Our oldest uncle, Peping, will be 99 in September. He’s been recently bedridden for an injured hip. Typical of the Roceses, he didn’t want to go to the hospital, except for an X-ray. If he had gone for more, he’d possibly have been another of those stories about old people put under surgery: “The operation went well, but the poor old patient all the same went.”
Well, Tito Peping is very much with us still, well cared for by Malen, his oldest daughter, in his own home, where, in the living and dining rooms, many of Lolo and Lola’s beautiful furniture has found a place, inspiring memories of their time and our youth. We three oldest cousins—Sylvia, Ninit, and I—grew up with our paternal grandparents and lived around those antique furniture, which now don’t look as huge as I remember them.
Visits to Tito Peping are now prearranged—no more unannounced drop-ins, no more picking him up at the office for impromptu lunches, such as we cousins used to do. He has stopped going to the office altogether since a few months ago. His secretary of many years comes in the morning, and he gives her instructions about his stocks in the market and other business decisions. In fact, at our visit he excitedly asked Sylvia if she had bought a certain stock as he had told her; when she said yes, he was quite pleased, because it turned out to be very good advice.
He insists he be given ample warning for home visits, for ours especially, because, he told Malen, “Quiero ponerme guapo!” He wants to be sure to look handsome for female visitors. Indeed, he was all bathed and handsome, but, coming from Makati to Quezon City on a Thursday, we arrived late. He was already eating lunch—lamb chops and dollops of mashed potatoes!—chewing well with what must be remarkably perfect dentures. We were reminded of his father, Lolo Rafael, who ate grilled lamb chops for breakfast.
After his main course, he asked for his dulce, but when the mazapan de cashew and the food for the gods came, with a naughty glint in his eye, he wondered aloud if he might have some fruit first. He engaged us in delightful conversation, displaying his wit and keen memory for names and details. He even naughtily asked me in Spanish if Vergel had already been won over by Duterte.
He converses mostly in Spanish as did my own dad, an older brother, in his later years. Tito Peping at his age is in many ways definitely remarkable. I don’t even dream of getting anywhere near the 90s myself, although with my good genes, I just might.
My 11-year-old granddaughter, Mona, has explicitly requested I live to 96. When I asked her why only 96, why not 100, she was surprised; she thought she was already being generous. “A hundred is already too much, Mamita!”
In any case, the only sensible advice on longevity I’ve heard just today, from a 96-year-old veteran of the Normandy invasion, D-Day the Sixth of June, Jake Larson, who, at 15, lied about his age—“by only three years”—to fight in the war—and lived to be at Normandy on the 75th anniversary of the invasion.
“Want to live as long as I have?” he told an American high school student beside him, listening as CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviewed Larson. “I have only two words for you: Don’t die!”
Mysteries of life
But who really knows? And I love it that no one knows. There’s no pattern, no known sequence of who goes earlier or later. Those are the mysteries of life that will be revealed in God’s own time. Dad, himself, liked to remind me, whenever I was puzzled by some happening, “Life does not owe you an explanation, kiddo!”
Meantime, what do we prioritize at this point? Is it time to reward ourselves—at last? Should we dedicate the rest of our lives to traveling and crossing off items on our bucket lists? Or do we start partitioning our material possessions, by selling or distributing them to heirs?
Many children don’t go for the bulky old furniture; nor would they have the place in their condos for those jars and other decorative porcelain planters. My own children don’t particularly appreciate silverware, which requires constant cleaning. Except for some special tambourine necklaces, my only daughter would much prefer modern jewelry, I’m sure.
Auctions are the exciting way to go for the disposal of old valuable things. Children are not as sentimental about things, unlike our generation of collectors and hoarders. So whether my portrait is by Amorsolo or some other younger painter, it most likely will end up at an auction, or worse in a bodega.
I myself would like to be liquid and financially secure. After all, it takes a lot of resources to be comfortable in old age, however long that might last.
The most valuable asset to ensure the quality of old life is family. Tito Peping, a widower for many years, is all smiles of contentment now, because he is blessed. Malen is there, and children who are far away come often enough, and so do grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
He still has three of nine brothers living. Only one, Marquitos, lives here. The youngest, Ding, has been living in Australia, but visits at least twice a year. Pipo, 96, lives in Los Angeles, but keeps in touch by FaceTime—its sound set at the loudest.
Tito Peping, no doubt well-taught by his mother, is very areglado, and I have no doubt he has done what needs to be done for his children, yet remains in full control of his assets.
Lola succeeded in convincing all of us to stay in control for as long as we can. She delivered her strong messages by anecdotes. She spoke of the tragic fates of those who had given away their possessions too early. Some of them ended up living on top of the garage or in some religious-run homes; even worse, they witnessed the dissipation of their assets in incompetent hands, who lacked the experience and the appreciation of the value added to property by blood, sweat and tears.
Lola herself lived to 92, and passed on her possessions close to the end of her life. Things worked out well: either she had nine good sons, or she was a wise and therefore, happy woman.