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Arsenio C Jesena

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Sri Lanka / Serendib - photography by Albert Russo
by Albert Russo

Photo book on Sri Lanka with short poems by Albert Russo, Eric Tessier,and from the Dhammapada (teachings of the Buddha), in English and French..  
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Featuring Mila Cajili Jesena Smith's MY NAUGHTY JUNI
by Arsenio C Jesena   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Posted: Wednesday, August 03, 2011

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Arsenio C Jesena

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           >> View all

Featuring my younger sister Mila's reminiscing in her own words...

MY NAUGHTY JUNI


by Mila Cajili Jesena Smith


My dear brother,


I do remember --
You were a very naughty ten-year-old.

You were also spoiled, selfish, sensitive. And
brilliant. You were very self-confident, very introspective,
and -- you did not pray.

You had a very good memory,
and, before we left Bacolod, you had loved going to the
movies. You looked down on the flawed and the inferior,
and you did not yet know your own potential.

You laughed a lot, and -- you constantly bullied ME. Yes, you
really seemed to enjoy bullying poor little ME.

Of course, we were both lost. Insecure. Confused.

Because we had just lost our Mother. We did not understand
what death was. We only knew that our beloved Mother, Nanay
Naty, was gone. And we felt the painful vacuum. We did not hear
her laughter anymore. We missed her strong, reassuring
presence. For she was dead.

It was Tatay Arce who uprooted us from Bacolod and brought us to
Mindanao -- to Takurong, Sultan Kudarat. Where our uncle, Tatay
Demet Ledesma had lived, and where he had recently been
ambushed and killed by Muslims on his way home from nearby
Norala.

And now, you and I, we were there in wild, faraway Takurong.
We were too young to ask WHY. We were simply there, because
we were there. Because Tatay had decided to bring us there. Never
mind the distance, the primitiveness, the absence of safety and
security and health care and relatives and things familiar. It was
pioneer country, and we were the pioneers. Tatay. Poor Tatay.
Maybe he was already trying his very best? Maybe his best was not
good enough? Maybe he needed our sympathy, our understanding,
our acceptance? But we were only kids. And we did not know
anything.

You were about 10 years old and I was 6 and in that wooden
house in the middle of the farm, at night we would sleep on a wide
mat on the hard floor, protected from the biting insects by a large
mosquito net.

We stayed with Tatay’s second wife, Tiyay Felisa Cordovero.
With us were her eight children – Rogelia, Remy, Aida, Celia,
Sonia, Edgardo, Susan, and Maret. Our half-sister, Selena, had not
yet been born. And poor, gentle Modesto Jamerlan Ledesma was
also there with us.

We lived on a farm several kilometers from the barrio of
Takurong, in the municipality of Buluan, not far from
Maguindanao. In the darkness of the fearful night we could hear the
drums, and the agongs, and the kulintangs of the surrounding
Muslim settlements.

You, Fr. Juni, were very different then.You never wanted to lose.
You always wanted to come out the winner. In our little crowded
house the rule was that whoever woke up last had to put away the
mat and the pillows then fold the mosquito nets and the blankets.
And whenever I began to move and wake up, you would jump up
first so you would avoid the work! Kadaya sa imo! And then,
throughout the day, every time you had the chance, you would
tease me until I cried. You were very naughty.

Sometimes, in a streak of superiority, you would offer me a
clothespin from the laundry line so I could pinch my flat nose and
make it higher, mas mataas, like yours. Yes, my dear brother, you
were naughty -- very, very naughty.

One morning, as we were going from the farm to the
poblacion of barrio Takurong, we were riding a carrosa, a wooden
cart pulled by a carabao, a water buffalo. The trail was rocky, rough,
and uneven.

All of a sudden, the carabao stopped to poop. After a moment,
having successfully pooped, the carabao suddenly started, and the
jerking of the carrosa made me fall off the cart -- right on top of the
greenish cake that was the carabao’s hot, fresh, and steaming
poop! The poop was dirty,hot and stinking and I was so
stunned and embarrassed that I cried and cried, and cried -- while
you, dear brother, you laughed and laughed and laughed. You
thought my terrible disaster was very funny.

You and the other kids went ahead to Takurong, while I,
I was forced to go back to the house and get cleaned up and have
my stinking dress changed by our big sister Pat. After that, you
would often tease me about my accident – my fall on the carabao
poop – you would tease and tease me -- until I cried. Yes,you were very
naughty.

Buy ass we got older, I began to notice little moments
when you would show yourself more sensitive and thoughtful --
and you teased me less and less. Gradually, with God’s grace, you
and I began to develop that special bond of deep empathy and
mutual respect that we have up to this very moment. And of
course I have long known that there is nothing that you would not
do for me. Because for all your naughtiness and meanness, to you
I am uniquely special -- your beloved sister.

I can still remember the many happy moments when, after
Takurong and Bacolod, we were on Iloilo, living with our big
brother Rene. We were staying with Auntie Meding and Manang
Veling and Dr. Rene Magalona in Ledesma Street. Sometimes we
would go to Villa Beach or visit our cousins, the Tirols who lived
nearby.

I was in 3rd grade at the Tanza Elementary School and you were
in first year High School at Lincoln College. Our brother Rene was
the new Manager of the Ledesma Shipping Lines in Iloilo at the
very young age of twenty-one, and he had reached that position in
three years, starting as a lowly office janitor .

Manong Rene sent us both to school and took care of all our
expenses. For the first time in our lives, we had some little
allowance in our pockets every day we went to school. Every
Sunday, we would go to church at Tanza Catholic Church where
you served as an altar boy. I was so proud to see you serving at the
altar, and I imagined you one day celebrating Mass as a Priest.
Maybe you imagined the same thing?! Nanay Naty in heaven must
have smiled to see her favorite, Manong Rene, taking such good
care of us, little Mila and naughty Juni.

And every Wednesday, because of the good example of Manong Rene,
you and I would attend the Novena to our Lady of Perpetual
Succour in Saint Clement’s Church in La Paz. One time I reported
you to Manong Rene because you gallantly dropped in the
collection box all of the pocket money he had given us for our
snacks! Even then, at the age of eleven, you were already showing
evidence of your large heart and your unmeasured generosity!

It seems that your whole being was being profoundly
influenced and wonderfully reshaped by the spiritual teachings of
your idol, the great Dutch Missionary Priest, Father Cornelius de
Wit, MHM, and by your school, Lincoln School, through the
guidance and the teachings of Ateneo alumnus Mr. Johnny Jamora
and the wonderful teachers there.

And then the Jesuits came -- first, Fr. Isaias X. Edralin, SJ and
then Fr. Thomas B. Cannon, SJ. They came, and gave your school
Retreat, and then …. my brother Juni was not naughty anymore!

In fact, you became ultra-good, and you applied to become a Jesuit,
at the tender age of twelve and a half. The Jesuit Superior
asked you to go to Davao, where our aunt Manang Purit Jalandoni
and her husband Ateneo de Manila alumnus Manong Gil lived –-
very close to Jesuits there.

At the Ateneo de Davao you were supposed to learn Latin,
which you would need as a Jesuit seminarian. And the Jesuits
were supposed to observe you, and teach you their Ignatian
values and their Jesuit Way.

Goodbye, dear brother Juni. You studied, and did very well, in
faraway Ateneo de Davao, finishing high school there, and three
years of college. Henceforth, we would meet only during summer
vacations, when you would somehow manage to travel alone by
boat from Davao to Bacolod and visit us, your family, and together,
we would go to Nanay Naty in the cemetery.

Manong Rene and all of us would be amazed by how well you
spoke English, and your distinctive Ateneo accent,and how truly
good and well-behaved you had become. Was it because of the
JESUITS and the JALANDONIS that you were converted and
transformed from being the naughtiest to being the best young man
around?

In 1959, after three years of college, you were admitted to the
Jesuit Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, Quezon City. On your
way to the Novitiate, you passed by Bacolod to say goodbye to all
of us. You were quite impressive. Full of ideals and full of
generosity and full of zeal. The Jesuits had formed you well.

You were studying Philosophy in 1964 when I graduated from
Nursing and left for the United States to work as a nurse with Pat in
Chicago.

Four years later, you were teaching Latin at the Ateneo de
Manila University when I got married to Toto Baby Meloto. You
very gladly took time out from your busy schedule to go all the
way to Bacolod to assist Father Edgar Saguinsin at our wedding
ceremony.

In 1969 you became the Sacada Priest. There you were, a
well-loved and highly-respected teacher at the Ateneo de Manila,
and you abandoned comfort and security to work in the canefields
as a migrant cane-cutter. Of course, Tatay Arce could not
understand what on earth you were doing!?

But I was so proud of you . You worked in NINE HACIENDAS.
You had come all the way to personally experience the sufferings
and injustices of the Sacadas, -- the nameless, overworked,
exploited, helpless migrant sugarcane cutters in the haciendas of
Negros.

Their low pay, the endless debt they owed to the contratista and the
cantina that seemed to take their whole lives to pay, and their poor food and
living conditions -- all were brought out in your courageous report,
THE SACADAS OF SUGARLAND, that caused such anger among
the wealthy owners of the haciendas, some of whom were our
relatives. “We do not know that Fr. Jesena. We are not related to
him. He is a Communist !” -- we heard this denial and accusation
again and again.

You were very controversial. A hero to the poor. A villain to the
rich. You became an unwilling celebrity, in and out of the
Philippines. Unwilling, because all you had ever wanted in
becoming a Sacada was to experience the difficult life of a working
man.

And I was so proud of you, my notorious brother, the
controversial Jesuit Sacada-Priest! And proud too that the reforms
that resulted from your report somehow improved the lives of our fellowmen, the
poor sugarcane workers.

While you were doing your bit to obtain liberation for the poor,
and to combat exploitation and injustice during Marcos’ Martial
Law, you still made time to be at the baptisms of Tiny Bubbles,
Emgee, and Tina.

During those years that we were in the Philippines together, the one
thing happened in the middle of 1982 that brought us closer
together than anything was the terrible tragedy that almost took
your life.

At this time you were forty-two years old, having been a
Jesuit Priest for twelve years, and a ten-year veteran of the work for
social justice and the work for the liberation of the poor, especially
the laborers and the peasant farmers.

My youngest daughter Tina, born premature, was only one
month old. One morning I received a call from the Jesuits in Manila. They
informed me that you were the victim of a hit-and-run accident and were in
coma at the U.E.R.M. Hospital, having suffered head injuries and
multiple fractures.

They told me you had 24-hour private duty nurses and several
doctors and would have surgeries soon. Tatay Arce and I
immediately left Bacolod for Manila by plane.

We found you in a very unstable condition, starting to regain consciousness, but confused,
disoriented and combative. I could hear your loud voice cursing
your caretakers and I could feel the anguish in your cries of pain.
I found out that the doctors were all set to operate on you! Without
having received clearance from your cardiologist! But you had
been a hypertensive for the past ten years! The operation could have
killed you!

I decided I had to act firmly and immediately for your good. I talked to
the Jesuit in charge. I asked him if I could be their spokesperson
on behalf of the patient (Medical Power of Attorney, since I was
nearest of kin and a nurse. He granted me permission. Right away,
I interviewed each doctor who came in to see you, checking all the
medications they had prescribed, and even telling them which ones
had to be discontinued! I also told them you needed a cardiac
clearance and a pulmonary clearance from the proper specialists,
since you suffered from hypertension and fractured ribs.
I'm sure some of the doctors were upset with a lowly R.N.
advising them on patient care, but I was adamant, and I made
sense, so they postponed your pending operation.

When you opened your eyes you recognized me and wanted only
ME with you, so I dismissed all the private duty nurses and took
care of everything myself. Then your personal cardiologist returned
from vacation and cleared you for surgery.

During all those days, (because you were, and are, a celebrity)
the visitor’s lounge was always full of friends and relatives who
prayed, gave each other comfort, and -- brought a lot of food. It
seemed that everybody was there -- except Leon Nibal, the man who
saved your life. You would finally meet each other, thirteen long
years afterwards.

A week after your surgery, you were ready for discharge, But
you could not yet stand, nor walk without falling. The Jesuits sent
you to their villa on top of a hill in mountain resort of Baguio,
where the cooler air would assist your healing. There you would be
visited by your student, the dropout and healer, Johnny N.

I thanked God for giving you back to us, but I knew your mental
and emotional healing would take time. I thanked Him also for the
chance to take care you during those dark days.

Six years later, 1988, my husband Toto Baby was stricken with
cancer. You were there in Bacolod with us during his final days of agony.
At his death, we were in grief and did not quite know what to do.
Since you were my brother -- and my Priest, you just took over all
things ecclesiastical that needed to be done.

Two months after Toto Baby’s funeral you handed me a letter
from our friend Carol Schenck. Inside was a check for $5000 (five
thousand dollars -- exactly the amount my daughters and I needed
for the expensive airline tickets we needed to buy for our migration
to the United States.


Seven years later, when we were already in Grafton, West
Virginia, I became anxious about something that might be a threat
to the close bond I shared with you. I had met an American man,
Bob Smith, with whom I wanted to share my life. But I was hesitant
to tell you about Bob, because he was a Protestant Minister, and in
the Philippines for me, a Catholic to marry a Protestant Pastor was
an absolute no-no! Especially since my brother is a Priest, a Jesuit
Priest!

I didn't know that Sam and Pat had already told you about Bob
when they went home to visit in 1994. And I didn’t know that you
approved –- right away and wholeheartedly!

So, imagine my surprise when you called me from Manila in
December 1995 to tell me that you were coming to Grafton, West Virginia, U.S.A. to visit us,
and that you wanted to be present at our wedding! I was
speechless, but also greatly relieved to know of your understanding
and your support.


After we picked you up at the bus station in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania we visited our brother-in-law Dr. Sam Santibanez,
who was in a West Virginia hospital following bypass surgery. In
Grafton, together we visited the grave of our father, Tatay Arce.


Then you left for a little while, but when you came back in
April, you were able to handle with the help of our parish Priest,
Father Mascioli, the Catholic matrimonial intricacies required for a
mixed marriage. Father Mascioli helped a lot in obtaining
permission from the Catholic Bishop of West Virginia, Bishop
Schmidt.


My wedding with Protestant Minister Reverend Robert Edward
Smith III was going to be a Catholic ceremony -- at Grafton’s Saint
Augustine Parish Church.

Just as in 1982, I had smoothed the way for the right medical
decisions to be made on your behalf, now you were doing the same
for me in the ecclesiastical arena, fourteen years later. Our
wedding on April 20, 1996 was so special because Father Mascioli
graciously allowed you to take charge, and your sermon was so
spellbinding that the congregation -- half of them Protestants --
could have heard a pin drop.


After that happy, glorious, God-filled Wedding Day, you, Bob,
and I were able to spend time together in the Philippines and in Canada.

In the year 2000 when Bob and I visited the Philippines,
we really had a grand
time being together -- from the amazing mountains of Baguio, to
the white beach at Boracay, to the teeming streets of Manila, to the
beautiful campuses of the Ateneo de Manila University and Xavier
School. We were able to spend time with you and our relatives and
your many friends, who all love you very much.

And because of your fantastic "connections" we were able to
hear Lea Salonga sing and even spend precious time chatting with that wonderful and holy person,
former President Corazon C. Aquino.


Several years later, when we joined you in Canada, it was at the
breath-taking sight of Niagara Falls. Then we drove to Toronto and
spent time getting reacquainted with our stepmother Tia Feling and
her children -- our stepsisters Marilou and Susan, and their families,
many, many nephews and nieces, and Christine, the daughter of
our late step-sister Rogelia. And we were joined by our Bacolod
neighbor of 1946, Manong Rene’s buddy, Mr.Orlando Ramos.



And now, my dear brother, even though we are separated by
half a world, we are collaborating on this new book, YAYEE 7 –
GOD WAS ALWAYS THERE. It is another, enjoyable, enlightening
way of renewing our close bond. And of praising and singing the
goodness and the compassion of our loving God.

We lost our mother to Death when we were but little children.
But Nanay’s love and embrace never abandoned us. She continued
to protect and embrace us, and by God’s infinite compassion and kindness we were drawn closer and closer to the Heart of Jesus with
our every step, until, by the grace and power of God we now are
where we are, and what we are.


My dear brother Jun -- You and I must have been chosen to
spread God's Word of salvation and mercy and healing here on
earth. And because we had suffered so much in our childhood,
we have become strong and ready to face any challenge which
come our way. We are able to pause, and to bend down, and to dry
the tears and heal the wounds of others.


And to do all of this a smile, because it is a joy and an honor
and a privilege to help the hurting children of God.


People feel at home with us, and are touched by us, because
they can sense that like them, we have also suffered, and in the
suffering have found beauty and meaning and God and grace and
Resurrection.


How great and wonderful God is!


And how blessed I am to have you as my brother. I have no
greater honor than to be known as your sister.


From "Almost Heaven, West Virginia",


Your loving sister,

MILA CAJILI JESENA SMITH  



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