There’s a Chinese proverb that says: “A family with an old person has a living treasure of gold.”
I wonder how many believe that. Not that I have illusions of being a treasure, or even becoming one. But it would be nice, wouldn’t it? To be held in high regard is among life’s loftiest aspirations, right alongside the fervent desire to be respected, loved and, yes, needed.
I have recently been meeting with seniors. Among other things, we discuss our fears as well as our joys. We laugh and sometimes we cry as we recall the soaring peaks and deep valleys of life.
It’s amazing that no matter how diverse our backgrounds are, we have similar experiences. There is no one else we know who could sit for hours to listen and understand our reminiscences and ruminations about the good old days. It is almost like having our own secret society.
We belong to an era that to the young seems almost prehistoric. But let me tell you. It was really good back then.
Today, a totally different landscape opens up before the youth. Times have changed and the changes have not been kind. We wonder how or why values went haywire. We search for rules of conduct that have all but disappeared.
The world around us has become unsafe and unfeeling. With all the incredible technology which pierces the remotest corners of outer space, it cannot even offer an ounce of the stability and sanity that once was a given in our everyday life.
In our struggle to accumulate wealth and all the trappings of success, we have lost the heart and soul of what makes life worth living.
Instead of looking so intently at what we can find in outer space, we might want to tighten the lens a little and focus on what is right in front of our faces—the family.
Long ago, there was a nightly reminder on television: “It is ten o’clock in the evening. (Or was it at 9 p.m.?) Do you know where your children are?”
It would probably be ridiculed today, even declared a violation of human rights or some other constitutional affront.
In our day, we asked permission to go anywhere. Today, you hear the slamming of the front door or the revving up of a car. Do you know where your children go and in whose company they are? I am told that parents no longer ask.
Things have spun out of control.
Is there a role that we as grandparents can play, to set things right? What are the chances of a lolo or lola stepping in? If one were to take a poll, I think the numbers would sadly show that we are expected to “butt out.”
What kind of a grandparent are you? I never knew mine. My dad was an orphan at a very early age, and my maternal grandmother died very young. I have a vague recollection of my Lolo. I remember annoying him by riding on the runners of his rocking chair. He swore under his breath in Spanish. I thought it sounded pretty. He smelled of Agua Florida. We visited him in the Tabacalera compound.
My mother was a doting lola, busy giving singing lessons, happiest when her grandchildren clamored for hugs and kisses at the end of her day.
It took several years and as many grandchildren to get me used to the idea that I was indeed a grandmother. I had visions of myself, sitting in a rocking chair surrounded by my grandchildren and telling them stories. I guess I wanted to be like Lola Basyang. I wanted to see their eyes sparkle and shine with excitement. I longed to see them holding their breaths, hanging on my every word.
Incidentally, I was quite upset when I learned that Lola Basyang was really a man—Severino Reyes, founder of the Liwayway magazine. He created “Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang,” a collection of classic short stories, legends, fables and fantasies, all gems of fiction steeped in our traditions and golden values. There were stories of a magic flute, a prince with a long nose, a magic violin and dozens more.
My grandchildren know very little about our family. Have I told them that my father grew up in an orphanage? Do they know that theatrical groups used to raise funds for him and his brothers so they could go to school?
Everyone enjoys a good story. Once at a Christmas dinner, I was reminiscing with another old-timer, and suddenly we had an audience of children and young adults. They couldn’t wait to hear more about the war, and tried to imagine what it was like before the advent of the cell phone. One of the little ones asked if I was older than Snow White.
I described dogfights, dive-bombers, a twin-bodied P38, and told them about the huge fires that were deliberately set before the city surrendered.
Will they believe that I once dined on an aircraft carrier and how, the very next week, I hyperventilated in a submarine? I must tell them that my first newspaper assignment as a society editor was an execution, and that I resigned on the spot, much to the delight of my city editor who laughed his head off and kept me on anyway.
They may enjoy hearing that once upon a time their lola was saling pusa; that when I played hide and seek, no one looked for me. I remember as a child, when teams were formed, I was so afraid not to be counted in.
Once in a while, this fear comes back. When there is a crisis, our children want to spare us. But we want to be in the moment. Our need to be needed is powerful.
Our shoulders may be starting to stoop but the weight of the years has made them strong and resilient. Our eyes may not be as clear, but they have seen more than you can ever imagine and have cried the tears you have yet to shed. And because we have journeyed longer and farther, we may have a nugget of wisdom for you.
Who knows, you may yet discover that, indeed, there is a living treasure of gold in your home.