Eating food and lapping up stories, one over another, over one other (but they could all make heads and tails of all of them), laughter that came from throat and heart, and jokes that showed their hidden wit and unflappable humor.
All nine children of my maternal grandparents: Papa Ding and Lola Nena. Each one married to a spouse and multiplied by five or more children each!
Ha! What a raucous time we all had!
Grown-ups disciplined by a Spanish inquisition that went awry, and their children romping around like free jailbirds.
I was one of the cousins—maybe the one with the loudest mouth. That was in the ’60s.
We played and only spoke in English while we did.
Soon the grown-ups moved to the ’70s. Not their age, the year. They were the same rascals around the dining table who made an uproar like drunken-mad men at war.
We cousins began growing up into teens and discovered sex. Also, 90210, Bestfriends, Gossip Girls, and other things unsaid. But we still romped around like toddlers gone mad.
These were our Christmas reunions.
Soon, the venue changed to my uncle’s house in Bel-Air, Makati. And since the grown-ups were already more or less nearing the age of the years we moved there (the 1990s), they regally sat down around a royal dining table with gold trimmings and a proper centerpiece.
Yet, they never behaved. The laughter was atrociously loud, and the jokes—only they could understand them and further carouse!
What happened to us cousins, fully in our tweens and adolescent years?
We went to the park.
The park was right in front of my uncle’s house, and that’s where some of us sat and shared sacred secrets, or where we walked under the moonlight, so happy to be with each other because such a reunion only happened once a year.
I was then an actress at Repertory Philippines and my co-actor, who lived across my uncle’s house, and I would meet every night of that family reunion—at the park—and exchange our silly Christmas gifts. Nah, we weren’t in love with each other. We just found it naturally quirky, as most stage actors are, to see each other, one night of each year, at the park, giving each other Christmas presents like tiny snowballs and pens without ink.
My family thought I was finally going out with a decent guy who lived in Bel-Air! So, they watched us every night, which I didn’t know. They knew we were going to walk down the aisle together.
I really disappointed them. Boo-hoo.
Meanwhile, back at the dinner table of the grown grown-ups, food that cause hypertension and diabetes and laughter were still staples, as usual!
Then, one by one, the grown-ups said goodbye.
When the new millennium blasted in, guess who was sitting around the dining table?
US. Us grown-ups. Us cousins!
Food and laughter were the same staples. And stories one on top of another were being told, yet everyone could understand them!
Then one of my cousins made an obvious but blind-to-our-eye observation: We were taking the place of the previous grown-ups!
Which meant we were growing old, but nobody mentioned it for fear that there would be a terrible hurricane at the dining table.
Our kids went to the park. But they weren’t romping around. They were quiet. We thought, are they having fun?
This year, the next traditional reunion was back. Potluck, this time. My cousin Marissa makes to-die-for callos and my brother brings to-fight-to-the-death-for pork barbecue.
And the rumble for food began as cousins and teenage children, now numbering more than calculus could calculate, clashed into silver and ceramics to hold their glutton’s food with.
Before that melee, I saw my loving cousin, Michael, walk in with my more-loving Miguel, his only child.
I love Miguel because we can engage in verbal swordplay and choose topics that even politicians and a Senate hearing cannot manipulate or understand the vocabulary of.
I asked Michael to take three “artistic” shots of Miguel and I because I saw Michael carrying an almost professional camera and a tripod. As an advertising producer, I told him to look for backgrounds with textures, and I told him that since this would probably be the last reunion they would see me without a tummy, I posed madder than Beyonce would. Or than those models on “Double Exposure.”
Get outta my way, babes!
We finished the fantastic shots.
Then, the bomb: “Daddy!” says my Miguel. “Now, can I take out my laptop? Pleaseeee?”
Our children didn’t go to the park.
They were huddled in twos or threes with their own laptops, laughing, cheering—quietly, if that’s at all possible. Miguel was on his own, smiling at his laptop, like he was watching a circus.
They weren’t romping around like we used to.
I decided to cross the gate of my uncle’s house one last time, and walked to the park by myself. It was grassy green, and there was a pathway that led here and there, and a comfortable bench which I sat on.
I was able to meditate, my eyes closed, my ears hearing nothing but wisps of breeze.
Peace had descended and unlocked my cage.
Our children will never have these.
They will never receive Christmas cards whose hard paper you can touch and whose loved one’s writing on ink you can run your fingers through. They will never receive letters on beautiful stationeries that speak of quiet love, and whose handwriting is still warm, with tears falling down.
They have e-mails, instead.
They will never read a book the way we did: touch its pages as you excitedly turn each page to get into the secret of the author’s cave. Or fold a little triangle on a page’s top tip to mark your favorite poem or your fave suspense. Or close a book with its hard-bound back and front covers.
Books are now in Apple’s new iPad.
How does “The Prophet” by Khalil Gibran get read on an iPad, I wonder?
But there is one unbearable, never-we-thought-in-our-family thing our children will never do.
They will never sit around the Christmas dining table anymore.