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Not Quite There

Another year–a gift of time

By: -Columnist
/ 12:23 AM January 01, 2017

If I’ve survived it in fairly good health and stable financial position, every year should have been a good year.

In 2016 I was taken to the emergency room (ER) only twice, and each time sent home: it was acid reflux.

Vergel, it turns out, has the same condition, and has had his own trip to the ER. Acid reflux, we’ve been warned, is a great heart-attack mimic that cannot be ignored. That’s also why it’s something to celebrate each time it is discovered for what it really is.

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At our age, health is always top priority.  Everything goes down the drain when it goes, in my opinion, and we can only thank our lucky stars for having kept it.

Relative good health will allow me to focus on another priority—thinking of others and, in the permanent absence of my own parents, I feel especially for my two oldest uncles. Our fondness for them, us orphaned cousins, grows with time, as they continue to amaze us.

On Christmas morn, I’m touched to get an unexpected overseas call from Tito Pipo, 94, one of the four living brothers of my father; they were eight brothers.

We lost their favorite cousin, Marcos, two years ago. At 96, he was closer to my dad’s age. Cousins Ninit, Tina and I made time to be around him.

Being around uncles takes us back to the golden era of our family, the ’50s. Tito Marcos, who never lost either hearing or marbles, told us stories we never knew about our own dads and their dad. It’s uncanny, but we could see them not only in the stories their survivors tell, but also in familiar gestures or mannerisms and still detectable good looks, among other things, of these storytellers. Each of our uncles has been a distinct character, yet so alike in many ways.

Heart-to-heart

For some reason Tito Pipo now speaks more in Spanish, the preferred language between brothers for chats at Sunday table, especially when things get heated up. In my time, it was reserved for serious chastisements and heart-to-heart father-daughter talk.

In elegant Spanish, Tito Pipo explains that, instead of sending Christmas cards, which he has done every year until now, he’s calling everybody by phone—he has yet to learn to Skype. It isn’t the first time he calls; he likes talking with Vergel about history and the war. His memory for names and other details never ceases to amaze Vergel.

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He says he’s well, well enough indeed to be able still to drive on the freeways! He prefers to live alone, with a male caregiver, but remains accessible to his children, one of whom lives close by. He starts and ends his call by asking me to give his warmest to Vergel.

Indeed, at the Christmas lunch at cousin Ninit’s house, we all confirm having received his call. Year after year, Ninit’s place is beginning to look and feel a lot like Lolo and Lola’s happy home for family gatherings.

Our oldest living uncle, 96-year-old Tito Peping, has asthma and nebulizes regularly, and some complication has made him temporarily lose his voice, but that’s only one of two frustrating reasons the two deaf brothers couldn’t talk on the phone this Christmas.

I’d say, if Tito Peping can still go out on occasional afternoon dates with ex-sweethearts—two previous regular dates have since passed on—or join ex-classmates at University of the Philippines who pick him up, his health cannot be bad. His mind is clear; he remembers a scheduled family Christmas picture-taking and calls for a postponement until he’s fully recovered or is handsome again—“whichever happens first.”

His Christmas gift arrives early, in the tradition his wife, Tita Carmen, set, and he texts his greetings on Christmas Eve. Text messages work better, since he’s become deaf, a Roces trait from which my own dad was somehow spared.

Mangoes

Every harvest, he sends mangoes from his orchard in Pangasinan. He’s easily the sweetest among uncles; the two youngest were too close to our ages to have had any patience with the silly-dillies we were, growing up under their noses, and in the same house. Strict and intolerant of unacceptable behavior, they were the older brothers we never had, and we don’t call them “Tito.”

Well, what do younger seniors like myself do with another brand new year and the preciousness of more time?

I’ll surely make time with cousins to be with Tito Peping. I’ll also be sensitive enough to see the bright side of things, not as easy as I thought, especially since the bright side isn’t always that obvious at first glance. And that’s why I should learn to let things be, still, for me, the hardest to do.  Although I’m not a negative person, I spot problems before they happen, and immediately act on them, only to discover they weren’t as big a problem until I tried to solve them my way.

A positive person, I’m told, expects good things in new developments and sudden changes, seeing each case as part of a beautiful arrangement compliments of an invisible loving hand, a blessing in a different package.

When my son moved out of his apartment in mid-December, he left me most of his things to dispose off before joining his wife in the United States. Seeing another, though smaller, refrigerator parked in my small kitchen prompted me to part with it at the first cheap offer.

I had forgotten I’d be cooking noche buena food for Christmas Eve at my daughter’s. It was only when I started preparing the dishes in stages for refrigerating, and food gifts began arriving with no place to store them, that I realized that second ref had been there precisely to give me the space I needed. I totally missed it. I saw instead the extra space it took up.

I’ll keep working on developing a more positive inner attitude, so I can behold, with great trust and gratitude, God’s grace in everything that happens and hopefully discover, however late, the wisdom in accepting what’s dealt me and letting things be.

Cheers to one and all! Welcome 2017!

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