It’s a good time to visit the past, especially when the present seems too bad to be true. And what better time and place to revisit than the happy, carefree days growing up after the war with my paternal grandparents in Park Avenue, Pasay City.
It was a two-story house, big enough for at least half of eight bachelor sons, the widow of the eldest son, the hero and their two children, and me and Ninit, firstborn to sons number two and three.
The house had a well-ventilated basement-bodega, high enough for the four of us children to explore standing at full height. A portion of it was converted into a dwelling place for Sara, yaya once to the youngest boys; she lived there for the rest of her long life. Bent by arthritis, she, too, didn’t need to stoop any lower to get around. She kept her place clean and neat, and looked forward to our occasional visits.
House on the corner
The house was on a corner lot, occupying half the block; the other half belonged to the Parsons, who had a sprawling magazine-pretty house with a big swimming pool we could see from our upstairs. We could also see part of their garden, with those huge trees, some of whose branches reached over the solid fence between us.
On one of those branches was tied a pet monkey, which cousin Tony loved to tease. Well, one day it managed to get loose and pounced on poor Tony, biting him on the neck and refusing to let go until help came.
There was, built into the tall concrete wall between the two properties, a pedestrian gate used more often by the two younger Parson boys who came over to play with us. Through all the years I lived with Lolo and Lola, through all of grade school, I don’t recall ever having gone over to the other side.
After we cousins had all grown up and all the Roces brothers had gotten married, that gate never opened again from either side.
On our grounds, the long driveway ended on a basketball half-court in front of the two-car garage between the separate quarters for the male and female household members; as hoped, the arrangement must have somehow prevented nocturnal visits between them, for the years passed without domestic scandals I can recall.
Sunday lunches were Roces family reunions. Lola served her especially memorable pochero with the pickled garlicky mashed eggplant sauce and Spanish tomato sauce. The Roceses were always big on desserts, and these were made by my grandparents’ daughters-in-law.
The reunions often extended even after both grandparents had emerged from their siesta. Sometimes an uncle, usually Anding, would take a quick nap in Lolo’s silia perezosa in the living room. Soon my uncles, all great outdoorsmen, would be on the basketball court. There was, after all, energy to burn after the feast.
Nobody was ever properly geared for those impromptu games. Dad would remove his barong and play in his camisa China, long pants and leather shoes. In their youth only three of the nine brothers made the height to qualify for school competitions. Dad wasn’t one of them.
At the back end of the court were two concrete benches for short breaks of cold Sarsi or iced water or Lola’s homemade atis ice cream, both players and spectators. I myself preferred watching from the screened window of the dining room.
It was from the same window that my grandparents took a peek whenever we held evening dancing parties on that court; she would inevitably ask someone to turn up the lights. As soon as she retired, the lights were dimmed again.
Way of coping
There, I feel better already. For a while I forgot that Rodrigo Duterte’s notorious solicitor general was being recycled as chair of the Commission on Audit for the President and that Rappler had been ordered shut down by the Securities and Exchange Commission, among other recent bad news.
For that alone my trip to the past was well worth it. If I reminisce in the midst of sad and dangerous times, it is my way of coping and inspiring fellow seniors to plod on, until we can think of a better and more active response.
If I don’t feel inspired to hope, it’s because I’ve seen all this before. What adds to my gloom is that I happen to believe that if any gesture of goodwill from the new President had been forthcoming, it would have already come when he was still wooing the voters.
There are, of course, always those who like to hang on to hope and, if the choice were between that and becoming utterly helpless, they could be doing the right thing for themselves anyway, for peace of mind and general morale.
Try as I may, I cannot seem yet to navigate myself into that safe haven where I could wait this storm out. Those who have survived such severe times say what kept them going was not hope, which could wane and be lost in time, but acceptance of the reality, as bad as it was, and taking it a day at a time.