Lolo's chinky eyes beamed with affection every time I go near his hospital bed. “Kamusta ka na, Lo?” I placed my right palm on his left hand while carefully studying the lines imprinted on it. Is there really a mark that could tell this man’s destiny? Maybe no palmistry could weave his story but the many lines on his rough palms are enough proof of his hard work throughout the years. During his childhood days, he worked as a bus conductor to pursue his ambition of becoming a doctor. He never gripped this dream but he progressed as a well-known accountant that soon helped him become a top-spot town councilor. He soon led the town of Imus as its mayor for 19 years.
“Where’s the soup?” I watched him bow his head while he scooped sharkskin soup into his dry mouth. Everytime he bobs to gulp down his meal, his strands of brown, black and white hair bounced like a horsetail. Lolo is colourful not just because of his hair. He fascinates everyone he meets because of his vivacity, aura and charm. During Christmas breaks, I would always hold his shaking porcelain-like hand and from his two-storey house we would walk a dozen steps to the market. Lolo, clad in street clothes (white sando and brown denim shorts), is so distinct among vendors. “Mayor!” They would call him and he’d present me, his fifteenth apo. Our tours would frequently lead to meeting new people, greeting smiles as if I were a celebrity.
“Yes!” I was surprised by the way he strongly cheered every time his favourite Danny Ildefonoso scored. Two months ago, the doctors detected cancer of the pancreas in him. I think it is so brave of him to watch a basketball game and still enjoy it even if he is nearing his death. The idea of passing did not stop him to go on with life, like a prepared soldier ready to die anytime. My Lolo is a brave man who fears nothing at all. He would often leave his entrance door unlocked, as if trusting the entire world. Why bother locking the door when he knows the suha woman round the corner, the cigarette vendor a few meters away from his home and several kids playing patintero on his empty parking space? Yes, he knows almost any one on this town of Imus that he never worries about the idea of criminals barging into his home. About sixty years ago, this man faced the same feared streets of Cavite as a guerrilla messenger who risked his life everyday. One night his life almost ended. Several Japanese troops chased him to intercept the information he was carrying. He was almost trapped but the presence of a big drum full of fruit peelings gave him hope. He hid there for the rest of the night.
As soon as the game's first half ended, he stood up and joined me on the other side of the room. He put his right arm on my shoulder like he usually does. Grandpa is a very thoughtful person who wakes up at three o’clock in the morning just to cook for us, his twenty apos, our favourite Filipino dishes during our summer and Christmas breaks. He is a very sweet man who endeared himself not only to his relatives but to his friends and kababayans as well. I would never forget how his friend cried upon learning that Jose has an incurable disease. He said that he owed everything to ex-mayor. I learned that Lolo was the one who gave him money to pursue his medicine degree. He is a man well-loved by everybody. During special occasions, I always envy the site of his sala table filled with so many presents.
“Nakain ka na ba,?” his Caviteno accent is as distinct as his many teachings I’ve carried on in life. Among his lines, my favourite is “money, no problem.” He is always willing to offer money to his friends and relatives. He made pautang even to those who can’t pay him in return. To him, money should be given to those in need. He willingly shared his money to make others fulfil their dreams.
“Para sa paborito kong apo, si Karen.” He jokingly teased me as I was about to go. As a kid, I knew that I wasn’t beautiful, but because of my Lolo who treated me like the most beautiful princess, I never really cared that I grew up as an ugly duckling. I think of the times when I said to my self how great my Lolo Che is. He was the one who bought my first Barbie doll, arrived first during my birthday parties, and the one who made me think that death is new life and it is nothing to be afraid of.
To me, he’s a superlolo whose strong words echo whenever I’m afraid. It sounds like a cliche but risking the things you own in order to be of service to others is the bravest battle in life.
- Written in 2001, in remembrance of Jose Virata Jamir (March 18, 1924-February 19, 2002)