Somewhere, tucked in the deepest, sometimes darkest, portions of our heart, are certain emotions only triggered by loss. Sometimes the passing away of someone can bring us back to our childhood days –those moments when all you cared about were waiting for someone to get those sugarcane stalks for you (from the parked trucks outside your grandparents’ home), the sweet smell of newly-produced sugar, and that siren indicating it’s already time for the azucarera’s workers to head home.
You flashback to that time when you and your cousins would play patintero out on the streets late at night, with only the street lamps and the shadows they cast as your playmates, as if the streets and the night were yours and yours alone.
Those were my childhood memories, a few I have safely kept in deep portions of my being, because I knew the time would come I would have to relive them to fully appreciate what they are worth. For a child, those were normal play times. For an adult (or someone striving to be one), those were the days of innocence and pure joy. Those were the memories I would associate with my grandfather, Papang Alo to us, and chief Alo to others.
His younger years were spent as the chief of Ma-ao Sugar Central, located in a then-rich community in Bago City, Negros Occidental. Honestly, that’s the only thing I know about his career. Growing up, he was Papang to me, and he was ‘chief’ or ‘tsip Alo’ to everyone else. We’d go to the Central and the workers would know we were chief Alo’s grandkids and they’d allow us to play on and with the sugar. I always made sure I’d bring home a plastic bag full of warm sugar (though we really never ran out of sugar and molasses at home, maybe you’ve guessed why), and for my young self, that was heaven.
My grandparents’ home is a reminder of those few holidays I spent there; we’d wake up to bulky Christmas socks full of random things like tomatoes, garlic, scratch papers, plastic wrappers mixed with the ‘real’ presents our grandparents had prepared for us. Sometimes there were huge gift boxes waiting for us around the tree, only to find out later that the box was a hundred times larger than the real thing and the adults would laugh their hearts out as we excitedly tore everything apart hoping for a huge toy inside.
My Papang was a simple man. After dinner, with a ‘good morning’ towel tied around his forehead, he’d sit by the veranda drinking beer and reading one of his favorite novels. It just dawned to me I never really asked him why he tied that towel around his forehead. But I guess I’ll never have the chance to ask him now.
I moved away from our city to finish college, and I’d visit my Papang and Mamang once a year, sometimes once every few years. Until now, I’m miles away from home so I don’t get to visit them often. But whenever Papang misses me, my dad, or my mom, we’d get a blank text message –which means you have to call. Sometimes we would text and he’ll simply reply with ‘lv u.’ That’s his “I love you.”
I think I got my love for reading from my Papang, which he also passed on to my dad. He was a very bright man who’d give me lectures about how his grandfather designed the streets in Metro Manila that’s why we can find a few streets around the metro named after a number of clans we belong to. He would tell me the names of my great grandfathers, usually from the Araneta, Torres and Dreyfus lineages –but for my young mind, I treated them as make-believe stories when they really weren’t. I never realized then why they mattered.
During one of my visits, I told him I then had a boyfriend –and he started asking questions. ‘What is his family name? Is he from a decent family? Is he good-looking? Can he take care of you?’ Then during my last holiday visit, he asked me again about my boyfriend –I told him, we broke up. He casually told me that his granddaughter deserves someone better.
We then had our early Christmas dinner, and he stared at me while I was my usual hyper self. Then he interjected a few times, saying I spoke like my dad and I looked a lot like his Judo (my dad’s nickname). I laughed and told him, ‘Of course, I am his daughter!’ Then, he went on saying my mannerisms were like my dad’s, and my voice was a female version of his –and I saw that twinkle of pride and love in his tired eyes.
This is my last memory of my Papang –a scene I would love to hold on to forever. My mind may eventually push this memory aside, but my heart will always remember.
PS. Papang, I don’t want to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes. So, I’ll see you in heaven? 🙂