By Manny Crisostomo
Lita Salas Baylon’s journey from Guam to Killeen, Texas, began when she got up one morning and started speaking to the spirit of her deceased mother.
“I sat on my bed and I said, ‘Oh mom, what am I going to do? I’m tired, I want to quit work and just want to get away from it all,’” she said.
“And I kid you not my mom, I heard her. She said to me, ‘Håga esta un chagi todu, yan man dangkulo famagu’on mu’ (My daughter you have tried everything and your children are all grown up). That’s what my mom told me that it’s OK because I’ve tried everything.”
Her personal séance with her mother, who passed away in 2013 at age 96, changed her life.
“All I know is that I wanted more in my life,” the 61-year-old former Mangilao resident said. “It got to a point where, OK, my kids are grown, and now I need to take care of myself. I need to do stuff for myself. I wasn’t happy.”
She got a divorce in 2017 from her husband of 36 years with the acknowledgement and acceptance of her six kids. “My kids they all say they’re happy that I’m happy and that’s all I asked of them,” she said.
That same year, after 36 years of working at the Superior Court of Guam, she retired as chief court reporter, a job she loved.
A few months before her retirement she got a message on her professional Linkedin account from Ernest Mesa Baylon, formerly of Mongmong.
“It had been 38 years since I heard or got any inkling that this dude was alive,” she said. “We just started communicating and realized that there was still that connection. He was my high school sweetheart.”
They knew each other at George Washington High School, where he was a year older. After graduation he joined the army and left the island.
“The story is he dropped me home after a date and he never came back and I never heard from him since then,” she recalled.
“And you know why? Because he was driving a sporty (Pontiac) Trans Am and my road to our house was all kaskahu (gravel). So it (gravel) was hitting the bottom of this beloved car and always telling him that you stop checking me out because you didn’t want to drive your Trans Am into my gravel road. And yet, here we are and we laugh about it.”
He invited her to visit him in South Carolina. “When I finally saw him he spoke CHamoru, I was flabbergasted, because I was like, ‘Oh, my God, you still know how to speak CHamoru after all those years and you never returned to Guam,’’’ she said.
Traveling the world
In 2019 after nearly four decades apart, she married her high school sweetheart and they moved to central Texas. They are both retired and wanted to spend their retirement years traveling.
“I’ve always wanted to experience and see the world. I always wanted to travel,” she said. “We’re both on a fixed income and I remember telling him, ‘I don’t want to use all our money to pay for a mortgage and then we can’t go anywhere.’”
They picked Killeen, Texas, for its modest cost of living and “it’s right smack in the middle, we can go east, we can go north, we can go west and we go visit, we go travel and it’s nice,” she said. “Every month, we try to go somewhere we drive, we take a road trip, or we fly.”
And since Ernest Baylon is retired military, they used to take military space available or military hops before the privilege was suspended due to the pandemic.
“We are waiting for military flights to start up so we can catch a hop to Guam,” she said.
‘All for one’
Lita Salas Baylon is the youngest of seven born to Tomasa Guerrero Cruz Salas, familian Pedan, from Mangilao and Joaquin Leon Guerrero Salas, familian Chunge’, of Mangilao.
“All I know is that I grew up with families whose hearts are full all the time when we get together. My cousins are my brothers and my sisters. That’s all from our parents — all for one and one for all,” she said.
“I think of my mom and pop, and the struggles they had and how they raised us. We weren’t a rich family, but my mom always said, ‘Man géfsaga na familia’ because of the guinaiya that we have for each other, the love we have for each other that’s our riches. That’s the richness that I grew up with. I love how I was raised.”
Last summer she went back home for a whole month. She brought her new husband and introduced him to the Pedan and Chunge’ clans.
She also spent a lot of time with her children and grandchildren. “My heart was full because I was back on Guam and memories were flooding back,” she said.
‘Family is everything’
“It was bittersweet to leave because I’m leaving my kids again. But, I think I did well with them and instilled in them family values,” she said.
“Family is everything and it takes all of us to make good on what our sainas taught us. My mom’s last dying words (were) ‘Inafa maolek famagu’on hu’.”
“I’m in a good place, but I’m missing my kids terribly,” she said. “My voice is cracking, but I’m happy.”
Back in Killeen this past holiday season, Lita Salas Baylon eagerly set up her bilen with a 75-year-old niño that her mother entrusted to her.
During her recent visit to Guam, she packed the niño, the three kings and her entire bilen ensemble carefully between all her clothes in her luggage.
Gift from monsignor
The 8-inch niño in a ceramic cradle was given to her mother in 1946 by Pale Scot’ — Monsignor Oscar Lujan Calvo.
“The same niño that my mom and my whole family grew up saying the nobena for all those years,” she said of the devotional prayers called Nobena Niño. “My mom gave it to me and told me ‘Lita, hagu un konne’ i niño’.’ And since 1987 I have had the nobena niño in my (Guam) house.”
The niño is now in Texas where she can continue the promesa — a sacred commitment passed down from one generation to the next.
“I do the niño Jesus nobena from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day. That’s always been my mom’s Nobena Niño and then she gave it to me and that’s my promesa. That’s the promesa I have, to perpetuate mom’s nobena for the niño Jesus.”
That niño is just one of the many gifts her mother has given her in life and in death.