“Ang mga hapon! Ang mga hapon!!”
That was the cry everyone waited for, a cry no one wanted to hear, but learned to always be ready to hear just the same.
On a no longer remembered date, when my dad heard someone scream those words for the last time, was the day my dad’s siblings first ate chocolate.
This was 1945, in Pangasinan. The man who screamed those words, panicked, was running down the street. Most of the fighting they had witnessed were skirmishes between small Japanese platoons and the Huks. Though most of the action happened out in the fields or in more forested areas, as is characteristic of guerrilla warfare, the hacienda and town were used to men, either Japanese or Filipino Huk, raiding their houses for food, clothing, and—in the case of the hacienderos’ homes—guns.
Not ten minutes after the first man ran down the street, warning everyone that the Japanese were coming yet again, another man came running.
“Hindi! Hindi! Mga Amerikano!” yelled the second man.
At that, everyone stopped. Mga Amerikano meant the exact opposite of the first cry. It meant the end. It meant freedom. It meant peace.
My dad remembers how his mother, who had been in the process of ushering her children into the house, presumably to lock them up and hide them along with the women, turned around to watch the first US ARMY Jeep come over the hill. He remembers the jeep stopping right in front of his mother. He remembers he was standing next to her.
“Good afternoon, ma’am,” said the soldier, who was making no effort to hide his surprise at finding an obviously European woman with five blonde children in the middle of Central Luzon. His mother, ever the gracious daughter of an ambassador, welcomed them. Spanish-American histories, trans-Pacific journeys, and bloodlines could be explained later.
“Are we happy to see you boys!” she said. “How would you like to come in and have some coffee?”
“We would love some!” the soldier responded.
The rest of the jeeps were slowly making stops behind the first and many more men started to climb out. At the sight of all these men, the family cook, who had come out of the house at some point, told my grandmother, “Señora, wala na po tayong kape.”
“I… It seems we’ve run out of coffee,” my grandmother told the solider, embarrassed.
“Well, that’s okay, ma’am!” said the soldier, laughing. “If you have hot water, we have coffee!”
“Yes,” said my grandmother. “We have that.”
While she gave the cook instructions, one of the soldiers went up to my father, knelt down to talk to him. My father doesn’t remember the exact niceties exchanged, but he remembers the soldier handing him a small shiny bar. My father looked at his mother.
“Take it,” she said. “It’s chocolate. You like chocolate.”
There was a word he hadn’t heard in a while. He couldn’t remember the last time he had chocolate! My father stared at the shiny bar as the soldier opened the package for him, revealing the rich brown color. It really was chocolate!
He took the bar and greedily took a bite. “Yuck. It's disgusting” was the first thought to enter my my father's head.
He was young, but his memory of chocolate was definitely not that. His mother was Belgian-German and she took her chocolate seriously. Chocolate is supposed to be sweet and just a bit bitter. This… this tasted like medicine!
He chewed, swallowed, and thanked the soldier anyway. He could throw it away later.
(It wasn’t until much later, as an adult, did he learn that the chocolate supplied to American troops were fortified with vitamins, which was why it didn’t taste quite the way it should have.)
Then he turned to see his siblings gobbling up their own bars. They had wide smiles, brown-stained teeth, and dirty fingers, the chocolate already melting in the Philippine heat. They all looked so happy, and the soldiers who had given them their bars looked happy too. He looked down at his bar again, doubtful.
“Everything okay?” his mother was next to him again.
He handed her the bar and whispered in French, the language they used with her, “It’s not good.”
She took it from him and had a small bite. “Yes,” she replied. “It isn’t.”
He looked at his siblings again, all of them still smiling and happy and licking their fingers. Then he looked at his mother questioningly. She laughed. “You are the oldest, so you are the only one who remembers,” she said. “But they never had it before. This is the first time they’ve ever had chocolate.”