01 February 2017

A Falling Out with Br. Vernon Mabile


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The Principal of the grade school was an American Brother whose name was Vernon Mabile. He was tall, bald, had gray-blue eyes and a disarming smile. That is, when he got up on the right side of the bed. He also had a bit of a temper.

One day when he presumably woke up on the wrong side of the bed, he was visibly getting annoyed that my classmate Adolfo Conti could not quite answer what to him must have seemed a simple enough question.

I think it was not so much a case of Jojo, as we all called my classmate, having a hard time thinking of the answer and more a straightforward case of being intimidated by this tall American who was visibly getting hotter under the collar with each passing moment.

When Brother finally lost his cool, he sent Jojo up to his office at the near end of the 500-wing to fetch the “paddle.” The paddle was in those days the Brothers’ tool for some corporal love, if you get my drift. You got this if you had more failing grades than the Brothers felt you ought to have or if you had been naughty and had accumulated too many file forms. These were what teachers used to log and report students’ disciplinary infractions.

We heard it from those who had been summoned to the office that the Brothers were considerate and always gave students the choice between the thin and the thick paddle. The first timers always went for the thin one; but the hardened offenders knew that the thicker paddle, while it made more noise, actually hurt less when their derrieres got whacked with it.

But back to Jojo who once inside the office wasn’t really sure if he had heard right what Brother had sent him there for. He looked around and couldn’t find anything that even distinctly looked like a paddle. But there, in the corner of a room, an empty bottle of Coke! Brother must have meant “bottle!”

So he rushed back to the room to give it to Brother, who was initially stunned but eventually too amused to continue being angry. Jojo got let off the hook that time!

I myself had my own falling out with Brother Vernon, but this was entirely my own doing. As I have already written, growing up I used to squat in front of the television set for hours on end watching American cartoon shows. As I grew older, and my English vocabulary became richer, I also started watching American primetime television shows.

Because I have always had an ear for languages, by the time I was in intermediate school – education parlance for Grades 5 and 6 – I spoke English fairly well. With an American accent if I cared to. It was because of this that I got selected to represent the school in the Little Olympics oratorical contest.

The Little Olympics was then an annual gathering of students from La Salle schools all over the country to compete against in other in sporting and cultural events.

Initially, I was excited to participate, honestly I was! In retrospect, however, perhaps I never should have gone. People who know me well know that, even to this day, I am a homebody of the utterly chronic sort. It was much worse when I was a boy.

My uncle Reynald Vasquez, who used to live with us inside the air base during the week but went home to Nasugbu each weekend, once made the mistake of taking me along. But I was so homesick that he had to cut short his weekend just to bring me back home.

I loved going to Nasugbu and interacting with my relatives there. The problem always was nighttime, when in the dark I could never get comfortable in a new room and most particularly on a strange bed. And these were already my own relatives who were hosting me, mind!

For the Little Olympics, which was being hosted by De La Salle College (later University) in Manila, delegates from participating schools were farmed out to live with the families of students of the host school. My parents arranged for me to live with Air Force friends whose children went to school at DLSC. It wasn’t that bad, or so I tried to console myself.

We arrived at the Taft campus in the morning, were quickly distributed among our so-called “foster parents” for the next few days and before long I was at the home of my host family. I didn’t even survive the afternoon. Just being in a strange new house with strange people totally depressed me. Before long, I was crying shamelessly and mumbling unintelligible things. My hosts were so alarmed that they called my parents up.

To make a long and shameful story short, because my Dad was at Nichols for the day and passed by to see how I was doing before driving back home, seeing as he did the distraught state that I was in, he decided to take me along back home with him. I guess before I made an utter fool of myself if I had not done so already.

Of course, this also meant not participating in the Little Olympics, for which I spent hours and hours practicing. This was fine! What wasn’t was the thought of seeing Brother Vernon the following week back in school. At least, for the rest of the weekend, I could totally forget him and just be happy that I was back home instead of living with strange people.

The following week, to say that the good Brother was upset was the understatement of the year. He was livid! I got the tongue-lashing that I totally deserved; and the only reason that I survived it was because I had had plenty of practice from my own mother.

And boy, the old Brother sure did know how to hold a grudge! The only times he spoke to me at all afterwards were during classes; and his tone was always curt. Outside the classroom, he ignored me for months even when I tentatively tried calling out to him. It must have been almost the end of the school year when he finally decided we were back on speaking terms.

The following school year, he moved to the La Salle school in Iligan. I was a boy, of course; and whilst I knew that the Little Olympics fiasco was entirely my fault, I couldn’t say that I was sorry to see him go.

Two years later in 1971, when I was already in high school, word spread that he had died in the United States of liver cancer. Some teachers conjectured that the cancer was probably caused by all the late nights he spent working, all the while drinking gallons upon gallons of coffee.

Turns out they were all wrong. From the official web site of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, I learned just recently that he had died of lung cancer instead at the age of 39. He had apparently volunteered to teach in Iligan, which at the time was something of a remote outback station. Although he was getting severe pains, he refused medical attention because he felt that “his boys needed him.”

Late in 1970, while on a purchasing trip in Manila, he was struck by such severe pains that he had to be taken to the hospital. The diagnosis was terminal cancer. After receiving treatment, he returned to Iligan to continue teaching. Early the following year, however, having gone to the United States for a checkup with American doctors, he passed away just four days after his 39th birthday.

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