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Little Darlin’

September 26, 2011

Music is a constant part of our modern lives. The radio is on in the car or the kitchen. Records, then tapes, CDs, and now MP3s are played everywhere. Even elevators and shopping malls contribute to the perpetual immersion. In this backdrop of music, certain songs tend to become connected to events in our  lives, embedded forever as part of our personal history in our brains. That song which brings back the summer when you first met him or her. The one when you broke up, the one from your  wedding. The one that makes you think of a special time or place in your life.

Little Darlin,’ the door-wop song made famous by the Diamonds in 1957, is one of those songs for me. I heard it while visiting a friend’s shore house this past weekend. Immediately my thoughts traveled back to that night in Catanduanes.

Catanduanes?

the bustling isle of Catanduanes

Yes, Catanduanes. Catanduanes is one of the thousands of islands that make up the Philippines, this particular one located in relative isolation off the bottom tip of Luzon. It has two claims to fame. The first is its small rocky guardian islands honeycombed with caves in the volcanic rock, reputedly providing hiding places for pirates in years gone by. The other is that it’s smack in the path of fierce typhoons that sweep up through the Pacific. But for me its unique distinction was being the unlikely site of a reunion with a revered college friend.

John Dumm was two years ahead of me at Seton Hall and a member of a small group of intelligentsia in my dorm whom I admired and came to know. After John graduated, he joined the Peace Corps. He was stationed on the other side of the world in the Philippines. We communicated a few times by mail while I was still in school.

As fate would have it, when I graduated and pursued my own Peace Corps dream, I was assigned to the Philippines as well. Despite the incredible coincidence (the Peace Corps was in 59 countries at the time), it seemed rather far-fetched to imagine our paths would cross there. I wasn’t even sure anymore exactly where in the country he currently was located.

As part of our initial in-country training, the new volunteers were sent out in small groups to visit an experienced volunteer to garner some insights into our new lives in the tropics.

“You’re going to ferry over to Catanduanes,” said our Provincial Director. “There’s a volunteer there who has been working on designing typhoon-proof schools, and I think you’ll learn a lot from him. His name’s John Dumm.”

Eureka! What were the chances!

PCV Sharon and fellow ferry passenger

John only knew that five of us newcomers were on our way, so when he saw me walking down the ramp from the ferry amidst the baskets of fruit and squawking chickens, surprise was the order of the day. After introductions to the other new volunteers, we spent time catching up over lunch in Virac, the port at which we landed.

Since John lived in a small house in the countryside, it had been arranged for us to stay in a hotel  in Virac, the capital of the province. Now, Virac is not exactly a cosmopolitan haven for nightlife. As a matter of fact, there was none, not the ideal place for a group of twenty-one year olds in search of a good time after an arduous  journey. But wait, you say, weren’t you in a hotel? Wasn’t this a capital city? Well, yes and yes, but in a backwater area of a third world country, so the reality didn’t quite live up to the terminology.

Therefore, we found ourselves on the verandah of the “hotel” with several chairs, a few bare light bulbs (having electricity at all was the one luxury afforded us), and, luckily, a large supply of San Miguel beer. There was also a record player with, for some unknown reason, only one record, an old American 45 RPM single. It happened to be an old favorite of mine from the 50’s, “Little Darling.”

As the night wore on and the San Miguel bottles emptied, “Little Darling” played on, over and over and over again. It was at first a bad joke, but as the hours marched on, it became a soundtrack to this surreal tropical night. By the time the refreshments had been exhausted and we stumbled to our beds, the song had woven itself into our psyches as though it were a thread in our very being.

So if you see me at a lounge or at a party with a faraway glazed look in my eyes and a strange bemused smirk and you hear, “Eye, yi-eye-eye-eye, Yi-eye-eye-eye, Ya-ya-ya-ahh, Little darlin’ (bop-bop-bop shoo-wah-wah), oh, little darlin’ (bop-bop-bop shoo-wah-wah), Oh-oh-oh where a-are you?” it is probably best just to leave me alone for a while. And maybe go get me a bottle of San Miguel.

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