinese. She always told us that he was a merchant from Shanghai, but we found out many years later that actually he was a notorious buccaneer.  His granddaughter, my grandmother's mother, was Mamerta Philomena, an exotic beauty with dark skin and chiselled features. She married a young man from Barcelona, Jaime Vidal.  Their children were Frank and Magdalena. Jaime died and Mamerta was kidnapped and found herself in a difficult marriage where Magdalena was not safe. Frank, the much older brother, had gone to sea.

Mamerta heard of an orphanage for mixed race children called the House of the Holy Child run by American missionaries. She took her little girl there and asked them to take care of her. The House of the Holy Child was operated by the Anglican Church under the auspices of a former Boston socialite, Frances Crosby. She was a maiden-lady with no children of her own. She was enchanted by Magdalena and reared her as her own daughter. Magdalena was a bright and precocious child and wanted to be a teacher. She began teaching as early as age fourteen, and by age twenty had her teaching certificate. It was then she met my grandfather, Herman Strong, from Alabama. They married and had four children. The youngest is my mother.

When the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1942 my grandfather, being an American citizen, was sent to Santo Tomas concentration camp in Manila. Magdalena made ends meet by tutoring the daughters of the future president of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon. My grandmother hid Filipino guerrilla soldiers in her attic, risking death since the Japanese made frequent house searches. When the Americans came to liberate the Philippines, there were massacres in the streets of Manila. Magdalena knew they had to escape. She crawled through the mud with her children, trying to avoid land mines, to hide in a burnt out house in a district where the Japanese had already been. They almost starved to death, but were eventually reunited with my grandfather and returned to his family home in Alabama.

The strain of the war had so taken its toll upon my grandparents. Their marriage failed and they divorced in the late forties. Magdalena returned to teaching. She was always a devoted Anglican and never married again. She eventually moved to Seattle, Washington which she said reminded her of Baguio. She would spend the summers with us in Maryland, and as she crocheted, she would tell me about her life. A stroke destroyed her health and she had to move to a nursing home. She died on November 12, 1987.

Grandma always told me she wanted me to write the story of her life. In October 2015, my cousin Jaime Almora and his wife came from the Philippines to visit us.  He is one of the grandsons of my grandmother's brother Frank. He told me many family stories I had never heard before and invited me to visit my relatives in the Philippines. I know that now is the time to begin researching the book of my grandmother's life.

But I need money to travel so far. The money will be used for plane fare to travel to the Philippines. I would like to plan the trip for sometime within the next six months. It would fulfill my grandmother's dream to write the story of her life and not only her life, but the story of the many brave people she knew during Occupation. Hers is story which needs to be told. Please consider helping and I will be deeply grateful. Share

1 comment:

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Forwarded to my readers.

A few weeks ago some Russians, now Ukraine, Japan (the week, but not the day) and also US have taken over a bit.