Yesterday, the entire family spent the whole afternoon at the cemetery. We enjoyed a delicious merienda of tuna pesto pasta and garlic bread. We pitched a tent and laid out a mat. Our reliable folding table was the site of an intense card game. Sprawled on the mat with the newest member of our family, a 3-month old baby boy, the rest of us who were uninterested to part with our coins shared recycled stories and jokes.
Even if we’ve told and heard most of the stories and jokes a couple of times, we still laughed as if we’re hearing them for the first time. I tried reading a sci-fi book a friend lent me in between laughs and much later, I helped my aunt organize the apps on her tablet. It was a relaxing time spent with people I love, a perfect day at the cemetery. It didn’t rain and though it was humid it wasn’t the kind of heat a small rechargeable fan couldn’t handle. It has been tradition to visit the family plot at the Himlayang Pilipino a few days before All Saint’s Day. In doing so, we save ourselves the trouble of dealing with traffic, the mad rush of other picnickers and the long lines at the lone public toilet.
I have very early memories of visiting our grandfather’s grave during his birthday, death anniversary and All Saint’s Day. My grandfather died when my mom was still a little girl so I never got to meet him. But because of family tradition of praying the rosary for the repose of his soul and visiting his grave during his important dates, it somehow created a relationship between him and I even if we didn’t actually meet.
Because my Lolo’s death came long before I was born I never had to deal with a death of anybody so close to me until 2006 when my uncle Alex died at the age of 40 a few days shy of his return to the Philippines from the US. And just last year, we buried our grandmother next to our grandpa.
No day ever passes without thoughts about my grandma and uncle crossing my mind. While on a jeepney or washing the dishes I get flashes of memories I shared with them. I remember watching Van Damme or Seagal action movies with my grandma. I remember learning how to use Yahoo Messenger for the first time in my Uncle’s computer shop named ‘SmartAleck.’ These scenes from memory become more vivid as the day winds down and my mind starts to become still right before sleeping.
It is hard not to think of my Lola because I sleep in a small sofa we call a divan that used to be in my grandma’s room. This very divan was where as children, my sister and I were both forced to sleep on afternoons. Two of my older cousins before me were also forced by my grandma to take the obligatory siesta.
My mom and aunt would recall how my cousin would tearfully say ‘Lola, umaga pa palang‘ in protest over my Lola’s orders to take a nap. It’s so we would grow tall, she would say. We would appreciate the value of napping in the afternoon when we grow up, she would say.
Today, at 28 years old I stand 5 feet and 2 inches tall. While I may have not reached the height that would make me eligible for a beauty pageant, I have realized that there’s truth to my Lola’s justifications for forced midday snooze. Any working person could attest that in today’s busy world, napping after lunch is a luxury you can’t always have.
As I lie awake in the divan I now call my bed, I would remember how I used to lie awake on it on some afternoons some 15 years ago. Afternoons when my Lola would hover over me to check if I was sleeping or not.
Growing up with my mom single-handedly raising two kids, there were times when she would leave my sister and I under the care of my Lola during summer when school was out so she could work.
Lunch time at my Lola’s house would mark that unpleasant time of day when the inevitable forced siesta would follow. Even if I was a ‘speed eater’ I would take my time eating my food as if to prolong my waking hours. I would drink my water slowly and make sure that I include the proper ‘po‘ and ‘opo‘ when responding to my Lola and my aunt. I had hoped that maybe if I was polite enough, I could avoid being sent to my grandmother’s room to take that unwanted nap.
The striped green divan was set against a wall in my grandmother’s bedroom. To us kids, it was a torture device when all we wanted was to play and watch TV during the summer.
To doze off, I remember tracing the flower pattern on my grandma’s wallpaper. This little activity of mine however would not escape my Lola’s attention. She would promptly tell me to close my eyes and sleep. I would comply immediately fearing the stern tone of her voice.
Though my eyes were shut, I would still feel my Lola moving about in her room, reading a newspaper or tidying up her things. If I roll-over to check on what she’s doing, she’d firmly say ‘Face the wall!’ This command would render me frozen still. With my eyes shut as hard as I could, I would get by with fake napping. My ‘fake nap’ would go on for a good 30 minutes and before long, my fake napping would turn to a real relaxing snooze.
Three hours later, I would wake up to a darkened room. I would then make my way out of grandmother’s room, walk gingerly through the carpeted hall to find a spread of delicious merienda welcoming me atop the breakfast table. I would glance at the dining room clock and would be pleased with myself when I saw that I had just accomplished sleeping until 5PM. It would be a proud moment for me. I was an obedient little girl and my prize merienda was already waiting for me.
After a forced siesta, my strict lola would have transformed into a loving lola who would serve me pan de sal, peanut butter or cheese or her delicious version of beaten eggs none of us could ever replicate. For drinks, she would offer me a choice between her perfectly blended coffee with sugar and evaporated milk (something none of us can also replicate to this day) she calls ‘kiyopi’ or good old Milo (also with evaporated milk).
I would say, the hot milo and pan de sal at the end was the best part of this whole forced nap exercise which would repeat itself every time I was placed under my Lola’s care. My sister and I passed through this rite of passage in our family, taking forced siestas in the green divan we now recall with much fondness. Every night, I remember my lola while lying on the same green divan I used to fear as a child, just before I fall into a good night’s peaceful slumber.
My Uncle Alex was an old soul. He was the youngest among my grandma’s brood of six yet he was always mistaken for a senior citizen in his later years. He went through school quite fast because he always got good grades. By thirteen he was already attending university but got kicked out after a semester because his youthful energies were more focused on playing piko (hopscotch-like game) after school than Mathematics.
I remember he read a lot of books and would write sentences and short stories on small pieces of paper. He wrote in all caps and had very small penmanship too. Whenever we would be at my grandma’s house, my sister or I would get sent to his room at around lunch time to wake him up. He was an insomniac who would wait for the sun to rise with a beer in hand every night. I remember asking him about his odd sleeping habits and he said he had two reasons for doing this: one, he liked the stillness of midnight ’til dawn to think and that he simply enjoyed watching the sunrise.
The night he told me about this, I wanted to discover the sunrise myself. Having never been allowed to stay up later than midnight, except on Christmas Eve, I excitedly waited for sunrise. I forced myself to stay awake. I kept peering through our bedroom window waiting for the moon to hide and the sun to show. But I barely made it through and was asleep even before 3AM.
Sometimes I think that Tito Alex was a man born before his time. He was into computers and programming when computers were still grey screens with green fonts. He would probably enjoy today’s touch screen phones and tablets. He slept as if he were living in a different timezone which would make him ideal as a night shift worker in any one of the call centers or BPO hubs. The writings he used to scribble on small pieces of paper would translate well into a personal blog much like this one. He had a lot to say and a lot of time to do it. He would have been an interesting blogger, maybe even bagging some awards along the way.
He was always curious and liked to scour the internet for different topics and would tell me about it. While he was a great inspiration, he was also my biggest critic. One time he said there was a study conducted that correlated being overweight as a kid and intelligence. He laughed at chubby little me and told me to start considering losing weight unless I wanted to grow up a dumb girl. One New Year’s Eve I was dancing happily to music and he told me it was amazing how a fat girl could be so light on my feet. As an awkward teener, I remember feeling bad but I laugh at it now. I view it now as his way of teaching me to take criticism and to learn to laugh at myself. So, HAHA Tito Alex.
He taught me a lot of things. I once asked him who had more things, girls or boys? Instead of supplying me with the answers, he made me think about the day of an average man and woman. When a man wakes up he brushes his teeth and takes a bath. He threw the question back at me and asked me to name how many things that entailed. Easily it took six things: soap, shampoo, shaving cream, shaver, toothpaste and tooth brush.
He then asked me to enumerate the things my mom uses in the morning upon waking up. I probably would have said, shampoo, soap, perfume, powder, lipstick, deodorant, eye make up, eyeliner, etc. Then I stopped counting. Little by little, I realized I had the answer to my own question.
He never offered easy answers, and while he encouraged my childish questions he would patiently guide me to get to the bottom of my own curious musings. He pushed me to draw the conclusions myself and in many ways helping shape the way I processed information and found relationships between things, thoughts and ideas.
I remember that upon reading my College Entrance Essay, he smiled and said that it was ready for final printing and that I think like an old person. I took it as a compliment because then maybe, I thought in ways similar to him who I so admired.
If he were alive today, he would probably the first person to comment on this post. He would probably share this on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He’d probably chat me up about it and reminisce memories with me.
Memories of mischief when I poked holes on his cigarette pipe box collection and how he made me confess to the deed. As long as I was honest, he promised he wouldn’t get mad at me. When I owned up to it, he said I probably already knew that what I did was wrong so he spared me the long lecture. I said sorry and he truly accepted my apology without mentioning it to my mom who would probably have scolded me big time.
He’d probably also mention how I played Super Mario Brothers on his Nintendo and that I would wake him up just so he could take over during the hard parts when there were just too many turtles to bop. He’d probably encourage me to write more by throwing more books my way for inspiration.
And so as I hit ‘save’ on this little piece, I know in my heart that there is no fitting first post on this blog than this, to remember the lives and the love of my Lola and Tito Alex who I had the privilege of calling family.