Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Manuel Ibasco Guerrero and his wife, the former Maria Feja

Fa' amigu-mo i besinu-mo, sa' siña na hihot-ña i besino ke ni familiå-mo.

Make friends with your neighbor, because it may be that the neighbor is closer than your family.

When in a jam, we call on family.

But the wisdom of the older people reminded us that, if the house is on fire, and our nearest relative is two miles away, the neighbor takes precedence over family! Suppose we are away from the house when the fire breaks out? The neighbor can see the smoke quicker than our relative living two miles away.

As we are taking things out of the house to save them from burning, or as we are filling buckets of water to put out a small fire, the neighbor can lend a hand quicker than our relative two miles away.

Thus the saying : Make friends with your neighbors, for at times they are closer than the family.


Manuel Guerrero and his son Vicente, better known as Benny

It must have been the morning of March 9 or just a few days later in 1969. I was just about to turn 7 years old. It was unusual, if not entirely rare, for us to have a visitor at the crack of dawn. But that morning we did.

I remember waking up hearing an unusual voice, and my grandmother and aunties talking in an unusual way, much more than usual.

At the kitchen table was our neighbor, Manuel Guerrero. He was sitting at the head of the table, with his back to the kitchen door which lead across to his house. The sun was just peeking through the purple skies. One still needed the kitchen lights on to see. He had a cup of coffee in his hands which one of the older ladies served him. I am sure they offered him something to eat, but he wasn't eating and you'll understand why in a minute.

Tears were not flowing but his eyes were watery. He spoke gently, and to no one in particular, as if addressing all the three old ladies attending to him; my grandmother and her two spinster sisters. They were all speaking in Chamorro, so I didn't understand a word, but I knew that something bad must've happened, and he was at my house seeking comfort. And comfort was what the old ladies gave him.

I think I remember seeing one of the old ladies put her arms on his shoulders, while standing next to him seated at the table, but I could be wrong. I didn't understand their words, but the sympathy in their voices was undeniable, whatever the language. Eventually, he got up and went back home, but I think he felt a little better.

I was told soon after in English by either my grandma or her sister that his son Benny was just killed in Vietnam. He was only 19 years old.

Army records say that Benny was killed on March 8, 1969. Depending on what time of day that happened, Manuel Guerrero could have been informed as early as March 9 but maybe later. I don't know how he first heard, whether by phone call, telegram or home visit by someone in the military.

Manuel's wife, by the way, was already deceased, having passed away just the year before. So Manuel lost his wife and son within a year's time. They later named a street in Sinajaña after Benny, the street passing in front of Manuel's house and, oddly enough, over the lot that used to be our house.

Cpl Vicente (Benny) Feja Guerrero

The families in our neighborhood were friendly neighbors. All the kids on the same street played together and got in trouble together. Our neighbors would call on grandma or the aunties if we ever got hurt during games. Some of the older ladies in the neighborhood were closer to my grandma and aunties in that they visited more often or sent food over more often (and received as well). We were related to some of them, too. My grandma, who ran a post office, hired some of them and they drove my grandma, who couldn't drive. And am sure a lot more went on between my grandma and aunties and the neighbors than I, at that young age, could notice.

But this story of Manuel coming over to a house of old ladies for a cup of coffee and comfort when he found out his son was killed during military duty made an impression on me in many ways.

It certainly does illustrate the truth of the saying that our neighbors are sometimes able to help us more quickly than family because they live right next door to us, while relatives could be living farther away.

* Thanks to Manuel's daughter Annie for the pictures.

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