The story of Gramps

When I was in first grade, my grandfather Querico died of stomach cancer.

I used to just plainly call him ‘lolo’, a Filipino term referring to grandfather. He was my mother’s dad who wore a lot of pomade and drank gallons of tuba, a local sugarcane wine that tasted like rotten vinegar. He would always call me or any of his grandchildren to buy him a gallon of his favourite booze.

Hijo. Bene aqui (Come over here),” lolo would call out from his room.

Ay, tu huga yo (But I’m busy playing),” I’d complain.

Bene ya. Compra comigo tuba alla canda Mila (Come now, get me some tuba from Mila’s),” he’d insist.

Dale daw tu sen comigo? (Will you be giving me some extra change?)” I wouldn’t be bothered from my game unless I was bribed.

Si (yes).” That usually meant something around fifty-centavos, which in those ancient times could already buy me some candies and cheese curls. When I was a kid, all bags of chips were called ‘cheese curls’ regardless of the flavour.

Lolo was actively involved in World War II in that he drove herds of American ass around the city. His wife, Anastasia, had long been dead. I don’t know a lot about my grandmother because she died when my mom was about six. According to my mom, my grandmother was a gentle soul who died of high blood pressure and repressed emotions. One day, she was wrongfully accused of spreading chismis (rumor) by some cheap women who had nothing better to do, the next day these same women hurled a bucketful of water over my grandmother’s head while she was silently doing her laundry by hand in her backyard. She said nothing, my grandmother, and just went about her own business, meekly retreating to her home when she was done. In the middle of the night, however, she was overcome by distress and her blood pressure shot up to a critical level. She never made it to the hospital. My mom would recall this story with tears in her eyes. This was all I knew about my grandmother.

When the war was over, lolo made a living out of being a tricycle driver. It was always a treat, my mom would tell me, when he came home and brought some hot steamy pan de sal (salted bread) or pancit(noodles) for his four children. When my mom recounts this so lovingly, I’d almost smell the hot buns alongside a nice warm cup of Milo.

My mom and my aunts suspect that my lolo actually came from a well to do clan because after he died, they started getting word about some estate that was left for him by deceased relatives. After some digging, they learned there were indeed some inheritance to his name, and that he may have some more but the legal papers could not be found except to some few hectares of land in Cebu. My mom and my aunts settled for this and built a small plantation of mango trees in this land, the fruit of which we have yet to benefit from. Who was my lolo and why did he not bother to tell his children about this inheritance? Why all the secrecy?

That led me to some theories of forbidden love not unlike those seen in soap operas on primetime television. My lolo could have been a rich boy who got tired of the simple life and got smitten by a girl named Anastasia. But Anastasia was poor and lolo’s parents decided she did not make a good poster daughter-in-law, so they threatened my grandpa they’d cut off his inheritance if he continued seeing that girl. But my grandfather had his eyes only for Anastasia, and, in true Mexican soap fashion, he stared afar, made a fist in the air and professed his undying love for his girl, “Kunin nyo na ang lahat sa akin, pero hindi nyo makukuha ang pagmamahal ko kay Anastasia! (Get everything you want from me, but never my love for Anastasia!)” Then he storms off, never looking back at the place he once called home. During the war, he decides to make a difference in the world by helping his fellow Filipinos and the Americans win the war against the Japs.

Aside from the pomade and the tuba, there is nothing else that I remember about my grandfather except for the subscription to some US magazine that arrived in our doorstep following his death. Apparently, that was all he got as a war veteran. He was probably entitled to some pension fund from the US government, but since his children never fought for it, he risked his life in World War II and all he got were those lousy magazines.

When lolo started getting sick, my mom wouldn’t let any of her kids get near him, fearing we might catch his disease. It wasn’t totally right of her to do that, seeing that my lolo needed everyone even more for support, but I understood my mom’s intentions. Since then, there were no more trips to Mila’s store, no more fifty-centavo bribes.

One day I woke up and the house was dead silent. Nobody was saying anything, and my mom and her spinster sisters all looked like they haven’t slept a wink. What the bugger was wrong, I asked Jean, my sister who is two years older than me. She didn’t know either, and my dad wasn’t around for further investigation. My dad was a career soldier and was usually not home often.

Then my mom called all of her children to a circle and dropped the news that our lolo was dead, so we be good children or he will return from the dead and eat us alive.

My siblings and I started carrying flashlights after that grim announcement, fearful that lolo would make an appearance, with tuba in his hand.

The burial service was held in my school chapel, and it was followed by a procession to the burial ground a few blocks away from the chapel. It was exhausting to walk under the scorching sun during the procession and I couldn’t understand why my brother was given special treatment being inside the limousine, sitting pretty with my mom.

Although at that age I already had some understanding of the concept of death, I remember not feeling too wretched so as to hurl myself into the coffin - which was what my aunt Leonor did. She wailed loudly, and I felt sorry for her and my mom and her two other sisters who held each other while weeping copiously. I, on the other hand, stood in the corner well composed, wolfing down a piece of sandwich that was given out for everyone.

However, seeing that I’d look out of place and insensitive if I just stood there like that, I started gathering some unhappy thoughts to induce myself to cry. After a few mental pictures of my mom and dad whipping me with a rib of walis tingting (broomstick), my eyes started welling up and I felt like I blended more appropriately into the crowd.

And I was just seven.

Sunday Apr 22 12am   | Comments

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