It wasn’t until after my grandmother passed away in 1962, that my father found it in his heart to work outside Malolos. (Earlier he declined a lucrative job opportunity in Liberia because he could not leave his mother behind.) When I was in 6th grade, Tatay left his job at the Voice of America/ United States Information Service (USIS) in Malolos to join the Manila Observatory which had just moved from Baguio to the Ateneo campus in Loyola Heights in Quezon City. In the first few months he commuted to work, by bus, but eventually moved the family to a rented apartment in Quezon City. (For the next 4 years I stayed behind with my maternal grandmother to finish high school.)
Founded by Father Frederic Faura, S.J. in 1865 as the Philippine Weather Bureau, the Manila Observatory was, in the 1960’s, engaged in scientific research in the fields of seismic, geomagnetic, radio, and solar physics. My father was one of the Jesuits’ first lay assistants, focusing on solar physics—specifically solar flares and the resulting geomagnetic storms.
I loved going to the Observatory and watching my father at work inspired me to take up B.S. Physics at the University of the Philippines. I wrote about solar flares and the auroras (borealis/australis) in my research papers and spoke about life on the moon in Speech 1—all with a lot of support from my father. When I started to discover beer, boys, and cigarettes (not necessarily in order of preference), physics kind of got de-prioritized so I shifted to a less demanding course. But that’s getting ahead of my story, and is better left for another day to tell.
In the mid 1960’s to the early 1970’s, several personnel from the US Air Force/NASA were detailed at the Observatory. My parents—already Americanized due to Tatay’s job at VOA/USIS and Malolos’s proximity to Clark Field in Angeles, Pampanga, home of the US Air Force in the Pacific—got all the more immersed in the American way of life. Two remarkable Americanisms were cocktails and barbecues. Thus we were introduced to daiquiri and learned not just to mix and drink it but also to say it right, the American way—dak-ree, not dye-kee-ree the Pilipino way.
Like most American men, my father was king of the grill. He grilled the best burgers ever. But he was also partial to lamb and hickory-smoked salt which has become for me the quintessential barbecue. Nothing evokes memories of those years in Quezon City but the aroma of hickory-smoked lamb wafting from the backyard. Back then, lamb was a virtual unknown in the Philippines because it had a gamey taste (ma-anggó) not quite acceptable to the Filipino palate. We did not just get used to lamb but even grew to love it.
In addition to daiquiri and lamb chops, one other thing—not food-related—reminds me of those years. A 24-hour Chelsea military clock, salvaged from the Observatory dumps, used to hang on a wall between our dining and living rooms. It was my brother’s task to wind the clock everyday; he had to climb a small console below the clock to do that. He also recalls that when he was upstairs and he needed to look at the time, instead of going down to the ground floor, he would go down the stairs a couple of steps, sit or crouch on the tread, and peek at the clock with his head upside down. I’m sure my other siblings have similar memories of this clock, all of them tied to those final years we were together as a family.
In 1976 my father left his job at the Observatory to live in the US. When my parents’ divorce became final, my mother gave me the clock. I hung it on top of my phone nook, below the stairs just like it was in my father’s house. In 1998 the clock traveled me and my son to America for the hand-over to my little brother—to whom it means more than it will ever be to me. The clock now reigns supreme in his living room.
Grilled Lamb Chops
- ¼ c vinegar
- 1 T crushed garlic
- 1 k loin or rib chops or cutlets
- hickory-smoked salt
- In a glass or plastic bowl, combine vinegar and garlic. Rub lamb chops with a little hickory-smoked salt. Marinate in vinegar-garlic mixture for 1 hour.
- Remove chops from marinade. Rub with a little more hickory-smoked salt.
- Broil over very hot charcoal, 5 to 6 minutes on both sides for medium, 2 to 3 minutes more for well done, turning over frequently to avoid scorching.
- Serve with vinegar-garlic dipping sauce. Allow 2 chops per person, on the average.