On his 98th birthday party last year, my uncle Peping reminded his guests as they said their goodbyes, “Next year you better be here again for my 99th.”
Tito Peping has celebrated his birthday every year at the Quezon City Sports Club, in his neighborhood. The patriarch of the Roces family for a while now, he invites everyone, from the youngest to the oldest of his family on both sides, Roces and Reyes, for the occasion. And the attendance is always impressive; it reminds me of Christmas at Lolo and Lola’s.
Sometime this year, Tito Peping fell. He has become bedridden since. Before that, he still went to the office every morning. We, his nieces, would take him out to lunch every so often.
He even found time and energy to go out on afternoon dates, usually with girlfriends of his youth—by now he may have outlived most of them. Quite naturally, he gravitated toward women he has shared a past with. He must have had quite a few, and managed somehow to reconnect with them, in their widowhood.
He has been a widower himself for many years. Whenever his oldest daughter, Malen, who lives with him now, became impatient with him for these amorous reconnections, not to mention other unlikely indulgences for a super senior like him, including some, although very modest, imbibing, he would tease her and say, “Que mal humor! That’s what happens to people when they don’t have a love life!” And he would brag that he happened still to have one himself, “Yo, por lo menos, tengo!”
At any rate, all that stopped after his accident. Office work is now brought home to him. He continues to have good appetite, and still has good teeth for it. He has been allowed a bottle of San Mig Light a day. He loves to listen to music, Spanish songs especially.
He looks forward to visitors and loves to tell them stories from his awesome memory as well as listen to their own. His hearing being not that good, he sometimes surprises his guests with the volume of his voice.
About a week before his 99th, on Sept. 29, he asked Malen if a reservation had already been made at the club for his party. She told him firmly that perhaps he best celebrated it at home, with just the immediate family, which is large enough. For the occasion, he had an extra bottle of his favorite beer.
Tito Peping makes growing old seem like a piece of cake, something, in fact, to look forward to, not dread. He makes me feel young. At 79, I still enjoy a comfortable distance from his age. I imagine he also inspires in his three living brothers—age 96, 89, 87—some sense of security and hope.
I look at all the brothers and realize they have lived as they have chosen. Given a second chance, they’d probably live their lives exactly the same way all over again. That makes them unlike that doctor character in a novel, who does everything he feels expected to do, pleases his parents and be admired by everybody; on his deathbed, he realizes he is dying of the wrong life! I can’t imagine anything more tragic.
There are many ways we can choose to grow old. Tito Peping and his brothers have chosen to grow old not bitter and unforgiving, not disappointed or frustrated. They seemed at peace and without regrets; that is not to say they have not made mistakes. Maybe that’s precisely why they have all been so forgiving, tolerant, and as a consequence, happy and easily beloved by their children and nieces and nephews.
As I look back, so much of my own life has been unplanned, and I feel that where I’ve been and am now are beyond my expectations. Just after 40, that age of supposed renewal, life pleasantly surprised me with what would seem in others’ eyes, a mistake.
That “mistake” made me own my life. To this day I take all responsibility, but none of the credits, for my happiness. And I feel blessed—good genes, good fortune, good friends, indeed, the protection of guardian angels, whom I must have kept busy all my life.
What can I say except presume, “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good!”