THE AMERICAN HALF DOLLAR
When he saw the American soldier enter the small, white, stucco church, Reverend Sangco stopped his sermon. Having been speaking in the Filipino dialect, he waited until the soldier found a place on one of the wooden benches. "Let's welcome our American visitor," the minister said in precise English. The people nodded and sounded their assent. He then asked the congregation whether they'd mind his continuing in English for the benefit of the American. Although many knew only dialect and Spanish, they mumbled words of agreement.
The minister, a frail man in his sixties, his full hair grey and slicked back, raised his hand as the people quieted. Continuing his sermon, he spoke of the hardships they all endured under the Japanese occupation, and of their rescue by the Americans. Soon a small girl in a white dress made from a bed sheet passed a metal pan to a man in the first row, who dropped a coin onto it and passed it on to the woman next to him. As the pan made its way from row to row only the sound of the coins clinking as they fell onto the pan could be heard. When the pan reached the soldier, he contributed an American half dollar which shone brightly among the copper centavos. Its passage slowed as each congregant stared at the bright silver coin or picked it up to examine closely and feel its weight.
Waiting for the pan to reach him, the minister impatiently demanded that the last person to have it bring it to the dais. Upon receiving the pan, he took the half dollar and held it up for all to see.
"I have no idea of its value, "he said, addressing the soldier."I'm sure it is worth much."
"Only a peso, Reverend," the soldier replied. A murmur of amazement rose. It was more than the entire congregation had contributed.
"You're most generous," said the minister. "You needn't give so much."
"It's not much," the soldier said. "Please keep it."
"Would you mind if I replace it with a peso," the Reverend asked.
The soldier laughed. "Sure. It's okay with me."
"I shall have a part of America in my home," said the Reverend.
Only three months earlier, the village which was located amid a grove of tropical fruit trees in the soggy Luzon central plain, had been liberated by the Americans. Signs of the struggle, a jagged shell hole and the splayed pattern of bullet holes were visible in the church walls. Narrow streaks of sunlight shone onto the benches through holes in the rusty, corrugated metal church roof.
In dialect, so that everyone could understand, the minister made a final prayer but he ended it with "Good Bless America," in English. Then, as the minister raised his arms they stood and sang the American national anthem in Tagalog. As soon as they were done, all eyes turned toward the soldier who nodded saying "thank you, thank you," to each section of the assembly who grinned back. He turned to the Reverend who, with shining brown eyes, said "It is we, who thank you."
ON THE DEATH OF AN AUTHOR
I’ve known Barbara about eight years, known her acerbic wit, her offbeat humor, her lack of all pretension. I found her always fascinating and a pleasure to be with. She was full of opinions about everything ranging from the national scene to our local politics which always gave her plenty to have an opinion about. And before she took sick she expressed them publicly, often acting on them. She supported to the limit those she liked and woe to those she disapproved of. She made my wife and me feel valued and welcome, as she did so many, as you too can testify. Such a friend, we can all say, is beyond any material measure.
But for all I thought I knew Barbara, I had much more to discover during the last months of her life. One day last summer she called asking to see me. "I have no children of my own", she said, "and I want to leave something behind. Would you show me how to publish my novel?" She was frustrated by years of rejections despite favorable reactions from agents and even publishers. Her novel was simply too offbeat, and too directed at an audience of women over fifty, a too limited market in the eyes of the publishing world, to find acceptance. Yet it was these very characteristics of the novel that made it special and a joy to read. It is said that each character in a novel represents some facet of the writer’s personality. I have no trouble finding Barbara’s characters within her. Sally Stone is her sensible, sensitive side, June is her outrageous side, and Ingeborg is her creative, loving side. The three together are the whole of Barbara.
Her last months centered around the publication and promotion of her book. At one point, I heard her say that it was keeping her alive. Surely, it gave her purpose, something beyond herself. It was her legacy, her strike for immortality, the mark she would leave behind well into the future after her loved ones, all of us who would remember her, would be gone.
Let me clarify how her novel got published. She managed its progress almost singlehanded, not I, not my Stones Point Press. Calling on her talented friends, she got them to help with cover and text design, do the editing and proofreading, then she brought it all together ready for the printer. She and her husband financed the entire project. Stones Point Press merely lent its name, saw to the printing, and the administration of its sales. But it’s Barbara’s book from the first manuscript word to the last word of the published volume. It was a race against time, her uncertain future, and in less than two months the book was published, an unheard of swiftness in the business.
She went into the project fully aware that the biggest challenge lay ahead in the novel’s promotion. Despite her waning energy and her constant need for rest, she managed to find a slot of time during the day to do book signings, radio interviews, and readings. The flood of unsolicited letters and phone calls she received from readers from all over praising the novel, telling her of the pleasure it gave them, was her reward. Sick as she was, she glowed. There was no holding her down, even in her last days in the hospital when she asked her husband to inform the local newspapers of her book’s selection by a small book club in Connecticut. Imagine how much more she could have done, how much more word of her book would have spread had she been her former healthy self. And how much more was in her to write, had she not been sick. It is hard not to feel cheated by this life and talent, possessed of much yet to give, cut off too soon.
Back in September Barbara asked me to write a publisher’s statement, which, although I was publisher in name only, I welcomed because it gave me the opportunity to place her and her work in a proper context. Here it is in part: "Beyond the novel itself, we are delighted in bringing this talented writer to the public’s attention. While her non-fiction has always impressed us, this, her first fictional work, reveals an imaginative artist whose expression has for most of six decades lain dormant until now. But, to us, even more important, is to introduce the reader to a woman whose view of life is original, humorous and profound. She and her novel, which are one, enrich our lives for knowing her."
And knowing her during her last weeks was a revelation. She was so full of love and consideration for others, wanting to know about our lives, our plans, because she could have no plans, because she had no future. In a sense she seemed to be living in our futures, however temporarily. Her courage was truly incredible. To live without a future takes courage, to think of others under this circumstance, supreme generosity. She expressed her love time after time, expressed her gratitude for having known us. She wouldn’t exit in silence. She wanted to say good bye to each and every one of us first. And these few words are the least I can do to express my gratitude for having known her. Thanks for having lived, Barbara. Thanks for your friendship. And thanks for leaving us a portion of your art.
HUGH AARON, born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, is a graduate of The University of Chicago where his professors encouraged him to pursue a literary career. However, he made his living as CEO of his own manufacturing business while continuing to write. Since he sold his business in 1984 he has devoted full time to his writing resulting so far in two novels, a travel memoir, a short story collection, two collections of business essays, a book of movie reviews, a child’s book and a letter collection. The Wall Street Journal also published eighteen of his articles on business management and one on World War II. Many of his books can be found at Amazon.com.
He has written ten full length and ten one-act stageplays, and two screenplays. His collection of five novellas entitled QUINTET was recently published. Most of his plays deal with contemporary issues, several have had readings at local libraries, churches, and in private homes and some are scheduled for full stagings in 2007. The author resides in mid-coast Maine with his artist wife.
The motivation for these stories: "I wrote the essay ON THE DEATH OF AN AUTHOR to read during a memorial gathering. The church was jammed, and my talk was greeted with absolute silence. As for the short story, THE AMERICAN HALF DOLLAR, it's based on an actual event told to me by Filipino friends."
Visit his website: www.StonesPoint.com where readers can find reviews and reader comments on his books and a list of his plays.