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Friday, May 27, 2016

A Grateful Heart on Memorial Day

MEMORIES OF LOLO ON MEMORIAL DAY - my very earliest memory is standing before a behemoth of a Naval ship, watching my mother cry.  I was about 3 years old. I asked her why she was crying.  “I’m crying because I am so happy, because I know everything is going to be fine.”  Even then I understood my mother was in pain and her actions did not match her words.  We were, once again, saying good-bye to my father, as he went back on his ship, and this was in the middle of the Vietnam War.  Luckily for us, my father did come home.  And although he missed the first 3 years of my childhood, he more than showered me with love for the rest of his days.

Not everyone was lucky enough to have their Dad come home from Vietnam.  Of those who did come back, many were “shell shocked,” or suffered what is now known as PTSD.   Back then, people were not so welcoming of Vietnam Veterans.  Some of my elementary school classmates chose not to tell people that their fathers were Vietnam Veterans because there was a stigma attached to it.  Not for my father.  He was IMMENSELY proud of his service -- at a time when others were not -- and taught his kids that we should be proud of it as well.  My dad had lived through World War II in the Philippines as a child, and he had lived through the Vietnam War as a combatant, that it how he received his US Citizenship.  And though he had endured so much, he loved everyone unconditionally.  
He loved to tell stories from from his 7 years in the Navy.  As a result, I can say three things in Tagalog, my father’s native tongue:  “Hello, how are you?”, “Thank you,” and “OH MY GOD THAT MISSILE’S COMING BACK!”  This is the story of “Bumabalik”.
Dad was stationed on board a guided missile cruiser which was stationed off the coast of North Vietnam.  They were conducting combat operations, firing land missiles from the ship in support of an amphibious attack on the shore.  It was something they did a lot.  Except this time, they fired a missile and, for some unknown reason, the missile turned around and headed back toward the ship.  This is the part where the sailors who were originally from the Philippines shouted, “Ang missile ay Bumabalik! Bumabalik!” -- or the missile is coming back!  
“My Commander did not panic, he did not hesitate,” said Dad.  “He immediately gave the command to shoot down the missile in the air.  If he had hesitated, or second guessed himself for one second, we would have all been dead.  We ran to our stations and shot it down.  It exploded in mid-air.  Bumabalik!”
On Memorial Day, we remember, pray for and give thanks to all those who gave their lives in the service of the United States.  No matter what your political stripes, your opinion, your religion or any of your many freedoms that you probably take for granted, none of us would have them if it weren’t for those service members, from the Revolutionary War to the present,  who made the ultimate sacrifice.  But there are some other people to thank, and that would be their family members -- the wives, sons, daughters and parents of those who did not return.  Because the family members served too, and they have made a sacrifice the rest of us cannot even dream of.  This is their day, the other 364 days, you can thank all veterans for their service.
Mrs. Lo

In memory of my Dad, Mariano Muyot (“Lolo”), December 26, 1935 - May 3, 2016 (Photo of Lolo on board the USS Galveston)

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Good Old Days? Growing Up in the 70's

My kids are perpetually amazed when I tell them what it was like growing up in my working-class neighborhood in the 70’s and 80’s.  Lately, with my Beloved Father, who I adored, having died last week, we have been spending a lot of time in the old neighborhood, so to speak.  My older son wanted to see the lake that we used to walk to.  When I drove him there he was in shock.

At first I couldn’t figure out why, after all it was a small man made lake and my son’s rowing team practices on the magnificent and sprawling natural preserve known as Monksville Reservoir in Ringwood, NJ.  The reason for his shock:  “I can’t believe Grandma would let you and your friends walk that far.”  It was about a mile away.  We didn’t have Fitbits or iPhone apps to measure, so I actually have no idea.  I told him we used to keep on walking another mile or so, until we got to the bakery, where we would get brownies and black and white cookies; again he found this  incomprehensible.  That his grandma, who never wants them to walk anywhere alone and is always telling them to wear a hat, would let her kids out of her sight for so long -- it just defied credulity.

    My kids know that, back in the day, our parents used to just open up the door, tell us to go play and the only rule was, be back before it gets dark.  All so we could spend our time riding our bikes, playing hopscotch, playing jacks; and walking to arts and craft class (mosaic ashtray anyone?), the bakery, and the library, by ourselves.

    “You guys have to be the last generation that lived like that,” my sons told me recently.

    And I believe that is true.  I think the demise came with Pacman, Atari and video games, which gave kids a reason to stay indoors.  But in a way, it was good that we put an end to that lifestyle where the parents were the opposite of “hover-parents”.

    I explained to my son that it really was Survival of the Fittest.  Sure, our parents didn’t micromanage us, which brought a lot of freedom.  But that also meant that bullying was part of growing up.  And everybody got bullied, including the physically and mentally challenged kids.   Mercilessly.  

    “That’s horrible,” exclaimed my kids.  It was.  But that is the downside of not  having your parents hovering over you at all times.  On the one hand, we pretty much were out there playing and having fun -- but on the other hand, we had to endure teasing, hazing, and witnessed a lot of fistfights.  By some miracle, no one ever had a weapon and no one ever got hurt; no one even had their eye poked out.  No parent ever made an appointment at school because their kid got picked on or got the worse end of a fist.  Basically, if you got your butt kicked, you picked yourself up and went back to class, end of story.

    I wanted my kids to know that yes, in a lot of ways our 70’s childhoods were better.  We were always outdoors -- and there was no structure, no teams (until Little League started) and no money involved.  But I also wanted them to know that it wasn’t necessarily an idyllic  childhood -- because it was a tough world out there, Survival of the Fittest is the only way I can describe it.  And political correctness did not exist.  

    We format ourselves to the world we are born into.  If you had told me as a little girl that one day, my son would be getting up at 5:15 am to take a train to Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, NJ, where he would then take an Uber to crew practice, row for 3 hours and then take a train home -- I would have looked at you like you were an alien.  I guess the first question would be -- what’s an Uber?  Followed by -- what is crew and where is New Jersey?  Our kids are a lot better educated in 2016, that’s for sure.

    Have a great day, everyone and as always, Remember to Count Your Blessings! 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Love Triumphs Over All: A Eulogy for my Dad

LOVE TRIUMPHS OVER ALL: A EULOGY FOR MY DAD.  My father, Mariano Muyot, was known to everyone in the last 17 years, simply as “Lolo.”  That is Tagalog, or Filipino, for Grandfather.  Lolo, in his lifetime, provided many lessons for all of us but the greatest lesson he imparted to us was this:  Love Triumphs Over All.

    Lolo was a mere 8 years old when World War II came to the Philippines.  As the baby of the family, he had been loved and cherished by his father, Vedasto, his mother, Juliana, and his 5 older brothers.  His life changed drastically when he lost his father to a concentration camp and watched as invading Japanese soldiers burned down his beautiful home.  His older brothers went off to war to help the American soldiers.  As a little boy, Mariano would hide and watch the Japanese soldiers as they buried land mines.  Then he would run and find the American soldiers and show them, from memory, where the land mines were buried. They say he and others like him saved countless lives.  When General MacArthur finally liberated the Philippines, Mariano’s father lived long enough to come home and see his  family one last time.  And Mariano knew what he must do:  become an American military man like the G.I.’s who liberated his father.

    Mariano did not seek revenge, he sought a way to show his gratitude.  Throughout his life, he told us over and over again, he harbored no hatred toward the Japanese people, because they too were victims in their own homeland.  He did not even harbor hatred towards the Japanese soldiers.  His strong and abiding Faith in God and his love of his fellow man was too great for that.  When Juliana was assigned a Japanese roommate her freshman year at NYU, a sweet girl named Noriko, Noriko was worried about meeting Mariano.  There was no need, on parents day, he hugged her and welcomed her as if she were a family member.  For he knew that Love Triumphs Over All.  

    Joining the U.S. Navy at Subic Bay in the Philippines in 1962 was an act of Love and Gratitude for Mariano.  He loved his days at sea on the  USS Columbus and the USS Galveston, and later in life, he loved to tell these stories to virtually everyone he met. He volunteered again and again for ship duty and was never ever on land, even when his children were born.  Once he met his future wife, he volunteered for submarine duty because the pay grade was much higher.  However, his hearing had been permanently damaged from firing the cannons during the Vietnam War.  He was dejected when the Navy told him he did not qualify for submarine duty because of his hearing loss but happy for his fellow shipmates who did make it.  Tragically, the USS Thresher Naval attack submarine containing his fellow shipmates, imploded beneath the sea in May 1963, killing all 129 souls aboard.  God spared Mariano’s life again because he had  other plans for him.

    Part of that plan was for Mariano to meet and marry the love of his life, a beautiful Irish American gal named Marie McCaffrey, soon to become Marie Muyot.  Marie and Mariano married while Mariano was still in the Navy and both their children, Juliana and Michael, were born while Mariano was serving ship duty at sea very far away.  He missed the first part of their childhoods but he made up for it by showering them with love, life lessons, and lots of family vacations, upon his return home.  Marie and Mariano just celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary on April 4, 2016, surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

    The fulfillment on Mariano’s mission on earth was without question, to become a Grandfather -- and a loving Patriarch to a family which included Juliana and her husband Anthony (whom he loved like a son), and their children, his beloved grandchildren Christian and Michael;  and also included Mariano’s only son, of whom he was so proud -- the handsome, successful and athletic Michael Muyot;  along with Sandra Markovic Muyot, and his two other beloved grandsons, Vuk and Nikola.  As a grandfather, Mariano was complete, he became the man he was destined to be.  Strong, loving dependable and capable of spoiling his grandchildren at a level we came to be accustomed to. And his children and grandchildren loved him beyond measure.  

I will never forget the first time Anthony and I left Lolo alone to babysit Baby Christian so they could go out to dinner.  He called us on our cell phone in a panic because he couldn’t find the “big pins”.  

    “What big pins are you looking for dad?”  I asked.

    “The big safety pins, I will not use these little safety pins on my grandson they could hurt him!”  I explained to him about modern diapers -- and how we don’t need safety pins anymore to close the diapers, and he was very relieved.

    But the clan kept growing, Mariano and Marie continued to have strong ties to Alenka and Svetco, the other grandparents of Vuk and Nikola. We lost Svetco less than a year ago. Mariano also loved very much his extended LoBiondo Family:  Ross and Jan, parents of Anthony; and Vinnie and Alessandra, brother and sister in law of Anthony, as well as their children, Vincent, Steven, Angelina and Matt.  In fact, all 8 grandchildren played together and talked to each other all week as if they were all blood cousins. Mariano was happy when his son found love again with his second wife, Vanessa. Because that is what Mariano wanted:  a big, gregarious happy family.  Love Triumphs Over All.

    Mariano had many achievements in life:  receiving college degrees in both the Philippines and the U.S., a 6 year distinguished career in the US Navy, for which he received numerous medals, a fulfilling and successful 25 year career at IBM East Fishkill from which he retired with great pride and lifelong friends.  But his greatest achievement was by far his family and his grandchildren.

    This past December 2015, just 4 months ago, Mariano turned 80.  Juliana wanted to have a big celebration for him with a band and a DJ.  But those were not his wishes.  He wanted to have a party at her house, a place he loved very much, with his wife, children, grandchildren, and the extended LoBiondo Clan.  We had that party, and we were able to have several more Sunday dinners and parties where the whole family gathered.  Just 2 weeks ago, we gathered at the River Grill, a place Mariano loved very much, for  Anthony’s 50th birthday party. Mariano held court, enjoying his big family, as well as a good steak, and he spent the day laughing, smiling, and of course telling stories.  He took Juliana aside at one point and said to her, “You did good, Julie, you did really good.”  She thinks he meant the party but she also believes he was alluding to the family that we had all  built together and the incredible closeness we all shared.

    And so if you take away one thing from Mariano’s life and Legacy, let it be this:  never pass up an opportunity to gather your family around you for a good steak, a big laugh, and some great stories.  

And in the end, Fear not for Love will Triumph Over All.


My father died peacefully, surrounded by family, on May 3, 2016 at Vassar Brothers Hospital, where they did a wonderful job caring for him.  We are holding a mass of Christian burial for him today; he will receive a full military veterans sendoff.  This is the eulogy that I wrote for him and which will be delivered by my brother-in-law, Vincent LoBiondo, today at the church. All in all, I can't help thinking about how much my dad would have enjoyed this day!  "Julie, you really outdid yourself this time," I can just imagine him saying.  The grief is still raw but this I can  tell you: the Love goes on and on and on.

Go in peace, dear friends, and remember always to love fiercely, be slow to injure and quick to forgive.  If you're lucky enough to have families, give them all a big hug and always tell them how much you love them.  I don't regret one moment.  Spend time with all generations of your family.  My father spent a lifetime telling me and showing me how much he loved me.  And I spent my life til now doing the same.  The last words we said to each other were: I Love You.  Make sure you never lose a chance to tell someone you love them!  Sending you all lots of love, and my dad in Heaven is blowing you a kiss  💕 Mrs. Lo