I’m trying to remember you, before we both became much older and much recent. And I realized, I’ve never really talked to you.
Ama always used to say that I was your favorite over my brother. Whether it was because I looked more Chinese, or because I was born on the year of the Dragon, it was an unearned favor. Perhaps it was an entirely different reason. Most of our photos together were from a time I remember distinctly, yet they were long ago – before I reached eight. Looking at the photos often helped as I have always been fond of dusting off old albums and reminiscing every photo on lazy summer days, but I remember those moments for other things more than you. As a young girl then, I remember them for the adventures with Tita Anna, for the ribbon spaghetti of Mama Mila, for the hotel swimming pools and private club tennis courts, for the chandeliers and the fiber optic lights in your living room, and for whatever else imprinted memory of that period. They are several but they are limited. If I think about that time, my memory of you is often at the periphery, constantly smiling, constantly looking, but with little words in between. For many reasons I have understood yet not completely comprehended, for they matter not much to me today, we had even less memories as I grew up. When age gave me the knowledge of social classes and social structures, the consciousness of something atypical about our granddaughter-grandfather relationship became apparent. Being an introvert and a shy person, I often retreated behind my parents’ shadow whenever we had family dinners. Yet I remember you as nothing but a smiling and kind grandfather. As a person of opulence and wealth, yet a somewhat separate entity from what I considered family. I probably would not have drawn you had I been asked to draw my family in school. You always looked on me with kindness and happiness, yet you were unlike Lolo who would constantly rave and brag about my academic achievements. You, on the other hand, often held your silence. I wondered if you knew exactly what I do, or what you thought of it. I took your smile as an approval. It’s unlike me to start conversations, but when we both got older, I tried a little bit more. But I don’t think we ever got past much of the mundane things, my brother was much better at it. Yet I always had a lot in mind, perhaps you did too. Maybe we both weren’t fond of small talk and knew the more important things to talk about were things better left unsaid.
When Inay was slowly passing away, I saw how much more time you devoted for her. During her wake, you were an old man who wasn’t expected to sit so long in a memorial chapel, yet almost every day you went. You sat right in front of her casket, never complaining of anything but simply grieving the reality of losing. It was after this period that you talked to us more, constantly reminding us the importance of prayer and family – things we never even talked about before. You’d always surprise us every single visit, getting up after long bouts of being unable to rise from your bed, just to join us in a meal and tell us with no end how our presence made you so happy. Always. Repeatedly. I’m thankful to my dad for always prodding us to do more. To sing you Christmas carols and go to Church with you together. If it wasn’t for him, these memories before you passed away would have never been possible. Inay understandably never encouraged us to do anything for you. Regretfully it was still a little time for me, as I was already based in Singapore. Those times were sparing, squeezed on days before or after reaching the airport, and rushed on the limitation of distance, time and the reality of traffic. There are many little things I remember about you, like your perennial glass of Coke Light, your habit of wearing polos most of the time, and how you rolled your “r” whenever you said my brother’s name. Yet I know most things about you will be best remembered by Mama Mila and Tita Anna. The other things that I know of you, I know from other people. Things that happened in the past, things that were unknown to me as they happened, things that I will never understand, but things that will never change what you mean to me. While some of those are difficult to fathom and could betray my respect for you, I would rather accept the kindness that I knew of you. If it was part of all the good you did in this life, I hope you know that I recognize them as such. That I learned what I could from you and will take those lessons with me to do better in this world. For all the other pain you caused, I can only pray you’ve asked for pardon and that they’ve forgiven you.
It’s funny how people often look the same to us, no matter how much time goes by. But memory is sometimes a treacherous thing, they lead us to beliefs of suspended time and limitless opportunities. You simply became much too older, there was no denying it. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to witness still a substantial part of your life – to be part of your legacy in this world. Whenever people tell me I look Chinese, you’re always the reason I give why. Thank you, Grandpa.