A Dog Ear Christmas

The following is an essay which recently came into my possession. It was written by my father and published in some forgotten publication in which it was labeled “Third Prize Essay”. I imagine it was published in 1996 or 1997 in a local literary magazine in the Utica, New York area. I can find no references to the essay itself online.

Tears seem to come easier the older I get, and when I read the three pages, roughly torn from the publication itself, I found myself fighting them off. The final page included a hand-written note to his mother:

Mom –

All I did was mimic Hemingway! “Take something you know a little bit about (to establish voice) and run away with it. I never tracked a wounded lion, but I hunted at the base of Kilimanjaro. Hence The Short Happy Life of Francis McComber.” Anyway, here it is. I don’t like it… but it sold.

XO, Al

A Dog Ear Christmas

by Allen R. Espinoza

As a young lad spending my formative years in Marco’s Philippine Islands, complete with its obscene poverty and privilege, I can remember a particular Christmas which I shall always hold dear. Allow me to share with you an odd Christmas story.

I remember one particularly hot Asian winter I found myself a restless young lad living in the Philippines, getting a little weary of the restraining confines of the barbed-wire and electric fenced military compound on which I lived. At that time the standard explanation for such intimidating architecture was “it keeps the monkeys out.” This propaganda had me, hook, line, and sinker.

Anyway, I liked wildlife, particularly the kind that somewhat resembles folks. So I developed a system whereby I could “escape” into the vastness of the jungle in search of monkeys, the species of which was irrelevant, so long as they weren’t of the boy-eating gorilla variety.

To leave the compound undetected required that I climb onto a guard shack roof and as if possessed by some sort of kamikaze zealousness, leap about 5 feet out in a somewhat lateral direction into a dense cluster of young, sticky banana saplings, which in turn accommodated my 12 foot descent to my newfound freedom. The window of opportunity to utilize the guard shack for this purpose required that there were no Filipino Army regulars at the post. This of course posed an inviting challenge for a caged-in young adventurer such as I. I would simply wait for the beckoning call of intestinal or bladder urges to create a situation whereby peregrination would create an unmanned post. Getting back on post was cinch. All that was required was my military dependent I.D. card. After several unproductive monkey safaris, my 2 to 3 hour journeys took a wonderful turn. I discovered a village of Igorot natives. I later found out that these indigenous people had a rich legacy as headhunters and tribal warriors. To me at that time they were an undiscovered race of humanoid primates. From several of the totally naked boys of the tribe I learned to play a seashell game called shunka and how to make wonderfully efficient kites. As the summer progressed I became vaguely aware of the fact that their lifestyle of meager food, clothing and shelter was not so much attributed to tribal customs and culture as it was due to a racist national government coupled with having been run out of the native lands by armed communist insurgents in the countryside.

Though these specific details were unknown to me at the time, I did have some conception of the fact that they were for some reason merely poor, miserable refugees. And they were my secret friends.

As my exploits evolved into a more complex philosophy, especially for my age, I resolved to help my friends. Since one of the biggest impressions that they made on me was the fact that they ate snakes, rats, and dogs, I defined my mission as a quest to save them with Hostess Twinkies. The Joint United States Military Advisory Group (J.U.S.M.A.G.) Commissary seemed to have a steady supply of expired shelf-life Twinkies which I routinely patrolled for in the back of the building. I would take them to my friends in the bush on a regular basis. The it happened.

The banana saplings that so often had aided me in my escape from J.U.S.M.A.G. were not as effective as they were in the past. They are not that durable a fauna, and I broke my wrist. Interrogation by my mother revealed my entire covert operation. I suffered severe psychological punishment, the worst of which were the miasmic results of my father finding out upon his return from South Vietnam for Christmas. Oh how I wished that he would never come back! But he did, and to my surprise opted to forgo any torture. Instead, we took a ride to the refugee site in a government Willy’s Jeep, complete with an armed interpreter. To the best of my recollection it was a brief and friendly visit, and uneventful as far as trouble goes.

The following day was Christmas. I woke with a piece of monofilament fishing line tied to my left big toe. A note was taped to the line with the word “follow” written on it. “Great! Another adventure!” I thought to myself. The line went throughout the house and eventually led to the great outdoors. As I followed it to the back yard, my heart began to jump with apprehension. Then I saw it. At least a dozen brightly colored rice paper kites scattered throughout the back yard. Christmas presents from my Igorot friends. My dad explained to me that that very evening he and I were to be guests of honor at their miserable settlement and that we must attend, for our honor was at stake. As it turned out that Christmas evening we were to dine with them. But this was no ordinary Filipino cuisine which we feasted on. The meal was a symbolic gesture of friendship, called a lechong, in which the honored guests were served the crisp, crunchy ears of… a roasted dog! We partook, and as Huck Finn might say, “It wernt haf bad!”

To this day I regard Christmas as a time for helping one another the best we can, a time to savor friendships, and oddly enough, to reminisce about… do ears!