Remembering P. C. Morantte
by Griff Ruby
It is said that PC's reasons for choosing to live out his closing years in the small outback town of Lompoc in California, "an area imbued with the history of Filipino Farmworkers and laborers," might have been because he had known the Bulosan brothers there. While it is true that several descendants of the Bulosan family still reside in or near Lompoc, I believe that the area had a great many other reasons that such a man as PC should choose to live out his closing days in the small town of Lompoc. I like to think or hope that my wife and I were at least two of those reasons.
If the events that resulted in PC's settling in Lompoc are somewhat dim to the rest of us, at least my reasons for settling there are far simpler. It was my employment at Vandenberg Air Force Base that brought me to Lompoc, and soon after I bought a house there, which I own to this day.
When choir practice at La Purisma Church changed from Mondays to Fridays, I was no longer able to attend Fr. Mechler's Adult Inquiry class on Friday nights. Since I was already long accustomed to going to Church activities on both Mondays and Fridays, I sought something taking place on Monday to take the place of the Adult Inquiry class that I could no longer attend on Fridays. What I found, meeting in the same place as the Adult Inquiry class, was parish's presidium of the Legion of Mary. Their beginning their meeting with the rosary impressed me, as did the nature and conduct of the meeting, but most of all (at first) it was their stress on active ministry, going door to door, visiting the sick and infirm and imprisoned, which at once scared me and challenged me.
While I suppose many within the Philippine literary community who know PC also know that PC was a devout Catholic, I doubt that very many ever knew the depth of his devoutness. His dedication in his last published book, Luke, Theophilus, and Ovelia, contains dedications to the Legion of Mary and the Patrician Society. Almost to his very last year, PC was a very active Legionnaire, so when I joined the legion, I also joined his main local circle of friends. With the exception of one other American white man, one Vietnamese lady, and myself, the entire legion was made up of Philipinos, at least half a dozen women and two men, one of whom was PC.
This was in the Spring of 1993, when PC still had eight years left. At the very first meeting I attended, PC asked me if I would like to be a speaker at the Legion's Patrician Society meeting. He also offered help in preparing a talk. The Patrician Society is discussion group meeting that takes place once per month (on the first Sunday, as it turned out in our case), sponsored by a presidium of the Legion, and attended by all active legionaries and a sprinkling of auxiliary (praying) members and other interested persons. The topics are always about aspects of the Catholic Faith and practice, and of spiritual growth and perfection. Sometimes, PC would be the speaker, but much more often it would be someone else. Before long, it would be me with my first talk, "On Adding God's Mercy to Our Character," based rather largely on C. S. Lewis' essay, "The trouble with X..." from his book God in the Dock.
The Patrician Society is often such a difficult facet of Legionary activity that very few Legionary presidia have a Patrician Society, yet the Legion Handbook devotes an entire chapter to the running of patrician Societies, and the Legionary hierarchy are always pressing for more Patrician Societies. PC had initiated our Patrician Society in 1991, giving the first talk, "Knowing our Faith," in his small apartment on C Street, and after conducting the meeting as specified, treating everyone to his cooking. Before long, parish facilities were being used for these meetings, which faithfully continued on a monthly basis for pretty much the remainder of PC's life.
I got my first glimpse of how PC helped others with their talks by seeing how he helped Soc Tabin, the other Philipino man in our Legion group and his close friend, with the preparation of his second talk, "Jesus Was not Merely Human." Originally, Soc had wanted to title it "Jesus Was not Human," stressing His divinity, but since that title seemed to suggest (though he had not meant it to) a denial of His humanity, the title was changed to clarify that point and avoid misleading anyone.
Under PC's gentle and enlightened guidance the Patrician Society thrived and grew and prospered, as many quality speakers gave high quality talks, and lively discussions followed from them. Since the Patrician Society only met once a month, the other three or four weeks of the month PC accepted to do other Legionary work, the same as done by all the others. I have many fond memories of visiting the hospital or going door to door with (among the others) PC. It did not take long for him and I to become fast friends. Sometimes, when PC and I were going door to door for the Legion I would privately wonder within myself if some of the householders would so hastily brush off this small-framed, completely bald, soft-spoken, Asian man at their door, if they knew what I was coming to know about him. But of course we were there on our Lady's business, not his or mine.
One hot Sunday (it was Superbowl Sunday), we came to a house with only the screen door closed, but the other door open behind it. Several people could be plainly seen and heard inside watching it on the television. He knocked. No response. He knocked again a little louder. "Hello!" Still, there was no response. Then without getting any louder and without knocking any louder, PC asked "What's the score?" "27-17, the Cowboys" (or whatever the score was and whoever was ahead), someone inside promptly replied, but still no one came to the door. Eventually we moved on.
One time when I visited him in the Spring of 1994, PC was preparing a talk to be given at the Commencement at San Francisco State University, and he shared it with me. It was about what I would later come to refer to as his life-sermon, namely about the heart. If ever there was any subject that fascinated PC it was the study of the human heart, by which he almost never meant the heart of flesh pumping blood, but rather the spiritual heart. He had a profound amount to say about it, drawn from Sacred Scripture, but also from his own long years of meditation on the subject, and when he went up to San Francisco to give his talk it was quite well received. I am quite certain that the graduating students had no idea what a treat they were in for, as Commencement speeches usually tend to be quite dull. They had studied many things, all their required course material and required classes and many elective courses as well, but no one had taught anyone of them about the heart. Afterwords, several students came forward to congratulate him on such a worthwhile speech and to promise that they would give the matter of studying the human heart some real thought.
About the heart, PC has already long since published one book, God in the Heart (originally published as God is in the Heart, in respect for Carlos Bulosan's book America is in the Heart) and drafted another, My two hearts and eternity, of which only the introduction has been published (in Heritage Magazine). One rather disturbing reference he makes to the well-known villain Teilhard de Chardin I attribute to the quote being about the heart, which PC was like a hungry sponge soaking up everything he could find about the heart. I have never seen him express satisfaction with any book about the heart, other than possibly his own, and even there he was quite conscious that the topic of the heart was one which had barely been studied despite its centrality to everything else one could possibly study. Several pages of his more recent book, Brother to the Wind, again discuss the heart, in things his miraculous brother is supposed to have said. Perhaps this brother, Titing, was one person who really had understood the heart in all its wonder.
I have many fond memories of the time PC and I spent sharing each other's literary work. He was showing me his speech for San Francisco State, his Patrician Society talks, and finally his draft of Luke, Theophilus, and Ovelia, and I was showing him a novel I was drafting about the life of the Virgin Mary, and then later a book about what I call the Resurrection of the Roman Catholic Church. Both his book and my novel about Mary feature John the Baptist coming from the little town of Ain Karin. Although my Mary novel was abandoned (though perhaps one day I will pick it up again), my Resurrection book was finally completed and I gave PC a copy.
When my wife was finally able to arrive from the Philippines, her parents were not able to come with her (my parents had come to the wedding we had in her country), so PC agreed to be the proxy father of the bride and to give her away in our July 25 wedding and thereafter he has always been "Tatay PC" to my wife and I. When there was some controversy surrounding my wedding (I had attempted a Latin Mass wedding through the diocese, but despite the bishop's admission that my letter requesting such was the kindest he had ever read by far, it was to no avail, so I had to arrange a wedding through a good priest (Fr. Radecki) whom the diocese refused to "recognize" for nothing but his orthodoxy and staunchly Catholic Faith and practice as a priest. Many persons threatened to boycott our traditional Catholic conditional wedding by not showing up. Through it all, PC stuck by us, and in time everyone else who had threatened to pull out at the last moment decided to come after all, and all went well. The really fine picture I have of PC on my main PC Morantte Memorial Web Page was taken at the reception after that wedding, hence his evident good spirits and nice barong.
So things went until he began to slow down, and then he needed to focus more of his effort on his books, which were finally to get published, Brother to the Wind, and Luke, Theophilus, and Ovelia, as well as My Two Hearts and Eternity, he stepped down from active involvement in the Legion, but remained socially in contact with all of us. In the fall of 2000, PC and I traveled to Fresno to attend a conference for writers and prospective writers. Though the conference itself was not much worth it, the trip with PC was of great interest to himself and I.
On the morning when I was to pick him up, he was ready to go out the door, picked up his attaché bag, and started falling backwards. To keep from falling down, he stepped back and back until he collided with the couch and fell on it. Towards the end, he was increasingly liable to fall, and this served as ample warning to me that I had better stay near him at all times, unless he is sitting down somewhere. Thankfully, he was not hurt this time, and while another person might have had second thoughts about making the journey, I could tell he was quite glad that my only response was to promise that I would be near him at all times, but that we would go nevertheless.
As we drove up though the central part of California, through Stockton and similar places, what looked like mere countryside to me was for him a trip down memory lane. He would point out to some fields and tell me about the Philippino man "...who would catch fish and go there, right out there, to sell them to the Philippino farm hands and workers." Apparently, the area had changed sufficiently little since the time he lived in that area that he could still make out the various landmarks and locations.
The conference itself was a disappointment for both of us as he already had his publishers lined up and I never found any, and there did not seem to be any real publishers there actually seeking new writers, only would-be writers getting together and hoping something might happen (which of course it didn't). So I then took him home to Lompoc. By this time he was no longer in his apartment on C but had abandoned that apartment when he went to the Philippines for a year to visit Leyte his home island, and to participate in the preparation of a dictionary to the Leyte dialect. Many of his family thought he was going to the Philippines to die there, but he had already told me in advance of his plans to return after about a year, which he did.
When he returned, he rented a room in the grand and historical Lompoc house belonging to Pauline Dugre who soon thereafter became his assistant in (among other things) going over the galley proofs of his books about to be published. Indeed, the publisher of his last book, Luke, Theophilus, and Ovelia, which was not New Day Publishers operated from Manila (as it had been for his previous three books, God Is In the Heart, Remembering Carlos Bulosan: His Heart Affair With America, and Brother To the Wind), but Ex Libris books, operated from San Francisco, had furnished PC with his galley proofs as a file on a computer disk, and PC never had had a PC computer. By this time his landlord, Pauline, had moved to San Diego and sold her family house, and PC had moved to another apartment on N avenue. Pauline and PC remained in touch, and Pauline had a computer on which they could scan the galley proofs on the computer disk and make the final touch up changes to the book before going to press.
On a later visit to PC, I brought a couple Philippine coins I had acquired on my honeymoon in Baguio City, to show them to him. He asked if I had any coin from 1909, and it so happened that one of them was the Peso from that year, minted in San Francisco. So I handed him the Peso, which was as old as him. He turned it over again and again, looking at it, and doubtless thinking the same thing. Though still shiny, perhaps from having been cleaned, there was quite some noticeable wear on it. We both knew he had not long left in this world.
One late February day in 2001, PC fell down in his apartment and couldn't get up, and it took the better part of a day before someone checked on him (he had many regular visits from all of his friends still happening) and he was rushed to the hospital. The local hospital was rather primitively equipped and so they transferred him to Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara. After a few weeks there he stabilized and was then transferred to the Buena Vista Care Center in Goleta, where he remained until he died. All of us, my wife and I included, made many visits to him there, despite the hour long journey from Lompoc that such visits required.
On Tuesday, April 17, I took off time from work, sensing that the time was really near for PC, and my wife and I traveled down to Goleta to see PC one last time. By that time PC could no longer talk, and his attempt to write something on a piece of paper resulted in an incoherent squiggle (though I am sure he knew what he wanted to express). I asked if he wanted Fr. Radecki whom he had met at my traditional Latin Mass wedding to come and give him the last rites, and he indicated that he did. So I called Fr. Radecki and told him to come there. It took well over an hour for him to arrive, and all that time I was worried that PC might not make it, but finally Fr. arrived and gave PC the last Sacraments in their authentic traditional Latin forms, and bringing him peace with God. I was only able to get one question in from him, a literary question, but doubtless the last literary question he ever answered or even personally received. One of the things that he said distinguished his draft of a book, My Two Hearts and Eternity was that he did not use any commas (though in inspecting his first draft of his opening chapter I found two of them which he promptly removed), and I wanted to know if this was some sort of reaction to Jose Garcia Villa's extreme overuse of commas (one of his most famous poems has a comma after each word), and to give me one had squeeze for yes and two for no. The two hand squeezes he gave me were most clear and emphatic. His use of no commas in My Two Hearts and Eternity was most definitely not a reaction to that poetry of Jose Garcia Villa.
That Thursday, PC passed on, with Pauline nearby, and attended at that very moment by Fe Ehara, the daughter of Naty Ehara, one of the Legionaries in PC's circle. Fe Ehara is the chief nurse at Buena Vista Care Center. Per his request, he had his body cremated and the ashes sent to the Philippines. I wonder if he might have wanted to be cremated in order to be a little like his brother Titing, the "Brother to the Wind," whose grave had been opened and no bones were in it, only a large butterfly had flown out, as if Titing had left no physical traces. I hope some day to find out, but may that day be far in the future.
P. C. Morantte's Main