“The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.”—E.B. White
Well, I must fancy myself exactly that, week after week, without fail, steadily emboldened and inspired by my patron saint, E.B.
So, here I go again: Let me now tell you about Vittorio.
Vittorio is the third of my four children and the second of my three sons. He’s coming with his wife for a two-week visit from the United States. That should be occasion enough to justify this telling.
If Vittorio has any claim to being special to me, it’s that he gave me my first grandchild, Carlo, raised in Maui, Hawaii, by his mom and stepdad since age three and, now 24, a bachelor and college graduate, living still with them in full contentment. Friends who witnessed my great love for Carlo referred to him as my santo niño.
It’s been 10 years since Vittorio’s last visit, although I’ve had three occasions to visit him in San Francisco, California, in those 10 years, and no matter how brief those visits they were full of fun and laughter; he cooked for me and took me to places, which only made me miss him more. There’s simply no fulfilling a mother’s longing, which as the years wear on is sharpened by memories that go back to his beginnings.
I brought him home from the hospital in a huff. He was only two days old, but I was saving him from a cockroach that had attacked me in the bathroom. I had to take him back for his circumcision, and from the exaggerated howling he sustained through the drive home I should have known he was a theatrical sufferer, a strategic whiner.
He would blame me for the hurts he suffered, no matter if it was caused routinely, medically, like his circumcision or a vitamin shot. He never had a headache, he had brain tumors; no colds were less serious than pneumonia.
Gifted with a vivid imagination and fascinated by the way things worked and seeing possibilities where no one else could, he was responsible for things reduced to their parts, of Humpty-Dumpties that couldn’t be put together again. He thus became my usual suspect, in fact my only suspect, for things breaking or breaking down around the house.
Merit where it’s due
But, to give merit where it’s due, he had been drawing Transformer toys even before Mattel thought of them, and also superheroes before Marvel comics conceived them. One gift he hasn’t lost is that of mimicry. He still does the funniest impersonations of me and family and friends. I can still see him doing a Spanish gay friend, a frequent visitor at our home, “Haay, que horror, Cheeet!”
His boyhood tantrums may well have been the first instance of break-dancing. But he was neat, organized and systematic. He has a very nice and tidy penmanship; he is left-handed—ambidextrous, if you ask him, and he could present as evidence the foreswearing of mischiefs he was made to set down a hundred times as punishment (I will not do this or that again); he wrote it alternately left- and right-handed to save time.
It was no surprise that he took to living in the US and made a good living in sales. “Nobody kisses ass like your brader-r-r,” he likes telling his brothers, complete with accent and attitude. With charm, good looks and a gift of gab, indeed he seems made for it. I should know; he practiced his craft on me.
An account executive for CBS in San Francisco for a while now, he has been heard to express his desire to retire from sales, claiming he’s getting tired of it all, but nobody believes him—a fish sick of the water?
For his visit, he announces: “I just want to hang out with you, Mom, while Liza goes about her business and around with her own friends. Don’t bother with the touristy stuff. A short out-of-town trip with everybody would be great.”
Like old times
For the first time in many years all four siblings will be together in one place, like old times. And as I study each one of them, I see so much of their father and myself in each one, and yet they seem quite different from one another, especially now.
They were only children when we lived in the US for five years, but somehow each one has been finding his or her way back there as adults. My eldest child went to Boston U for her masters, and the youngest joined the US Army medical corps, although now back home, an early retiree.
My oldest son, who took his own masters in Europe, will be starting a life in the US himself when he marries his fiancée and joins her there. By then my four children will be distributed evenly between the continents—two on each.
The irony is that it is my youngest son, Tex, the US citizen, having been born in Texas and been in the US military for more than 10 years, who seems the most Filipino of them all. Yet it all seems only fitting: raising a daughter, now going on eight, as a single parent, he could never have done it as well without the support system of a Filipino village.
I may have come from curious stock and lived in interesting times, but my life by itself isn’t any extraordinary. But then again, that’s not to say it isn’t rich enough with stories to be told.
That’s why I love E.B. White and go back to him again and again. The skill and sensitivity that account for the depth, the resonance, the beauty of his essays may be too high to be even remotely accessible, but I definitely feel myself infected with his spirit.