Some things are better in memory | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Some friends still cannot imagine themselves living within the confines of a condominium—no garden, no airy kitchen, no dogs. But for me and Vergel, it just seems the most natural thing.

It happened at the turn of the millennium. We had exchanged homes with my daughter and her husband and their three children. We had been living by ourselves in a five-bedroom house in Pasig, with a front garden and a kitchen good enough for a small restaurant. My daughter and her family, on the other hand, were all cramped up in a two-bedroom condominium in Makati. We eventually acquired the condominium from them, after remodeling it and they had to move again later, after we had sold our house, to a young couple, themselves starting out on their own. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think nostalgically of my old houses; in fact, the memory comes often enough. No, I don’t miss the maintenance expense at all—it’s the gardens. We still have a garden, though a very minimal one, potted or hanging in our balcony, which our kasambahay Lanie maintains for us. And it’s when I look at it that I think of my old gardens, and, gone old and practical, I find my enjoyment in the memory.

Thrill in growth

They weren’t instant gardens, so I remember them in their stages of development. My gardener Jaime and I planted saplings in my first garden, and every morning I got a thrill noting their growth. I had some pieces of driftwood placed where it was caught in the full sun, and we tied to them unrooted stalks of vanda orchids, which we watered moderately in the early morning and more generously after the sun had just set. Soon they grew roots and, once well anchored to the driftwood, bloomed lustily in shades of pink and orange and yellow.

Discarded railroad ties made for trellises where mostly yellow bells crept, but there, too, were honeysuckle, dama de noche, sampaguita and jasmine. Jars from Borneo and two antique ones from China with dragon designs accentuated the grassy landscape.

I remember not only the sights, but the feeling, too, me sitting there looking out as the plants take their water after the dry night and cool themselves in a second watering at sundown. The dogs that enjoyed the gardens as much as everyone else were themselves principal characters in my reminiscence. We always had dogs. Vergel in his youth had himself a boxer named Homer; his own father is shown on a treasured picture with a loving arm around his German shepherd. In my parents’ home, we first had our Frieda, a German shepherd herself fiercely loyal to Mom and just before I got married we had Sabrina, a dachshund, although she belonged more to my brother Danny.

I actually never had my own dog until I acquired a little rodent of a dog christened with loving affection and adoration as Rodentito de mi Vida, a dachshund with a mixture of pincher meanness and terrier nerves. He lived with us in my beautiful house-and-garden in White Plains, my dad’s own declared absolute favorite among my houses. That house was where my daughter’s hand was asked in marriage, where she left for the church and reception and didn’t come home to me again. And it was in that house’s garden where my first grandson, Carlo, took his first step.

Alas, it was also where my Rodentito, nicknamed Roden by my maids, died of heartbreak, possibly compounded by heartburn. We had taken away Panda, the female dachshund we had borrowed from my manicurist to somehow get him out of his antisocial personality.

Canine affection

Roden was a handsome dog, but he was angry at the world, other dogs included—until Panda. He became the happiest relentless lover. Panda had two difficult pregnancies and births, lost all her puppies after birth and we had to return her, afraid she might be a victim of Roden’s fatal love.

Panda’s departure proved too much for the hopelessly romantic Roden—he went on a hunger strike. The vet prescribed balut, and, true enough, Roden wouldn’t eat anything else. I will never forget how he looked at me as he lay dying at the vet’s. I didn’t want to lose another dog after him.

Dogs and gardens somehow belong together in my memory. Now that we’re living in a condo, and have no decent garden to speak of, it seems only right for us dwellers not to be allowed to have dogs. I get my fill of canine affection anyway from the 10 dogs at Anabel’s, where we do our aqua aerobics three times a week. It’s all I can handle at this stage, anyway.

I thought I might be ready for the more independent companionship of cats, who require minimal care, but, judging by the reaction of Anabel’s two cats to my friendly advances, I don’t seem their type. For all the years I’ve known Maggie and Coco they still give me the cold shoulder. I guess they prefer the unnatural cuddly friendships they have with the dogs. Even so, most of the time they seem to distance themselves from them as well, by staying perched on window sills or tabletops or car hoods, anywhere above the fray.

I guess everyone, humans or cats or dogs, could use more space, and also the fresh air that houses and gardens offer. In our condo I have all the fans going, sometimes even with the air conditioning also on. Vergel’s body thermostat still works—he’s never too hot or too cold. But me, when it’s too hot I’m dying and when it’s too cold I’m dead. I thrive on cool December-to-February breezes and in the other season on mountain air coming from our Panasonic at 21 degrees.

Vergel and I weaned ourselves early enough from dogs. We surely could still use some dog-loving, but we seem to have outlived each other, as we have outlived houses and gardens.And with all the children having flown the coop, life just had to move in another direction for everyone. INQ

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