Friday, May 1, 2009

Reliving a Grandparent's Love

It is 6 pm on an evening in the summer of 1971. The velvety sun is almost ready to set on the horizon. Men, beast, and machines ground to a halt. The church bells ring in cadence like a poignant poem as the recitation of the Oracion emanate from her red belfry tower. Canlubang once again seems to be suspended in time except for the three iconic black chimney towers of the Azucarera which continue to waft-up a cloud of smoke as the melodious birda chirp while perched from the giant caballero tree(fire tree). Inside an ancient home still bearing the scars of the previous war, an altar raised to the wall sits the glass-encased image of the Cristo Rei in between Maria and San Jose. “Ave Maria Purisima. Sin pecado consebida” ("Hail most pure Mary, conceived without sin") a common exclamation is uttered as my grandmother leads the Santo Rosario(Holy Rosary) with her whole family. With our tiny palms clasped, the litany of prayers in Spanish is recited in unison by the grandchildren some of whom would remember by heart even until this very day. As the prayer ends, the young would pay their respect to our elders by uttering “mano po”,and touching the back of their palms held by our tiny hands to our foreheads to accept their blessings. The tradition is culminated with the blowing of the candles by the child in-charge who set the prayer table. Candles that end up clean after each prayer would mean a soul is under the grace of God. Too much candle-dropping on the candelabra would mean it is time to see the priest and receive the sacrament of Confession.

Lola Feling – Healer and Grandmother

Long before there were Chiropractors and Physical Therapists, my lola was known to be an esoteric mang-hihilot(Chiropractor). She attributed her gift of healing from a dream when she was young. In her vision, the NiƱo Jesus was in pain and in need of help. Not knowing what to do, the little boy imparted to her the knowledge of dealing with bodily sicknesses through manipulations and chiropractic massages. She applies coconut oil and strips of medicinal herbs to diagnose the area of strain and apply different massaging techniques. Grandmother also performed a diagnostic ritual to determine the cause of an illness called *Tawas (alum). This ritual is performed with a variety of other material such as a holy scapular, banana leaves, coconut shell, and some incense. One notable case she had was about this man who stayed bed-ridden at the hospital for so long until the doctors finally gave up on him. Thinking there was nothing to lose in using an unconventional way of therapy, the wife requested for grandma’s help. All what lola did was to ask for the patient’s shirt and performed the ritual of Tawas with it. The following day, that man was at her front door looking so well as if nothing really ever happened.

When my grandma was not battling the supernatural, she fulfills the role of being a mother who takes care of her whole family. On days when she arrives home from the palengke(market), grandma never fails to bring in our favourite bibingka (rice cake) as a pasalubong(take home present) or those native cocoa balls she kept in a jar for dessert. I also have fond memories of seeing her in the kitchen cooking those hot chilly recipes. According to her, it was a test of having a Bicolano(Bicol province) blood in us if we can endure such hot palatable dishes. Sitting on a rocking chair by the window on hot summer afternoons fanning with an abaniko (weaved native fan), we are all ears to her funny stories which either make us role over the floor with laughter, or be sleepless for many nights from her tales of the paranormal and myths.

In my later years as a boy, while the rest would collect play cards to trade, I gathered stampitas and rosaries and lovingly shared this with my grandmother. What ever level of spiritual conviction I may have in God today I am most certainly sure my grandmother played a strong part in it.

Lolo Jose - My Grandfather

I had a strong admiration for my grandpa who dressed quite impressively for a man who has reached his twilight years. Having a well-framed body and a good posture, it’s a no surprise he captured the attention of the elusive Felisa when he courted her. Being a butcher’s son who grew up during the wars of the Spanish-American-Filipino wars, Jose was privileged to own the very first car in their hometown while the streets still swarm with caromatas (horse drawn carriages). With a young brood on hand he took all their belongings and migrated to Canlubang where he worked for the Azucarera del Calamba (Canlubang Sugar Estate) as a personal driver for the owners of the company for more than fifty years outlasting two foreign occupations in the country and a tyrant dictator.

At the crack-of-dawn today he walked for a few hours from Barrio Mill to Barrio Old Stable armed with his favourite stick to ward off the unruly dogs that would come along his way. Even ten years into the future he would still refuse a beautifully engraved cane gift from my dad. Instead, he kept it on a corner of his bedroom with no intention of using it. Why should he? He can still carry two buckets of water without any problem at all at age eighty. I wonder why our family loves mornings. Mom loved mornings, I as well watch sunrises, and grandpa feels the same. Is there something magical about the dawn of each day? Perhaps, somehow we all cognitively process the rising sun as a beam of hope to our faltering faith, right?

After several stops along the way talking with his fellow old timers such as Mang Emong (Mr. Emong) - the boxing trainer at the Labour Hall, and Mang Dodo(Mr. Dodo) -the family photographer, he brings home a bag of freshly baked pandesal (sweet bread) bigger than an adult’s fist. As the aroma of hotly brewed kapeng barako (native coffee) coffee hangs in the kitchen, grandfather chimes an improvised bell made from a WWII bomb shell suspended at the back of his porch. The fowls from his small backyard farm scampers in a feeding frenzy as I watched with awe our aviary friends scoffing on the ground as if there is no tomorrow. Grandpa has just prepared a pinoy (Filipino) breakfast of daing (dried salted fish), itlog (egg), sinangag (fried rice), and of course our favourite butter Dairy Cream to go with the bread. After each breakfast, I would sit down next to him at the sala(living room) where he examines the pages of The Manila Times . Today headlines the student protests of the First Quarter Storm and while I enjoyed its cartoon pages.

I noticed he is never idle. When ever you can’t find him inside the house he must be in the chicken coup or at his small bodega (stockroom) where all the books, magazines, oil paintings, and materials forgotten by time that he refuses to let go are still stocked. There were times I saw him there fixing my shoe on a jig or sewing my ripped school uniform. The most memorable thing grandpa did on weekends would be to borrow the Yulo’s vintage cars from the company garage where he works and fill those gargantuan cars with his grandchildren treating them for a night joy-ride around Canlubang’s scenic places. A quick stop at the market site to get some Serg Chocolates for all his apo (grandchildren) to munch was a sure delight.

Somebody was quoted as saying, “One will never be a grandfather without stepping down from his easy chair.” I guess this statement is very true with my grandfather who managed to fulfill his life in a very short earthly time.
Surely, we would all agree that the impact of grandparents is not often felt until years later. Looking back, we acknowledge their sacrifices and tell stories about their gifts of love that only a grandparent can provide and I miss them dearly for this.

*The TAWAS is used to 'cross' (sign of the cross) the forehead and other suspicious ailing parts of the body as prayers are being whispered (bulong). It is then placed on glowing embers, removed when it starts to crack, then transferred to a small receptacle of water. As it cools, its softened form spreads on the water surface and assumes a shape that may suggest the cause of the illness, often one of several indigenous forces: dwarfs, devils or other evil spirits (na-nuno, na-kulam, na-demonyo). The water in the vehicle is then used to anoint the ailing part or parts of the body to counteract the evil forces or illness. The Tawas is then discarded and thrown westward, preferably into the setting sun.