Friday, December 23, 2011

The Best Christmas Gift that I have ever Received

Dave and Macrine Katague, Christmas, 2011
It is not too early to talk about Christmas—it cannot be far behind when Thanksgiving is just around the corner. The nights and early morning are getting colder here in Northern California. Most of the trees in the surrounding areas are starting to turn dark yellow, orange, red and gold. Most of the trees are partially without leaves ready for their winter hibernation. With the autumn season in full swing, I cannot help but envision the joys, festivities and gift-giving during this coming Christmas holidays.

Regarding gift giving, I cannot think of any article in the past that I have written, that is more appropriate and relevant to the spirit Christmas than this article I wrote for the employee's newspaper at Stauffer Chemicals, Richmond, California in 1983. I titled it "A Gift from the Ugly Americans-The Best Christmas Gift that I have ever received".

Here's an excerpt from my article as published in the Stauffer News, Christmas Edition, Vol.14 1983, page 11.

December, 1960. It was my first year as a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Chicago. As a foreign student from the Philippines, away from home, wife and family, I was lonely, homesick and almost ready to quit school. However, my burning ambition to get a doctorate degree in Chemistry and not to be labeled a quitter, gave me an incentive to hang on for another year.

All my co-graduate student assistants realized how much I missed my newly wedded wife. They had been inviting me to their parent's homes on weekend and holidays. I wrote to my wife almost every week, but how I wished I could afford to talk to her via overseas call, even just for 10 minutes. My stipend as a graduate assistant of $190 a month was barely enough to pay for my room and board and an overseas call was beyond my means.

Realizing my need, ten of my classmates arranged to pay for a call as a surprise Christmas gift. They organized a potluck party in one of the assistant's apartment and called the Philippine operator ahead to arrange for an open line to my wife. In the middle of the party, I was told I had a telephone call. What a big surprise to hear my wife's voice after one year of separation. I was dumbfounded.

I stuttered like a three year old kid as tears streamed down my face—tears of happiness and appreciation for what the group had done—the best Christmas present I have ever received. I will never forget that act of kindness and thoughtfulness from people I once called the "Ugly Americans"*. With that surprise gift, my preconceived ideas that most Americans were clones of Lederer and Burdick's characters (in the 1958 novel, the Ugly Americans*) went down the drain. Gone were my impressions that Americans were imperialists or colonial pigs, selfish and heartless people.

My family have now lived in this country for 51 years, and pledged American citizenship in 1972. From the year of my first job in the US (1965) until my retirement from FDA (2002), we have made it a family tradition to invite foreign students and visitors into our home every Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

This was our way of saying "thank you", to the ten "Beautiful Americans" who gave $2.00 each to pay for the telephone call so that a poor, heartsick and homesick graduate student from the Philippines could enjoy the spirit of Christmas.

*The Ugly American is the title of a 1958 political novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. The novel became a bestseller, was influential at the time, and is still in print. After the book had gained wide readership, the term "Ugly Americans" came to be used to refer to the "loud and ostentatious" type of visitors in another country, rather than the "plain looking folks, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty like Homer Atkins" to whom the book itself referred"(source Wikipedia).

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