(On Understanding the Roots of One’s Fixation and Some Fond Youthful Memories)
In November 2004, while I was organizing some articles I printed, I saw my grandfather get the small scissors from my shelf and put it inside his pocket. I asked him what he would need the scissors for. He said: “I don’t know.” I told him to hand the scissors to me, and to ask me for it just when he would already use it. I was especially wary because he might leave it somewhere and then my little nieces Amber and Julie might play with it. For, there was already an instance in the recent past when Papa, fixated with his sewing needles, unknowingly dropped a needle on the carpet. Spirited Julie, who has the penchant to run in the living room, had accidentally stepped on the needle, which pricked her sole and remained there sticking with blood oozing from the wound. I was really shocked and felt scared, not because of the blood or the wound (for I knew how minor it was) but because the parents, despite having chosen to be quiet about what happened, might had been blaming me in their minds, for I, having been Papa’s keeper, should have been the one responsible for whatever Papa did. (I thought then that I felt now how parents feel guilty every time their children get in trouble, regardless if the fault was the children’s and not theirs. In retrospect, I now regard that task as my grandfather’s caregiver as a disguised preparation for my current fatherhood.)
Papa wouldn’t give in. He wouldn’t give me the scissors. He insisted that the scissors remain in his pocket: “Gagamitin ko ‘to mamaya,” and mumbled, “Ako ang bahala,” then he fell silent, the way he always did every time I would chide him about similar things. “Kayo ho bahala” was all I could muster, defeated once again; and in my mind, Ako na naman ang kawawa. I just sighed in exasperation. Seemingly trivial instances like that exhausted me very much; sometimes they even made me cry in frustration. My feelings of frustration were overwhelming. Was that normal? I think yes, now. Will anyone caught in the same situation react similarly, if not the same? Or was I only too emotional, too vulnerable? If so, I could only wish that my emotionality eventually translates to compassion and my vulnerability to resilience. Again, in retrospect, I was correct—the experience had added to my sense of compassion and strength of mind.
I took note of where Papa hid the scissors, so I knew where to get it afterwards without his knowledge. I wouldn’t let another accident to happen.
Several minutes after finally having succeeded in spiriting the scissors away from Papa’s pocket, I fell deep in contemplation concerning my grandfather’s fixation; my exasperation turned to compassion when questions began to haunt my mind.
Will I be like him when I become as old as he?
Will I someday also develop a fixation on things, like scissors, needles, scotch tapes, or even sandpapers and screwdrivers?—things I usually discover inside my grandfather’s pockets every time I check them before I launder our clothes.
In my case, will my future grandchildren find pens, papers, books, letters, or even CDs inside my pockets?
Is this kind of fixation a common and inevitable part of growing old?
My Grandfather when He Was Much Younger
In his youth, my grandfather used to be a good swimmer, gymnast, biker, cook, tailor, carpenter, and book lover.
He’d sewn dresses, pants, and curtains. He’d cooked the most delicious kare-kare, mechado, and dinuguan. He had built bookshelves, simple cabinets, and mahjong tables. He said he used to read books inside a mosquito net with only a flashlight and the moon as the only sources of light. In short, my grandfather was what we may call a “Jack of all trades.”
One particular story my grandfather is fond of recounting to me–with matching actions–was the time, in early 30s, when he walked from Pasay City to Antipolo, Rizal, simply because he wanted a simple adventure. One might quip: Back then anyway, streets were safer and not yet heavily polluted thus walking long distances wouldn’t tire and intimidate almost anyone. But, hey, whatever one might have to say, walking from Pasay to Antipolo is unarguably a remarkable achievement. Only a physically fit person could endure such feat. This may perhaps be the reason my grandfather, at his current age of 89, can still cover several hundreds of meters without resting.
Another classic story was the time (also during the pre–World War II era) when my grandfather was a student at Manila North High School (now known as Arellano High School in Pasay City). According to his colorful recollection, he and a best friend named Juan Diaz used to swim kilometer-long distances there in what is now the reclamation areas on Manila Bay along Roxas Boulevard to gather mussels (tahóng) and shrimp fry (alamáng). Breast stroke, back stroke, butterfly stroke—name it, he was once an expert at it.
The Time My Grandfather Immigrated to Canada
I was a grade-one pupil at St. Mary’s Academy in Pasay City, August 1977, when my maternal grandfather and grandmother with their youngest child, my then 15-year-old Tito Gerry, immigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I remember feeling very sad on my way to school on the morning of their departure. I was urging my mother to take me along with them to the airport, but of course, going to school was far more important. I went home that afternoon missing my grandfather; he was very affectionate of me. I think, at that very young age I was already entertaining the idea that I might be my grandfather’s favorite grandson—simply because I noticed that, among his many grandchildren, it was to me whom he used to tell his wartime stories. How we enjoyed watching Combat together, and from my grandfather where I learned the names of the TV show’s characters Vic Morrow and Rick Jason.
Thinking of it all, I long realized that my having come to Canada, to take care of my grandfather and be his last companion on his last days, had been a completion of a circle after all. It was like, a grandson taking care of the grandfather who used to care for him when he was a child.
Sa Madaling Salita
Matagal ko nang naintindihan si Lolo. Malaki ang naitulong ng pagkakasama namin nang halos tatlong taon—araw-gabi—na animo e magkaibigan lang—galit-bati, tampuhan dito, tampuhan doon.
Or, in Simple Words
I have long understood my grandfather’s fixation very well. Perhaps deep inside him, he was battling his deteriorating memory, strength, and agility by way of trying to be as independent as he could. Maybe, being always “in touch” with the tools with which he was once-upon-a-time skilled in using, made him feel the same strong and agile young man he once was. I could no longer imagine myself not doing the same when I reach such an age. Oh, pens and CDs in my pockets, books and letters….
And when that time comes, all I wish to have are children and grandchildren who will be patient and broad-minded enough to not only understand me but more so empathize with my condition, the way I felt what my grandfather felt during the last days of his life.
Grandfather died in July 2006, because of old age. He was 91. For the first time in my life, I was both sad and happy in equal measures.
“I saw my grandfather’s getting the chainsaw and put it inside his pocket. I wouldn’t chide him anymore about it….”