Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Not once did I ever have a conversation with her in English.  Not even a few words.

And she spoke with the tonåda, or sing-song accent, which, I believe, was the way all Chamorros, our ancestors, spoke before contact with the West. Just my hunch.

Ana Aguon Santiago Quinata was my parishioner at San Dionisio Church in Humåtak, and when I say, MY parishioner, I mean it.  There were nights when it was only me, her and a stray dog at Mass. Other times, she'd bring one or more of her granddaughters. But many times, it was just Tan Ana and me at Mass.

Being pastor of Humåtak in those days (1990s) meant living in Malesso' and driving to Humåtak on Tuesday and Wednesday nights for Mass.  Besides Sunday, those were the only other days Mass was said at Humåtak, weddings and funerals excepted of course.

She would walk to church by herself, but I always drove her back to her home after Mass in the parish van.  The ride lasted less than a minute, but we would talk and I would catch a few phrases or words here and there to improve my Chamorro.

She used the word åmko' in two ways, besides the usual meaning "old person."  She referred to the priest as "i amko'" (the "old man") even if the priest was 28 (as I was) and she referred to God as "i amko'" as well.  For sure, God is eternal and doesn't age, but from the human standpoint the Creator was there long before us and this world's been around a long time.

Tan Ana was married to the late Jose Topasña Quinata (seen on the far right).  Jose was better-known-as JT but among the older villagers he was known as "Josen Dende'."  Tan Ana, thus, was also known as "Tan Anan Dende'," or as "Tan Anan JT."

JT was always fun to be with.  He liked to tell stories and have a laugh.  He told me about being hired by the Americans right after the invasion to look for Japanese stragglers and how one of them got him in the arm.  He used to open and close his fist, moving the muscles of his arm to show where the bullet entered.  As he flexed, you could see a depression in his arm appear and disappear. That's all that Japanese fugitive was able to do to JT, but I think the man was proud of that wound.

His house was right next to the famous bridge with the four towers, and he told me the government had not properly paid him for the land where one of the towers sat.  So, he told me, in Chamorro, "One of those towers is mine!"   Again, we'd have a good laugh.

JT was not shy.  If I was preaching and got somewhat enthusiastic, he would say out loud, "Sångan, Påle'!"  ("Say it, Father!")  And, during the announcements after communion, when I was reminding the parishioners about the upcoming fiesta, he said out loud, "I'll bring one pig!"

Tan Ana, however, was old-school and would pinch his arm and nudge him to keep silent, looking at me to make sure I wasn't angry.  I never was!

Tan Ana was the daughter of Tan Eduviges Aguon Santiago, seen here in the middle of this photo.  I can only imagine how good and deep her Chamorro was, with a genuine tonåda accent.

Even when I had left Humåtak and was assigned to Saipan, Tan Ana heard that I was coming down to Guam one March for my birthday.  Unfortunately, I had eaten some old crab salad the night I left Saipan to fly to Guam.  The next morning I was down with a mild case of food poisoning, with a severe head ache and dry heaves.  I couldn't hold anything down.  I was supposed to go down to Malesso' and Humåtak to say Mass there, but had to tell Påle' Jose I just couldn't do it.

But Tan Ana had made me either a cake or a dish, I don't remember.  So she got someone in the family to drive her from Humåtak all the way to Sinajaña, to my mom and dad's house where I was sick in bed, to give me the dish and to talk to me a little.  I made a very poor conversation partner, as I was so sick.

But I will never forget her thoughtfulness driving all the way up to give me that food.  Nor our conversations, nor her accent, and most especially the way she went to Mass every single time we had Mass, even when no one else was there.  A truly devout Catholic with a sweet, maternal personality.

Tan Ana where she liked to be, in church.

Tan Ana's house was always, traditionally, one of the stations (or Lånchon Kotpus) for the Corpus Christi procession every year.

Man sen deboto na mangilisyåno i familian Jose yan Anan Dende'.

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