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  • Writer's pictureErwin Barona

Of Roots and Family Trees

December, 2019 was the last time we went home to the Philippines, to our parents hometown of Ilocos Norte, some 500 kilometers north of Manila. It was a festive time as it was right after Christmas. Before this occasion some ten years ago, we had planned to come home which my mother, Ernesta, looked forward to as a grand re-union for us --- my brother coming home from the United Kingdom, my family and I from Canada, and two other siblings from Manila. Unfortunately, she passed unexpectedly before we departed for home. So, the homecoming turned to a funeral instead.

During her later years, my mother often attended funeral viewings not to visit who died, but to also see who of her relatives and friends were still alive. Her funeral was packed with people, and it was our turn to "check" who have been "left behind."

"Left behind." As if we were going through Life's journey, which most consider as such. But the question is, where are we going? I think that is a question for which few are able to answer. I believe it is much easier for others to ask a corollary question, "Where do we come from?"

Where do I come from?

After university, I got interested in tracing my genealogy. My parents were happy to oblige me with names of their siblings and my grandparents, their birthdays, what these people did for a living, how they survived World War 2, and of their stories right after. There were no computers then to document every detail. I wrote my genealogy on a big piece of paper, sometimes taped from edge-to-edge with another page, which I had to revise every time a new name was added. Alas, I gave up from this laborious endeavor.

It was this time on December 2019 that my mother's youngest sibling, Dr. Joven Cuanang, had asked to create our family tree, starting from their mother, Remedios, whose namesake now bears the land my Uncle Joven has turned into a small township in Currimao, Ilocos Norte, "Sitio Remedios".

Thank God, there are people who have written apps specifically for "growing" family trees. The Covid lockdown provided some time to start one. Many relatives have responded to my requests to have their names and families included in the tree; but more importantly, they were happy to share the unique stories each name bears, who they were as persons, their secrets, idiosyncrasies, their regrets, successes, failures, their legacies.

Documenting was easy, with the software. As I do this task of documenting, I get the sense of having the knowledge of the circumstances that forged the lives they led, what they went through, what made them who they are. And more significantly, it was self-serving, in some mysteriously selfish way, that as I build the family tree, I find out about the people who have made me who I am --- an understanding of where I have come from, of the roots and of the foundations that build the legacies I, too, pass on to my children.

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."

--- Soren Kierkegaard (1813 - 1855)

My wife Gigette and I were former avid mountaineers. And after many mountaintops we've reached, I can say that they all look the same. The main difference in each one is the journey towards the summits --- the challenge of the climb itself, the burden of our 30-pound packs, the sometime torrential rain , the mud to wade, and the resilience and commitment to put each foot in front of another to pull through. Summits are the same, it is the journey that matters and being able to look back where we had trod from. As in life, it is worth looking back, to understand the people who had laid the path for me. No matter where life leads to, the journey assures a good finish, wherever it may be.

My family tree has now grown to a few 207 names; more legacies are being added.

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