Monday, March 16, 2015


Thomas, Elizabeth and Mary Forbes

My Forbes ancestry comes from the County of Kilkenny in Ireland.

They lived in a place called the Railyard, in the neighborhood called Moneen Roe, in the village of Clogh, in the town of Castlecomer.

Thanks to Google maps, I can actually see the Forbes home in the map above, the first house on the N 78 road, to the left of the intersection of the N 78 and the road to Moneen Roe.

My folks worked in the coal mines. That part of Ireland was one of the few coal producing areas in the country. That's why it was called the Railyard, as the coal was sent off to Dublin by rail.

My Great Grandfather Thomas

Thomas, my great grandfather, worked in the coal mines of Castlecomer but also across the waters in the coal mines of Newcastle in England, for a time. My aunt in Ireland still has the thick leather knee pads he wore when he knelt inside the mines.

Thomas married Mary Crennan from a nearby village, Mayhora.

Their oldest daughter, Elizabeth, was recruited by nuns in Illinois to join their convent. She was the first to leave Ireland and move to the U.S.

Because vocations were still not enough in the U.S. in the early 1900s, sisters with Irish backgrounds often went back to Ireland to entice young Irish girls from big families with many children to join an American convent. My grandfather's sister Elizabeth was one such young girl. She joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria, Illinois and was given the religious name Sister Mary Berchmans.

Because of her, two of her brothers, including my grandfather, moved to Illinois. My grandfather was Patrick Forbes, who left Ireland, so it is said, before 1914, trying to escape the British who ruled all of Ireland at the time.

My grandfather was an Irish nationalist and member of the Irish Republican Army, the old one (not the modern one). When he was hunted down by the British, he and his brother Michael fled to the U.S.

Michael settled in Chicago and Patrick (Paddy) lived in Peoria. Paddy changed his name to Walter to sound less Irish. The Irish were looked down on in America back then.

My grand dad Patrick (Walter)

Forbes Home in the 1950s

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Me in the late 60s at Grandma's old house in Sinajaña

It seems to me that many times in my life. a significant event began with the words, "Wake up!" In those times, I didn't have a clue what I was waking up to.


One of the first was in 1970 when I was eight years old. We three brothers slept in the same room and pretty much the same bed, except that they were two beds pushed together against two walls. All I remember is that it was summer time, when we should have been able to sleep in late. But not that morning.

It was still dark when mom shook me out of bed. "Come on, let's go," she said. "Where to?" "Japan."

All I remember is washing up, but I don't remember packing. I guess she did all that.

It was my first time to ride a plane as well as leave the island. And yet I do not remember anything about the plane ride.

Three things stand out about my first trip off-island.

1. Our hotel. At this hotel, wherever it was (I don't remember), I rode my first escalator. Guam had none in 1970. I was eight and cute with my Marine haircut. The Japanese ladies at the hotel couldn't get enough of me, smiling and giggling and talking in Japanese and rubbing their palms on my bristly head. I remember we were high up, on the 20th floor or higher, and it was just myself and my brothers at the time in the room, when the building began to shake and then sway. It was over in seconds, thankfully. My brother was in the bath tub and told us how he saw the water form waves in the tub.

2. Tokyo Tower. Of all the places we went, this alone remains in my memory. To go up high and see a huge metropolis sprawled out before you in every direction, as far as the eye could see.

3. The Gun Shop. Japan has strict laws against firearms. But this one shop sold guns that were impossible to fire. My father was, and is, a weapons fanatic. My two older brothers were excited to get guns as well. Dad wanted to buy each of us one. I was not enthusiastic. Guns reminded me of gangsters and the mafia and I just didn't see myself carrying that persona. But dad got me one anyway, a small pistol. As I mentioned, these were tampered with so as to be impossible to load and fire.

I suppose I grew to like the idea of having it, because as soon as we returned to Guam, I was brandishing it to the neighborhood kids. I guess one of them was scared out of his wits and told his mama. His mama complained to my dad. My dad went right up to me when he heard what I did and picked me by the collar 3 feet off the floor, looked me straight in the eye and told me never to do that again. Then dad let me down on terra firma. Dad never laid a hand on me my entire life. He didn't need to. One look was all it took most times. This was the one and only time he needed to do more than that, and it worked. I never played with the pistol again, not even in private in my make-believe world in the jungle.


I don't remember a single lesson I heard in 2nd grade about religion or First Communion. Obviously I learn something! But I can't tell you specifically what I learned in which grade. It all became "one" after a while.

One morning, in December of 1969, mom again rustled me out of bed. "Let's go!" "Where?" "Today is your First Communion." "Oh," I thought.

I do remember being prepared for it by going to confession. This was at Saint Francis Church, since Saint Francis School was a parochial school and we students made our First Communions at the parish church.

Father Daniel Cristobal, OFM Cap, heard my first confession, in a deserted church. Only we students, a teacher or two and our parents were there. It seems the parents waited in the back of church or even outside. The large church seemed empty except for us. As soon as the child finished confession, she or he left for the day, vacating the church even more.

I will admit, with some humiliation, though my tender age must be a consideration, that I had no idea what sin to tell Father Daniel, hidden behind the screen. I was a good kid. Perhaps boring for being so. I didn't lie, curse, fight, steal or disobey. Well, it depends on your definition of "disobey." I never opposed a direct command, but I did take my licenses when I wasn't told explicitly not to do something. I was an inquisitive child so I was always opening drawers and lifting up curtains and things like that. I was never told not to do it and I was never stopped from doing it. By middle school I knew what sin was, and confession became a regular necessity, as it is now.

At the moment of receiving Our Lord for the very first time, in His Body, Soul and Divinity, I will disappoint you with the total absence of anything pious or even remotely religious in my experience. I was immediately conscious of the way the Host stuck to the roof of my mouth. I had this vague sense that I should not touch It with my finger to remove It in order to swallow It, but I was so tempted to! Time dissolved It and that was that. I knelt upon returning to my place, but it was not by any means the momentous occasion which we read about in the lives of some child saints. I mean, it truly was extraordinary (objectively), but I did not sense anything out of the ordinary.


Once again, I was told to "wake up," and I didn't know for what purpose until I was told to dress in brown pants and a white shirt and get in the car.

This was in August (I suppose) of 1968. My older brother Carl was four years older than me and still at Saint Francis, while my oldest brother Mark was now at a different school, Father Dueñas.

When dad dropped us off in his car in front of the school (or church), Carl took me by the hand and walked me down the long hallway to my classroom. The walked seemed like an eternity and there were kids all over the place, something I was not used to.

Carl stopped in front of Sister Mona Therese, who seemed to tower over me as she stood in the hallway in front of her classroom. Carl said something like, "This is my brother," did an about-face and left. Sister looked at me from head to foot, with a poker face, as if examining a new specimen. I had no idea what to do or what to say. Everything was new, different and mildly disorienting. I imagine she saw nothing horribly wrong after inspecting me, as she motioned me to go inside the classroom where I had to sit with 30 or so children who were perfect strangers to me. I was from another village. A village that sent only a dozen or so students to a school hosting hundreds and hundreds of children.

By the time I started school in 1968, this is what the Sisters were wearing (above), except that on Guam everything was white. The Sisters gleamed in the bright, tropical sun.

I survived that first day of school. Saint Francis, in time, became like a second home to me. I went there for six years so I became very comfy in its surroundings. One final memory.  After lunch, Sister Mona Therese told all of us to put our heads down on the desk and nap. Soothing music was piped into the classroom from the speaker above Sister's chalk board. I remember not being sleepy at all and finding it odd that we were told to sleep when (some of us) weren't sleepy. So I daydreamed about Sister Mona Therese being another mother to me. She was very pretty. So was my mom.


In writing this, it appears to me that, at the end of life, I will again be stirred from sleep and not realize, maybe, right away why I am being called. That is, until I see the judgement seat of God. May He have mercy on me on that, perhaps, unexpected day that catches me, once again, clueless.