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By Jeffrey Lee Hollis

Photo of Emelda in rice field Emelda Brillo Garcines was born on May 12th, 1976. She was delivered by a traditional Filipino midwife in a house in a barangay of Ozamiz City called Bitoon. (For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term 'barangay,' it describes a portion of a city or town. An American equivalent would be Brooklyn. It is a smaller portion of the city of New York. Hollywood is a smaller portion of Los Angeles. Another word for barangay is 'barrio.')

What is life without the radiance of love?
(Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller - "Wallensteins Tod")

Emelda became the third child of Alipio (a dock worker and rice farmer) and Eufemia Garcines (a devoted housewife). Emelda has an 'Ate' (pronounced AH-TEY and meaning 'older sister') named Arlene, a 'Kuya' (meaning 'older brother') named Alex and a younger brother named Ernie. Of the siblings, Arlene was married first, a few years ago. Sadly, her husband turned out to be an irresponsible man, so their marriage was ended. Happily, their union produced a child. Emelda suggested the name 'Mark' for her new nephew and Arlene thought it sounded great.

Mark is approaching his third birthday and loves to sing "Paint My Love" by the rock group 'Michael Learns To Rock' (a Danish band that is quite popular in The Philippines). Ernie was the second sibling to marry earlier this year. He and his wife are expecting their first child soon. Emelda was the third child to marry. I was fortunate enough to meet older brother Alex's girlfriend while Emelda and I were on our honeymoon. She's very beautiful and quite sweet. I would venture a guess that Alex will pop the big question soon.

Give all to love; Obey thy heart;
(Ralph Waldo Emerson - "Poems")

Photo of Emelda in her bedroomDuring Emelda's childhood, her family moved to the barangay next to Bitoon called Bangkal. Bangkal is populated by dozens of Emelda's relatives. Her 'titas' and 'titos' ('aunts' and 'uncles') and their families are close by. Her 'lolos' and 'lolas' ('grandfathers' and 'grandmothers') are also near.

In The Philippines, much respect is given to elders, so Emelda's parents were only too happy to be closer to them by moving to Bangkal those many years ago.

I was fortunate enough to meet and enjoy the company of Emelda's relatives when I stayed in Bangkal at Emelda's family home. The warmth prevalent there is truly astonishing. Americans could learn a lot from Filipinos when it comes to family ties. I strive to be more like them every day.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother,
and shall cleave unto his wife:
and they shall be one flesh.
(Genesis 2:24)

Love and marriage are very important in The Philippines. Love songs dominate the radio stations. Romantic movies are very popular. Romance is alive and well there. A young lady is expected to be married by her mid-twenties. As Emelda grew into a woman in Ozamiz, she did what most Filipinas do. She went to school, did numerous chores around her house, entered a few beauty pageants and went to church almost every Sunday (she's Roman Catholic). She also dreamed of finding a good man to marry one day. During high school, Emelda caught her first case of puppy love. Being a painfully-shy Filipina, the relationship never really flourished, but she experienced her first kiss and got a taste of what love can do to a person’s heart. After that, her quest for true love began.

Love is and was my lord and king.
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson - "In Memoriam")

While attending Misamis University in Ozamiz (which is in the Misamis Occidental province on The Philippines’ second largest island called Mindanao) as an Education major, romantic opportunities were not in abundance and much of her time was spent concentrating on her schoolwork. Her shyness did not help her find a man either. For some reason, no suitors came calling. I have to assume that God was doing some divine intervention on my behalf here because Emelda’s striking beauty would seem to attract hordes of men! (I thank him daily for bringing us together and for apparently blinding the men of Ozamiz.) Having heard many stories of women who had found love through correspondence services, Emelda joined Sunshine International, a pen pal club that brings couples together across thousands of miles. In one of the company’s brochures, she saw several ads from men in various countries seeking the kind of woman they were not finding in their own backyard. She sent letters to four of the men in the publication. One of those men was me.

Words like winter snowflakes.
(Homer - "The Iliad")

Photo of Emelda in downtown OzamizHaving found Sunshine International in a moment of frustrated despair myself, I had joined the club due to the same problem that faced Emelda: I yearned for a true passionate love, but none seemed to be forthcoming in my life. I received about 100 letters, but I tossed them away until Emelda’s first letter came. Of the four men Emelda wrote to, I was the only one to respond.

Of the 100 or so letters I received, Emelda's was the only one that sparked a romantic fire inside of me. I wrote back to her immediately and our love story began. (I have written about this love story and it can be read elsewhere on this website.) Emelda was excited to receive my first letter. She wrote back to me and sent more pictures of herself. Our letters touched each other’s hearts and true love began filling our souls as the months rolled by and we wrote feverishly to each other, pursuing the elusive dream of a love that would last for an eternity.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:

(Lord Byron - "Hebrew Melodies")

When I first saw Emelda, my heart started beating a mile a minute. In fact, I’m not sure if my heart ever beat before October sixth of 1996. As I exited the terminal at Ozamiz Airport, she greeted me in her best pink dress. I had seen her beauty in the many photographs she had sent me in the previous eleven months, but nothing could prepare me for the beauty she possessed in person. She glowed like a star on a clear night. I was transfixed by her stunning visage and her warm spirit. As we rode to her barangay down the rough road in the rickety truck, I was almost speechless. I couldn’t believe that God had brought us together and that she was so wonderful. I hoped that she wouldn’t find me to be an ugly bore and that I wouldn’t do something to ruin what had begun. It was one of the most memorable days of my life.

If a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her.
(First Corinthians 11:15)

Photo of Emelda in the jungleI have never known a woman who possesses the grace of my beautiful wife. Her long black hair is like a glorious mane on a regal tigress. Her eyes are swimming pools in which I’d gladly drown. Her nose invites a kiss whenever it is close by. Her lips are sumptuously irresistible gifts from which her soft voice soothes my every nerve. Her body is perfection.

I have never before felt the passion that dwells in me when she is in my arms. When I gaze upon her, I know beyond all doubt that there is a God. Why he has seen fit to grace me with a bride like Emelda is beyond my comprehension. The great gift of love he has bestowed upon me only makes me want to serve him more.

I am forever in his debt for bring me a love that has surpassed my wildest dreams. She is an angel straight from heaven and it is my duty to serve her for eternity. I only hope that I can bring her as much joy as she has brought me.

But true love is a durable fire,
In the mind ever burning,
Never sick, never old, never dead,
From itself never turning.
(Sir Walter Raleigh - "As You Came From The Holy Land")

Until Emelda and I are reunited again, I will continue to dream of her precious laugh and her soft touch and I will strive to prepare a proper home for her here in America. My career used to be my number one priority. While it is still quite important to me, my career runs a distant second to the woman I love. Beyond her physical beauty; her generosity of spirit, her wit and her intelligence (she speaks three languages) she has helped me discover what I feared was lost in the world: true love. She and I share something truly remarkable in a world where hatred and violence sometimes rule the day and I will not betray the greatest gift I have ever been given. I am devoted to Emelda for now and always. Every fiber of my being is in orbit around her soul.

The End

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