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Goodbye, yellow brick road


I didn't grow up listening to Elton John. He was already a big star when I was born, but the first grown-up songs I listened to were from vinyl records my parents, both born in the early 1950s, had in our record player. It was mostly music from The Carpenters, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Peter, Paul & Mary.

What I did grow up with, as far as Sir Elton John is concerned, is this line, forever carved into the road in front of our house, under the streetlight: "GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD."

For as long as I can remember, it has always been there, a curious phrase I'd stumble upon every now and then--first, in my younger years, when I had friends to play with in the streets; these days, when I occasionally venture out into the world and pause to look at my feet.

At first I didn't know it was a line from an Elton John song. I initially thought it was merely a The Wonderful Wizard of Oz reference, and I wondered about the boy--I just assumed it was a boy around my age--who dared write the words in wet cement and managed to not leave a single footprint. We had read the same book; if I we met, would we become friends?

When I was a little older, I started imagining it was a message from someone who knew the truth about our neighborhood: that underneath the rough concrete, made even rougher by tiny potholes and bits of dried cement left over from various house extension projects, was an actual golden road that led to the magical Land of Oz. They, whoever they were, had covered it up so nobody could find it, and yet one of them wrote the line so somebody magical--hopefully, me--would.

But then I grew up and the Internet happened, and one day, I typed the words in my computer and learned it was an Elton John song. Or maybe I grew up and videoke happened, and one day, I heard someone singing the words, recognized them, and discovered they were from an Elton John song.

I'm not really sure anymore how I made the connection. But even after I did, it took me a while to really listen to the song, and an even longer while--only tonight, in fact, when I was taking notes for a short story I am trying to write--to paint in my mind another picture of the person who may have written it.

He must have been one of the workers who built the road in the late 70s or early 80s, the period our subdivision was carved out from grassland and sold in lots to people who came in from a scattering of elsewheres.

He may have wanted to leave a mark on the product of his heavy labor. Instead of writing his name or the name of someone he loved on the drying cement, he must have settled on a line from his favorite song.

Listening to the song now, I wonder: Was he being quite literal, saying goodbye to the road, to the construction project, to the temporary job?

Or was he really feeling the song, wishing he had stayed on the farm, listened to his old man? Was he planning to go back to his plough? Had he finally decided that his future lay beyond whatever was his personal yellow brick road?

How much do you love me?

This morning, I asked my niece Kiara how much she loved me. "Eleven times," she said. "Only eleven?" I asked, and she said, with finality, yes.

I normally tease her until she gives me a bigger number, but she is four now, developing a mind of her own, and I decided to accept what she was willing to give.

This afternoon, as I was walking away from their house after dropping her off, she ran to the window and called out, "Auntie Dat!" "Yes?" I shouted back.

"I love you one hundred two times!" she shouted from the top of her tiny lungs, so loud the entire block could hear, "I miss you! I love you!"

The summer I learned sign language

When I was 16, I learned American Sign Language from a deaf guy named Larry, who was then a student at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. We were in Ozamiz, holding summer workshops at ICC-La Salle.

It's still one of my best summers, for many reasons, one of which involves a ghost encounter!

Larry wasn't supposed to teach ASL, but he volunteered to teach us. We finished all 12 modules, and I was amazed at how, as Larry taught us his language, he became more and more colorful in my eyes. He was a wonderful teacher, strict and funny and a little naughty when we were more fluent.

I found learning the signs easy, but I struggled with interpreting them in conversation, so after that summer, I forgot pretty much everything, except the name he gave me: the letter D, for my nickname Dat, dotting both my chubby cheeks.

Actually, he gave me two names: the letter D moving down in waves for my curly hair or the letter D on my cheeks. He smiled when we settled on cheeks, and I was just relieved he wasn't referring to my pimples!

I saw Larry in CSB last year, but he didn't see me. I wanted to say hi or hello (I still know how to sign that!), but I hesitated and the hesitation won.

Might as well, I told myself as I walked away. How on earth could I ask him if he remembered me, and if he didn't, how on earth could I tell him how he once spent several days in Ozamiz, silently changing how I saw the world?