July 7, 2005

The Grandfather Post

The Grandfather Post

In the car the other day...

Geo: Did you know my dad was Mestiso? (Editor's note: Mestiso is a Filipino term for people of mixed blood, originally referring to those of partial Spanish descent, but now applied to Filipinos of any mixed blood.)
Me: Yeah, you told me that a long time ago.
Geo: No, I mean he's actually Mestiso like his dad was a full-blooded Spaniard.
Me: Really?? You told me your grandfather was only half.
Geo: Yeah that's what I thought. But my dad told me the other day he was full.
Me: Craziness. No wonder we like that stupid Gasolina song. It's your fricken fault.

Geo was never lucky enough to know either of his grandfathers, his dad's father passed away in 1953 at the age of 44 and his mother's father passed away before Geo got a chance to visit the Philippines. I was lucky enough to know both of mine, though they were half a world away and passed away years ago. My parents are both nice, reserved individuals. People are always asking me "How the hell did you end up the way you are? Are you adopted?" I'm told I take after my paternal grandfather, who was ruthless, blunt, short-tempered and a bit arrogant, but who was also passionate, generous, honest and deeply loyal to those he loved. My sense of humor comes from my dad though, who is also sarcastic and a tad weird, but without the obscenity. I loved my maternal grandfather very much also, but it was my Lolo I was closest to.

Though I was born in New York and grew up in California, I spent the first couple years of my life in the Philippines with my dad's parents. I played in the street, took showers in the rain and ran around chasing after my Lola's chickens. Whenever our "katulongs" (helpers) said it was time to kill one, I would try to hide whichever unfortunate one had been selected. My sister Leah and I used to spend whole summers in Marikina Heights, Manila, from the time I was born to the time I was 12.

As I get older my memories of Lolo have faded a little, but from time to time something will trigger them and I rush to write them down. He smoked Pall Mall cigarettes. He bought me two Golden Retriever puppies, which I named Kit and Knight. He used to drive two hours through traffic to Cubao every day, to pick up McDonald's because he was afraid Leah and I wouldn't eat, even though we told him he didn't have to. He played mahjong in a huge roomful of Chinese men, who would laugh loudly and scream over the outcome of the games.

He would throw me and Leah these huge formal birthday parties, with personalized balloons bigger than us and even invite all of our mother's side of the family. When we went to visit my mom's brother and his wife insulted us, Lolo drove for four hours the moment he hung up the phone, because he couldn't stand the thought of us being with people who would hurt our feelings. He used to laugh and argue so loudly you could hear it at the other end of the house. He ate the same thing every day, rice porridge. He smelled like a combination of smoke, cologne, buri leaves and Lifebuoy soap, the pinkish red one. Women adored him.

My Lolo was born and raised in China, the eldest of my great-grandfather's 21 children, from three different wives, 18 of whom were male. He met and married my Lola, had two children, then moved ahead of them to the Philippines to seek his fortune. When China went Communist, my Lola, aunt and father were on the last boat out of the Fuchien province in Southeastern China, before the borders were closed. As a result, my dad and aunt both grew up in the Philippines, my dad doesn't even understand Chinese anymore. Or he claims not to when my aunt and Lola start yelling at each other in Chinese so no one will understand them.

In 2000, I went back to the Philippines for the first time in 12 years. My main reason for going back was to visit my maternal grandmother, who had been injured in a fall. But inside I was elated because I thought that I was going to be able to visit my grandfather's grave. When I mentioned it to my dad, he hesitated then told me the special mausoleum that had been built to honor him, the family's patriarch of over fifty years, was actually located in China. I was crushed, I cried silently for the remainder of the call, even as I pretended nothing was wrong. I know my grandfather had his faults (his temper and stubbornness were legendary and the adoration of those women wasn't exactly one-sided) but I still miss him to this day.

Anyway, that's enough with the memories. I'm not certain you all will be comfortable with such a maudlin post. But it was nice reminiscing. Here are Geo's paternal grandparents and my Lolo:

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(Yeah they were pimps back in the day.)

My point is, with all these ancestral revelations, since Beijing already has the 2008 Olympics, in all fairness I should have been rooting for Madrid to get the 2012 Olympics, instead of London.

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