YOU BELONG TO THE FARM

by Joe Smart joe.smart737@gmail.com

Her father was a good man, in his way. As good as he knew how to be. The eldest son in his own family, he had fought in WW II. He tried to support his wife and children through farming. He raised his children as he himself had been raised: with discipline, often violent, and with no regard for formal education. She was the eldest girl, the second eldest child. She yearned for education, and would sneak away from the house to attend the local elementary school in Bayugan, Mindanao. When she was in the second grade, her teacher said, “Corrine! You are really intelligent! You can go far in life! Stay with me, live in my house. I will send you to school!” She eagerly grasped this opportunity, but after only a few days her father came to the teacher’s house, grabbed his daughter by the arm, and said, “You belong to the farm!” He dragged her away from her chance for an education. So, she learned to farm and she learned to fish. She was a hard worker and learned to escape her father’s wrath by doing her tasks well and doing them quickly. Her brothers never did. She tells some funny stories about these years, but she resents the loss of a chance for an education. She has said, “I love my dad and I hate my dad.” Sometimes she cries. In her early teens she left the farm. She worked as a maid, she had a small store, she did laundry, she worked on a ship. She had a baby, Jen, and she suffered abuse at the hands of the baby’s alcoholic father.
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When Jen was five, she told her mother, “We have to run away before he beats you again!” So they ran away, ending up in Subic, where she caught the eye of a good man, a U.S. Navy sailor, and they married and moved to the US. They had two boys and a girl of their own, but her husband treated Jen as his own, and she still calls him “Dad.” The marriage did not last, but the divorce was remarkably free of rancor, and they remain friends. He raised the boys. She raised the girls. No alimony. No child support. She worked as a hotel maid, then as a house cleaner, finally having her own cleaning business with up to a dozen part-time employees. Along the way, she had another daughter. Then, approaching 50, she met “the man of her dreams.” Her words, not mine. We were married a few years later. One of the first stories she shared with me was of her second-grade teacher, of the encouraging words the teacher had spoken to her, and of her heartbreak of being pulled out of school. She had never forgotten that teacher and, whenever she had faced problems, she had remembered those words and had found strength and encouragement and confidence. Just over a year ago I retired and since we finally had the time, we went to the Philippines. After 35 years, she was back. Over the next year, she searched out all her siblings and many nieces, nephews and cousins. During our stay in Mindanao, one cousin came to our town for a business conference and came to visit, bringing two co-workers. This story was told, and one of the co-workers exclaimed, “I live in Bayugan! I live near that school! I know that teacher! I was talking to her just two days ago!” We were stunned. Flabbergasted. Elated. Life had come full circle.

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Three days later, my wife boarded a bus and went to visit that teacher, now over 70 years of age. Her teacher remembered her! They both laughed, and they both cried. I spoke to her on the phone. I thanked her for being such a positive influence on my wife’s life. I thanked her for being a teacher. I told her my grandmother, mother, and one of my daughters were teachers. My wife has done a lot in her life. Done a lot with a second-grade education. I am very proud of her. But sometimes she thinks, “What if…?” What great things could she have accomplished with an education? And now she is doing for others that which her teacher tried to do for her: she is providing an education to not one, or two, or three children. She is sending six nieces to high school and college! Smart kids, enthusiastic. Kids who, without her help, would be on a farm chopping weeds with a bolo for the rest of their lives. The eldest asked one time, “Uncle, Auntie. How can we ever repay you?” We answered, “You can’t! By the time you are earning enough to share, we will be long gone. But you can repay the world by helping others. If each of you helps six others, and if just half of them help six others…in a hundred years, this could be a big deal!” She responded, misty-eyed, “Uncle. Auntie. It’s already a big deal!” All because a second-grade teacher encouraged a student: “You are really intelligent! You can go far in life!”

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