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Archive for April, 2013

Of New Year Celebrations

Last night’s celebration was special to me because it’s the first New Year’s Eve in four years that I wasn’t spending alone (or with my dog) locked up in an airconditioned room. I had good food and good company in the person of my small family, living reminders of what I had to look forward to in the coming year. I know now that there would be no more New Year’s Eves spent alone.

I remember how New Year was celebrated in my household when I was young. Manong Snokum would have these little pull-string firecrackers he would attach to our screen doors. He would terrorize our maids by installing these just when the maids were busy going in and out of the house. And speaking of maids, we had innovative and enterprising kasambahays before. Long before there was a “sinturon-ni-hudas” or the so-called “sawa“, Melda already devised a way of stringing up labintadors together and lighting them up for a machine gun-like effect come midnight. Oh when the Five-Stars became popular, she stringed them up too, and like bandoliers she’d have them across her chest ready for hanging on our clothesline. Just one light and we’d have a full five-minute, non-stop firecracking experience. Having a long driveway and big double gates also served a purpose – we could always hang our trompillos there and have a simultaneous show with the fountain cones.

As a kid, we were limited to holding sparklers or lusis, but my cousins and I can always sneak a few watusis. You can scratch watusis across the ground with your foot, or scratch them on walls. We didnt know then that they were highly toxic and could poison you if you dont wash your hands. Soon, we graduated to lighting up Baby Rockets to zoom across the sky, and our measly lusis became full Roman Candles, shooting up sparks and exploding as well. Again, we didnt know how dangerous Roman Candles were until one New Year’s Eve an accident happened.

We had nailed all the trompillos by the gate, set up the fountains on the driveway, and hung our family version of the Super-Sawa on the clotheslines. we had our picnic table by the coverred garage, and on it laid out our various sparklers, Whistle Bombs, Baby Rockets and Roman Candles. Our assorted labintadors, Five Stars and Bawangs included, were in one big old Graham Crackers can. So we started out with everybody holding sparklers; kids with small lusis and the adults with Romand Candles. One aunt, Tita Vangie, got scared of all the explosions from the fireworks and kept backing up, not realizing her Roman Candle was sending sparks to the picnic table where the whole can of firecrackers were. Before we knew it, it was like World War III and we were all running for our lives. Most of us were able to run to the far end of the driveway, to the edge of our compound where the other apartment doors were. Unfortunately, some headed for the screen door of the main house. In their haste and in desperation, they couldn’t get inside because they all piled up, one on top of the other, cringing for protection from the exploding fireworks. We couldn’t see with all the smoke, but the last we heard was the poor Graham Crackers can clanking down. And ten minutes before midnight, we had already exhausted our firecrackers. Talk about being premature…

The morning after was always one big mess. Pulbora-residue, ashes and sand were all around. Exploded wrappers were like confetti everywhere. But there is always an un-exploded firecracker in there somewhere. Some people make the mistake of thinking that these can be discarded the same way they do with dried leaves – by simply sweeping them away and burning them. My Dad had the misfortune of finding out for himself one New year’s day when he took on clean-up duties. He simply swept them all up together with all the other garbage, plastics and celofane wrappers included. And so another accident was bound to happen…An unexploded firecracker lit up and exploded, sending trash flying everywhere. Plastic, being of light material, flew in the direction of my Dad and it stuck to his arm, burning him. And so he spent his birthday and the next few days nursing a bad wound.

I sit here, watching my little girl play with her Xmas bounty of toys. I wonder what joys and surprises 2013 will bring her, just as each passing year gave me in my youth. I realize all the promise and potential this year can have…And so we begin, for this is the first day of the rest of our lives.

Che’s wedding Piece: A Tale of Two’s

There are two more weddings in the family coming up in the next few weeks. And as always, it will be a time for relatives to show up and welcome the new members into the fold. Besides the two grooms, I suspect my own “instant” family would be scrutinized as well.

My “new” two year old girl is currently the light of my life. Each morning she greets me with a thunderous (yes, she has a booming voice at her age) “hi!” and a tiring day at the office can always be wiped away with just a welcoming hug from her at the end of the day. I now realize, a kid in the house is always crazy, but pleasantly fun.

It wasn’t too long ago when my Dad too enjoyed the pleasure of a child in the house long after all of us kids were already of school age. During a Holy Week vacation in Ilocos, we chanced upon Mother Sandra and asked her to join the household once again. I went biking to Zone 2 (pronounced as “Son-to” in Bantay) with my grandfather to find Mother Sandra and lo and behold, there she was with her own mini-me…a two-feet high miniature Sandra. I don’t know what they were arguing about, but the mother and daughter were having a tug-of-war scene appropriately near the family sow’s muddy pen. This prelude was evident of the strong-willed personalities of both mother and daughter that would characterize their relationship through the years.

Ironically, this personality would serve Sheryl or “Cheche” as we fondly called her, quite well. This early independence allowed her to play alone, or with other children, even as Mother Sandra was busy with household chores and couldn’t watch over her. If she got into a fight with other kids, we would know, because she would come rushing home without a word. Yes, we never fought any of her fights for her because she could certainly take care of herself even at 2 or 3 years old. We would only find out the next day how bad it was when an angry aunt would come over to our house complaining that Che made a much older 7- year old cousin cry the previous day.

Yes, she would occasionally get herself in trouble but she always knew how to get out of them. Once, she broke my Dad’s ashtray in his office. Mother Sandra distinctly heard a crash and something breaking, but when she got to my Dad’s office, there was nothing on the floor…just Che standing there suspiciously. When asked what happened, little Cheche refused to admit to anything. Mother Sandra asked her where the broken pieces were and Che’s classic reply was, “Problema ko na yun..”

At home, the closest to her age was Gayle who was at least 6 years older. You would think Gayle would be the bad influence on her, but no…they were “partners-in-crime”. They both had a penchant for those dried pusit in small packs, grilled streetfood like “isaw” and “adidas”, and that iced delicacy, “iskrambol” although they were prohibited from eating those things. So they would sneak out of our side gate instead of the front where Mother Sandra could catch them. They would hug the fence-wall, sliding stealthily like spies and run to the neighbourhood sari-sari store to buy their favourite snacks. Together they stand, and together they fall so to speak…and so these two finally ended their “reign of terror” when they both fell victim to due “consequences” of eating dirty streetfood. Mr. Combantrin was the only solution and it had Cheche spouting her undying love for her mother in the toilet because she thought she was at the point of death.

As a student, Che was also unusual. She never had to be coaxed into going to school everyday, or doing her homework. She would display that same independence unless she needed help with a drawing (she would come to me) or with her math (she would go to Giselle). With Mother already in Rome, Mama was her official guardian and Che never gave her reason to go to Stella Maris to have a special meeting with the principal or the guidance counsellor. Even in high school, she was never the problematic teen. Once Mama was required to attend a school event and she nonchantly went thinking it was like any other activity. She got the surprise of her life when during a song number there was a soloist, and it was Che! Gayle was the only one with the courage to try out for the Glee Club before, so like any other little sister, Che followed suit. But of course, she was always capable of going beyond whatever we accomplished like any other younger sibling.

And so it was, when it was time for her to apply for university. The family’s deepest frustration of not having a dentist in the clan was thrust upon her even as she hoped to follow our footsteps in going to UP. But it was not in her cards to become one of our sorority sisters, because her destiny lay in UE, a well-known school for dentistry. There, she applied herself to her studies the same way she always did. Experiencing failing marks for the first time, she did what was necessary and took the make-up summer classes. Maybe she always thought of Mother Sandra in Rome, working very hard for her education that kept her on the right path. She always put her studies as her priority even at the most unusual times.

Once, there was a big fire that engulfed the squatters area near our house. The flames got so big, our home was also at risk of being burned down as well. We had to evacuate like the rest of the people, moving the cars, taking our valuables with us. But for Cheche at that time, her books and laboratory manuals were her “valuables”. And in the heat of the moment, things got dropped on the ground as we all rushed out and scrambled for safety. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the fire did not reach our house. When we were asked if there were any losses or damage to property, Che was hilariously the only victim because her books fell in the water from the firemen’s hoses.

By the time Che asked to live away from home, we were confident enough she could be left alone as an adult already. She would come by for her clothes, stay the weekend but always went back to her dorm in time for her classes. When she was reviewing for her dentistry board exams, we hardly worried about her and only occasionally asked if she had done the rounds of the classic pilgrimage sites like Our Lady of Manaoag, St. Jude, Sta. Clara and Baclaran. She never lost confidence and probably never even considered failing. And even if she did, she simply shrugged her shoulders and promised herself she’d try again. That was how strong and resilient she could be.

By the time she was a bonafide dentist, employed at an established dental clinic in Binondo, she never stopped being hardworking. She put up her own dental clinic with a few of her old classmates and even started various endeavours like an RTW and a food cart business. One thing Che was never lacking is courage and a risk-taking demeanour that always allows her to land on her feet. For Che, there are no mistakes or failures because she carefully assesses her risk exposure and if there are any losses on her part, she would make sure she didn’t do too badly.   

I believe Che is the same with her lovelife. She always knew what she wanted and that was non-negotiable. The real challenge was finding a guy who would be confident enough to handle her strong-will and independence. Truly lucky is the man who would manage to “tame” her because she could be a real “partner for life”, a source of strength, a sanctuary from all of Life’s hustle and bustle. She can a true lover and carer – someone who can feed you the tastiest dishes and yet scold you for getting sick and not taking better care of yourself. 

Yes, Cheche can be a real challenge, but I assure you she would be really worth it. So good luck to you Elmer and may your years together be truly blessed.