A full-time brother

Growing up, my brother Billy and I shared a bedroom. We slept on a bed that folded into a futon. When we weren’t asleep or at school, he followed me everywhere. If I locked myself in a room, he’d try to pick the lock or figure out another way to get in.

I hated it at the time, being shadowed wherever I went. I was five and a half years older than Billy, and having your younger brother around was a liability. If I was with friends and we got into trouble and needed to run, he was usually the slowest in the pack. I felt like Billy was holding me back, sometimes literally.

But I also knew he needed me, and so when my friends weren’t watching I tried to teach Billy the difference between right and wrong, helped him with homework and showed him how to field a ground ball. I had to fill the void of our dad, who died when Billy was 4 and I was 10. Continue reading

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Gone, but still a part of the band

I played the air piano while he played the guitar. Some of my earliest memories are of listening to my father, Dave, play music with his friends. I’d pretend to be a part of the band, imagining that the invisible instrument I was banging on made the collective sound of the guitar, bass and drums a little sweeter.

When my father wasn’t playing, I liked to march around our house in a trucker hat with his instruments. Once my younger sister, Valerie, became strong enough to carry a guitar, she became a part of the act. My parents probably found it amusing because there are several pictures of us posing side-by-side with his guitars, sometimes in our underwear.

My father, Dave, (right) singing with his friend Paul. (Photo courtesy of Doug Wolgat)

I could probably remember more about those days with my father if I hadn’t spent years trying to forget them. When he died in 1989 of an¬†abdominal aneurysm¬†at the age of 34, my mother, Vicki, took his pictures off the wall. His instruments were put in a closet. His clothes, in a shed. The songs he had recorded onto cassette tapes were also packed away, but sometimes at night my mother would slip outside and listen to them in her car. Continue reading

What, there are still stars?

Needing a break from Beijing’s cold, dry winter, I traveled to the Philippine city of Puerto Princesa for Christmas. It’s located on an island called Palawan, a place where Chinese families migrated from the mainland in the early 20th century in search of a better life.

The Immaculate Conception Cathedral is near the Puerto Princesa port, which gave the city its name, meaning "Port of the Princess."

White-sand beaches outline the island. The seas are rich with grouper, snapper and blue marlin. And no matter the season, sweet mangoes and fresh coconut milk are just a short climb away. Continue reading