By By Pablo A. Tariman
posted 24-Sep-2019  ·  
1,207 views  ·   0 comments  ·  
The columnist's third granddaughter Tyra.

One fine day, with the newspapers full of stories about prisoners that got away, I realized I am well into my ninth president and a fifth grandchild.

September 7 is the birthday of my third granddaughter now turning three. My youngest daughter said if she could leave her with me while she bought something in the nearby stores.

I gladly said yes as for weeks since my last concert in Iloilo, I was always busy with something or the other and had no time for grandkids.

Friday is a good day because my alternate housekeeper is around and she took care of everything while I was in between deadlines and keeping sane.

I am deeply attached to my third granddaughter because she looked more helpless than the others and I like to see how I looked when I was her age. When she touches my face and cups it in her small hands, I wonder if I ever made the same loving gesture to my parents. She knows what I’m carrying when I visit, and she remembers everything when I leave: the package, the paper bag, the smell of food in it. Outside the gate, I call her name and she responds with a yell of happiness. Her mother is surprised that the sleeping child will automatically rise from her crib and look for me as though she were awake all the time.

As we walk through Pasig thoroughfares early in the morning when she was a little over a year or two, I am prone to reflecting on seven decades of a life that started on a Bicol island and continues in a bucolic place in Metro Manila. Recently I frequent Iloilo because I can connect deeply with its music lovers and more so, with its heritage houses one of which became a venue of my outreach concerts.

But in the island where I always end up confronting my past and contemplating a future, I cannot help but think of my three daughters two of whom ended up with their grandparents in the island. Back then, they could see that I had a hard time beating writing deadlines and caring for growing children.

My eldest daughter (now based in Frankfurt) used to see an island doctor who was also the town mayor, and my youngest had a good glimpse of island life even before early schooling. But they would soon be transported back to the big city because my work was there and their first schooling awaited them.

The last time all of us where in that island, I watch my grandchildren enjoying the peace and quiet of Mamangal Beach. In this setting, I can’t help recalling my own childhood on the island. I used to read the dailies and the magazines (Liwayway and Bulaklak) as well as the comics (Hiwaga, Pilipino) at the newsstand of Tia Merly Abundo near the San Jose chapel. I actually sold newspapers in Baras for the same newspaper dealer, and I remember going as far as the barrio of Macutal, passing through rivers and rice paddies. I thought a part of me died when I heard that Tia Merly passed away last year.

The pension house where my family used to stay is also full of memories. I remember it was also there where we stayed when my parents died; it gave us the privacy to cope with our sorrows. I have treated this inn as my own private home: I can occupy its dining area at 4 a.m. and write until breakfast time at 7.

But nothing matches the awesome sight from the Balacay Highland Point in Barrio Benticayan in Baras, my hometown. I have never been so stunned to behold, from this promontory, that spot where the sky meets the sea, and the many islands around the towns of Baras and Gigmoto. It is a virtual heaven on earth. I am rendered speechless by the sheer beauty of the mountain and the sea, and with my grandchildren loving the sight, I realize that I have given them the ultimate treat of their lives.

My mother used to teach in Benticayan, and the woman who took care of me was a weather-beaten islander named Marla whose fisherman-husband died in the deep blue sea during freak weather.

(It was in this barrio where I used to sing the folksong Ay Ay Alibangbang and realized later it was also a popular folksong in Iloilo known as Ohoy Alibangbang.)

* * *

Our family reunions have since then shifted from Catanduanes to Hong Kong and lately, Singapore.

Looking at my grandchildren play in their cousin’s hotel room in Singapore and later dipping into the rooftop pool which served as our bonding area for three days before we headed back to Manila, I realized how quickly they have grown.

For now, they can move on with their own lives and perhaps look back many years later to that day when they were young and were treated to the idyll of island life before they discovered cosmopolitan Hong Kong and Singapore.

For now, I am thinking of a Swan Lake treat for my granddaughter turning three and looking forward to visiting Frankfurt where I can be with my youngest granddaughter hopefully to watch Mozart’s Magic Flute at the Frankfurt opera house.

As it is, all my grandchildren have gone places including my only grandson who won a trip to Beijing after winning a Metro Manila contest on Chinese history and geography.

Every grandkid’s birthday is a milestone and I use it to reflect on a life when living was not about cell phones and Instagram and the long letters from kins and friends live up to its label, Special Delivery.

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