One of my favorite small cities in the world is Carmel-by-the-Sea in California. My first week in the US (in 1986), the first travel that I did (for sightseeing) was to visit this city as my father, as he was sending me off at the airport, asked me to do so. He wanted me to meet his cousins, Reginia and Belen, who are living there. (See the story below after the gallery.) I knew that we had relatives there, but I didn’t realize how important they were to my dad that he insisted (ordered) me to visit them.
Since then, I have been back several times – for conferences as well as for pleasure. The last time I was there was in October 2014 to finally meet my cousin Belyn who for some reason I haven’t had the pleasure in meeting during the several times I’ve been there. We met on Facebook though, and have been talking to each other before the visit.
With cousin Belyn
I went with an entourage, driving from San Francisco with my brother and sister-in-law who were visiting from Manila at that time and another cousin and her son who are based in Napa Valley, all of whom have not met our younger Carmel cousins as well. There are two cousins who were in Carmel in 2014, Belyn and Annette (RIP 2017), who are the daughters of Belen (RIP), both of whom I haven’t met. Reginia is still alive but her only daughter, Reina, has passed away about ten years ago. I had a glance of Reina when she vacationed in the Philippines back in the 1960s.
With the Carmel branch of my father’s family. My father’s cousin, Reginia, is in the middle. The other cousin, Belen, passed away a few years ago.
We did the touristy part first – a visit to the Carmel Mission Basilica (we are such good Catholics, LOL), then had lunch with the cousins, and then a look at the famous Carmel beach, then drove back to San Francisco.
It was a short but sweet visit. I need to go back again. Soon.
The Black Overcoat and my connection with Carmel
There is a story behind the black overcoat that my father (left) was wearing in this photo.
When my father came to the US from the Philippines in 1950, he landed in the port of San Francisco aboard the M/S Pleasantville on August 30 of that year … on his way to Iowa City for his Master’s degree in Hydraulics (and also to take the opportunity to sit in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop). While in California, he visited his cousins, two sisters, Reginia and Belen, who were living in Carmel-by-the-Sea at that time. One of the husbands of the cousins handed him an overcoat (one of them was named Andy and the other was Fred, but I forgot now who gave him the coat), a black woolen coat fit for Iowa winters – before he boarded the train to Iowa.
My father, the late Prof. Dominador Ibarra Ilio in Carmel ca 1950. He is right smack in the middle in the gray suit. To his right is his cousin, Reginia who lives in Carmel.
Two clippings in the Carmel paper that mentioned his visit.
Picture and clippings courtesy of my cousin Belyn Domingo.
When my father went back to the Philippines after his grad studies, he passed by again his cousins’ and returned the coat. He was not going to need it in the Philippines.
Fast forward to 1986. I was fortunate to receive an assistantship from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for grad studies in Veterinary Anatomy. Before heading to the cornfields of Central Illinois, I also passed by San Francisco, to stay with another cousin on my mother’s side – in Hayward.
I asked if my cousin (and her husband) knew my dad’s cousins in Carmel. She said, they knew about them, occasionally met them in Filipino gatherings, but they were not that close to them, and were they very private. However, my dad told me that before I headed to Illinois, I should go and visit his cousins in Carmel. So I asked my cousin to make contact with them – they were my aunts, basically.
I guess she asked around, got their phone number, and I was able to talk to one of the sisters – I insisted (well, my father requested), that I visit them before flying to Chicago.
So we did, my cousins drove me to Carmel – beautiful drive and beautiful city – to their lovely homes right there i n the middle of town. Their houses were adjacent to each other with a connecting backyard. They said that back in the 30s or 40s their area was the “other side” of Carmel, basically, where the working class lived. But when the town grew, their area then became part of the center of town. (I remember they were situated a few blocks away from Hog’s Breath Inn, owned by Clint Eastwood, who was the mayor of Carmel in 1986.)
The husbands were “Manongs” or “Old-Timers” – part of the wave of Filipino immigrants in the 20s and 30s who were conscripted to work in the agricultural fields of California. They were almost all males and a few of them were able to go back to the Philippines and marry their sweethearts or someone who was arranged to be married to them, and then brought them as wives to America. Not all of them were able to do this – some of the remaining Manongs in San Francisco (there used to be a hotel where they lived – don’t know what happened to that now) – remained unmarried until their deaths.
One of the sisters got married to a Manong who brought her to Carmel. Unlike most of his compatriots, he worked as a waiter at the exclusive Carmel Country Club. His best friend, also working in the Club – asked him (and my aunt) if they knew another girl that he could marry and bring back to the US. So my aunt said, marry my sister. So he went back to the Philippines married my other aunt and brought her to Carmel.
To make the long story short, when I came to visit, one of the husbands, handed me a coat – a beautiful, black woolen trench coat, with wide lapels, like the ones I see on GQ. He said, “Funny, about two weeks ago, I saw this hanging in the closet and decided to have it dry-cleaned, out of the blue.” He then said, “I gave this to your dad when he came here in 1950 but he gave it back to me before he returned to the Philippines as he didn’t need it over there. Jokingly, I said to him, I’ll keep it until one of your children comes to the US and retrieve it.”
And so here I was, retrieving it. It was a little bit short and tight on me, but I didn’t care – I wore that coat everyday the first and second winters in Illinois – as you can see in the 2nd photo. Oh, and there was a surprise inside one of the inside pockets, my Uncle, hid a crisp 20 dollar bill that I discovered only after I had worn it several weeks into my first winter.
When my Australian brother immigrated to the US in 1988, I handed him the coat and told him the story. He was overwhelmed of course.
I really don’t know where the coat is now. Maybe my brother sold it on eBay. But, I have these pictures and the story.