Category Archives: Family

Press Rewind

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  1. Dance, Dance – Fall Out Boy

It was her English. I hated it. Mostly, I think I just hated her guts.

We lived in the province. Bisaya mi dapat but Kaye almost always spoke in English—to her friends, to our teachers, to most people, in general—and I didn’t get why. None of us in the batch did, which is probably why we liked to tease her about it. I thought being classmates with her back in fifth grade, the first and last time we would ever be in the same section, would help me in figuring her out but it didn’t do much. Most days, I would find her with a book in hand, reading, lost in her own world. Sometimes, she would be drawing on her mini notebooks. But even without a book or a sketchpad, I knew there was something unique about her, speaking English as if it was the most natural thing in the world, not caring if people thought her weird. I found her weird.

“Kaye! Ayaw na pag-English uy. Unsa ka, Amerikano?” (Don’t speak English anymore. Who do you think you are, an American?)

“Why? What’s wrong with that?” she replied with a shrug.

Despite our mothers and brothers being friends with each other, that didn’t really translate well for us, at least at that time. While their friendship is one that has reached the level where they occasionally invite and visit each other’s house especially during fiesta, ours was one characterized mostly by banters and me bossing her around at times. It’s funny how things turn out in the end.

One way or another, writing somehow brought us together and became our common ground. When we both became part of the editorial board of our school paper in sixth grade, that’s when I knew more about her and found that, despite everything, we were more similar than what we expected. Our love for books should’ve served as a foreshadowing but it took us a year to realize it. We moved in different social circles yet we somehow found that we can make our own circle, one wherein we can talk about Fall Out Boy and how hot Patrick is even if he’s chubby (it must be his voice). I only knew about them since “Dance, Dance” came out before I got hold of more of their older songs. “Hey, I have all of their songs from their EP album,” she told me. Before I knew it, I was singing their songs nonstop. After that, we began to agree on more things—poetry, movies, and just about anything else. We talked about random things without judging each other and that’s what I liked most about it. Then again, the teasing didn’t really go away and I guess it will always be there. It will always be part of our friendship.

Before I knew it, she got to me. Hey Kaye, how’s it going? As much as I don’t want to admit it, at least out loud, frequent conversations with her eventually helped improve my English skills. I admit I was intimidated at first but it challenged me which was why I felt like I had to keep up. Now, I’m the one finding myself to be biting my tongue and eating my words, when I said people shouldn’t really use English in everyday conversations. Good thing Kaye didn’t stop her quirk when everyone else told her to.

“When we had our camping back in Grade 5, I woke up in the middle of the night and began to smell M&M’s. I was surprised when I found out it actually came from Trish, who was sleeping with her mouth open.”

Although Kaye practically embarrassed me in front of everyone during my debut, I can’t believe that was the thing she remembered the most out of all the four or five years we’ve been friends.

A few weeks before we were about to graduate high school, she told me her mom planned to send her to London, where some of their relatives are. Of course, she didn’t want to do it, at least not yet, so they agreed to hold it off until after she graduates college. Now, we’re already in senior year and she told me how her mom brought it up again, and that it might be happening for real this time. When she did, I couldn’t help but blurt out, “London is my dream place. I’m the one who’s supposed to go there first, remember?” But really, I think it’s just because I know I’d miss her.
2. Gemini – Sponge Cola

It was sometime between 2006 to 2007 when Hale, Bamboo, Itchyworms, and a lot of other bands ruled the airwaves—the golden days, the rebirth of Filipino band music. No matter what radio station or Filipino channel you switch to, you can almost always hear that heavy guitar riff coupled with the vocalist’s deep baritone or bass, depending on the song they are playing, leaving you as angry or as hurt as what the song’s lyrics are trying to say. Being the music lover that I am, it was probably one of my best times since I enjoyed Original Pinoy Music or OPM. Of course, I had my favorite band. My lucky pick? Sponge Cola.

To prove how much of a fan I was, I bought their CD’s and listened to them over and over again, memorizing their song lyrics as much as I could. I even joined their mailing list, read and occasionally left messages in the hopes of Yael, the vocalist, noticing them and actually sending me a reply. Mostly, I was just content with the thought of him at least knowing that I exist and am a fan of his band. Whenever my classmates would try and say something bad about the band, I would, as calm as I could, always try to defend the band and prove them wrong. Whenever they would come up on the TV, I would stop whatever it is that I was doing then and allowed myself to be drawn in by their performance. That was how much I was into them.

One of the things about living in Bohol was that it wasn’t as urbanized as its neighboring province, Cebu. Whenever I would see artists promoting their concerts and mall tours, I would almost always get disappointed since I knew they won’t go to our place. Just when I was about to stop hoping that it would eventually happen, out of nowhere, Bohol Chronicle, the Sunday newspaper, ran a full page advertising Sponge Cola’s show a few days after. Of course, I freaked out. Screw everything. I had to watch that.

After planning it out with my parents, I went to the mall a few hours before the show to meet up with my friends. Upon hearing that the members were having their dinner in one of the restaurants, we immediately went outside it to wait for them, as embarrassing as that may sound. When I saw a glimpse of the band members, I couldn’t help but panic. Then they started coming out, moving towards us. Ohmigod. OHMIGOD. Even if I tried to plan how I would react when I would finally meet them, my excitement took control over me, leaving me speechless as I just let my friends say, “Hi! Can we take a picture with you?” Click. Yael signed my CD and left. I was stunned. I was overwhelmed. It was just surreal.

Even if listening to CD’s is a great experience, getting to see and hear my favorite bands perform live is still a different experience entirely. It was my first time to be in a concert of a band that I love so I wanted to make the most of it as much as I could.

Come a little closer, flicker in flight.

They were just starting their second song, “Gemini,” when I received a call from my parents. They were already in the parking lot, waiting for me. “Pero bag-o pa man nagsugod.” (But the show just started.) As much as how hard I tried to plead with them, for them to at least let me stay until their next song, they insisted that I go home. I couldn’t do anything. Frustrated, I couldn’t help but cry, my friends asking me what’s wrong. With one last look at the stage, I left. It was a quiet car ride.

Looking back, I couldn’t help but think how ridiculous it all was. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that one of the reasons why I wanted to go to Ateneo for college was because Sponge Cola graduated from there. Now, I almost see them perform everywhere—OrSem, Ateneo’s 150th celebration, and even during the Bonfire for two years straight. I don’t even need to push my way just to get a good view of them performing since it isn’t as crowded like in usual concerts. The front view is mine for the taking.

3. Wherever You Will Go – The Calling

Emmanuel. That’s his name. I can’t really pinpoint what it was about him that gave me butterflies whenever he would talk to me. Yes, he was tall but he wasn’t exactly what you’d consider good looking. He wasn’t even the kind, Boy-Next-Door type; we used to argue most of the time. Maybe it’s because he was part of the basketball varsity team back when we were in sixth grade, Team Captain at that, or because he can play the guitar. I remember him playing and singing to me, although a bit playfully, Christian Bautista’s song, “The Way You Looked at Me,” one lunch time and I swear I could’ve melted, if that were possible.

Even with that, it was always whenever he played The Calling’s song, “Wherever You Will Go,” that would always make me feel like there are butterflies in my stomach, as cliché as that might sound. He would be plucking the strings and producing the melody that I knew so well from early mornings of hearing it on TV every breakfast, a melody that I eventually learned to associate with him, his guitar, and, of course, his smile. Whenever Emmanuel played it on the guitar, I couldn’t help but notice how he had on a different look in his eyes, like he was doing something serious. For me, it was as if he was revealing a bit of himself whenever he’s working and doing something he loves. It’s the same look I see in him whenever he plays basketball. From being the playful guy I know, he becomes serious and turns into someone different; I liked that kind of different.

Maybe that’s it. I tend to like guys who can do those things—play the guitar, be good at basketball, and just make me laugh. In case you’re wondering, no, we did not get together. I wish, though. We used to hang out a lot and talk even during class but, as we were nearing our grade school graduation, he suddenly stopped talking to me. By the time we got to high school, we lost communication. He moved to a different school where, according to our common friends, he was still part of the basketball team. I also heard he found himself a girlfriend there. Huh. I wonder what song he plays for her on the guitar.
4. All You Need is Love – The Beatles

The thing about not being too affectionate as a family is that you learn to gauge things by feeling them, using your intuition of some sort. Receiving “God bless ingat” is probably an equivalent of “I love you” or “I care for you.” Likewise, my brother staying at my lolo’s house, which is just beside ours, must mean that my mom is angry and therefore should not be crossed, leaving us to behave in our best behavior as possible. We’re not the type to really prod about each other’s lives that much, so I have always wondered what my parents’ favorites and even peeves are. With my dad spending only a few months at home every year because of his work, I’ve always wondered what he was like the most.

Being the ate, I was tasked to at least clean some parts of our house, to wipe the dust off our cabinets every morning. Even though it seemed like a tedious task sometimes, it was how I discovered my dad’s collection of CD’s—AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and, oddly enough, Shania Twain. Except for the fact that those bands were metal bands from the 80’s, I didn’t know them that much. However, it was his Abbey Road CD that caught my attention the most. I knew who The Beatles was and so I felt that this was something I could relate to. I knew their songs, liked most of them, and it made me happy to know that my dad did, too.

As soon as I saw the trailer for Across the Universe, a movie musical which not only featured Jim Sturgess, an actor who I liked, but also featured Beatles songs, I knew I wanted to watch it and so I did, thanks to a copy I found off the dorm network back when I was in freshman year. Hearing all the Beatles songs, I couldn’t help but think of my dad. He would probably like this.

During that sem break, my dad was back at home, taking a break off work. It was one of those afternoons when the world just seemed so peaceful, the sun’s heat at just the right temperature, enough for us to rest for a while after having lunch. My mom and brother were sleeping while I, on the other hand, was on the bed, using my laptop, when suddenly my iTunes playlist played a random Beatles song off the movie’s soundtrack.

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung

Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game

It’s easy

As soon as the opening lines were sung, I tried to maximize the player’s volume and tried to sneak a look at my dad, who was sitting on the couch. Just as I guessed, he recognized the song. I saw him humming along the lines of the song, gently tapping his hand on the arm rest. I watched him and marveled at that moment when I felt like I had him figured out. Even if we didn’t really get to see each other 365 days a year, I felt like I knew him that well. He eventually looked at me and smiled. Then, I scanned my playlist for more songs I could play for him.

Red

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1. I donated blood today. Fainted a few minutes right after. Good thing SpOpen Mic Night was just across the corner.
2. Ken slipped, then had part of his chin torn open when he got up. I panicked, he didn’t; I was 16, he was just 7.
3. I heard my parents have sex once. From then on, I told myself to sleep early whenever my dad’s around.
4. Your favorite color was red and after we broke up, I told myself I wouldn’t like red anymore. I still do.
5. My friends tell me they can’t imagine me being angry. I tell them, I become a sailor.
6. It was a good thing it was a Saturday when I first got my period. I woke up with my shorts soaked in blood. Then, after cleaning up, I jumped three flights of stairs. Good thing they didn’t wipe my face with the stuff.
7. I first had a crush on someone when I was in Grade 5. I’ve always imagined us kissing in some room while everyone was out. We never did.
8. Yet, I first truly fell in love when I was in 6th Grade. I fell in love with how he always told me interesting stories, how he played basketball really well, and how he smelled really nice everyday. Then, he started avoiding me. It was like a sad love song stretched out for more than 4 minutes.

Everybody’s son

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It was supposed to be a good day. The sun was shining, we were all laughing, then it happened. You ran, slipped, fell on the floor. When you got up, there was already a little bit of blood on your face. A certain portion of your chin was cut open. I immediately panicked while you just stood there, clueless or, maybe, in shock of what just happened. It’s funny how you were the one telling me to calm down and call Mommy Jenny. I think you were only 6 years old then; I was 16. I guess age doesn’t always tell who’s the grown up.

It’s hard for you, isn’t it? Moving schools, staying in different places, and having a lot of “moms.” You didn’t even get to meet your real dad. Everyone in the family calls you their son but your real mom wasn’t around until now. That’s why I try my best to understand you, even if you can be a little prick sometimes. I just hope you don’t let resentment or whatever negative feeling grow in your heart. It may not be the greatest but we’re trying our best to raise you to be the best person you can be. I hope you know that Ate day, Kuya Adrianne, Mommy Lalai, and Dada Laido are always, always here for you. Just don’t test our patience.

Happy birthday Ken! I miss you. You’re like a real brother to me. Good luck!

Press Rewind (An Excerpt)

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4. All You Need is Love – The Beatles

The thing about not being too affectionate as a family is that you learn to gauge things by feeling them, using your intuition of some sort. Receiving “God bless ingat” is probably an equivalent of “I love you” or “I care for you.” Likewise, my brother staying at my lolo’s house, which is just beside ours, must mean that my mom is angry and therefore should not be crossed, leaving us to behave in our best behavior as possible. We’re not the type to really prod about each other’s lives that much, so I have always wondered what my parents’ favorites and even peeves are. With my dad spending only a few months at home every year because of his work, I’ve always wondered what he was like the most.

Being the ate, I was tasked to at least clean some parts of our house, to wipe the dust off our cabinets every morning. Even though it seemed like a tedious task sometimes, it was how I discovered my dad’s collection of CD’s—AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and, oddly enough, Shania Twain. Except for the fact that those bands were metal bands from the 80’s, I didn’t know them that much. However, it was his Abbey Road CD that caught my attention the most. I knew who The Beatles was and so I felt that this was something I could relate to. I knew their songs, liked most of them, and it made me happy to know that my dad did, too.

As soon as I saw the trailer for Across the Universe, a movie musical which not only featured Jim Sturgess, an actor who I liked, but also featured Beatles songs, I knew I wanted to watch it and so I did, thanks to a copy I found off the dorm network back when I was in freshman year. Hearing all the Beatles songs, I couldn’t help but think of my dad. He would probably like this.

During that sem break, my dad was back at home, taking a break off work. It was one of those afternoons when the world just seemed so peaceful, the sun’s heat at just the right temperature, enough for us to rest for a while after having lunch. My mom and brother were sleeping while I, on the other hand, was on the bed, using my laptop, when suddenly my iTunes playlist played a random Beatles song off the movie’s soundtrack.

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung

Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game

It’s easy

As soon as the opening lines were sung, I tried to maximize the player’s volume and tried to sneak a look at my dad, who was sitting on the couch. Just as I guessed, he recognized the song. I saw him humming along the lines of the song, gently tapping his hand on the arm rest. I watched him and marveled at that moment when I felt like I had him figured out. Even if we didn’t really get to see each other 365 days a year, I felt like I knew him that well. He eventually looked at me and smiled. Then, I scanned my playlist for more songs I could play for him.

Happy father’s day to all the father’s out there, especially to my own! Thank you very much for introducing me to the wonderful world of technology and music, for teaching me that when the going gets tough, laugh, and for showing us what “unconditional love and sacrifice” really means. Please know that we all miss you and hope you to see you soon. I wish you can come home and see me receive my diploma during my college graduation. 🙂

It’s inevitable anyway

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True story: After reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman last January (it was around New Year when I read it), I kind of began this paranoia that I would die soon (read: that night). I wasn’t able to sleep, or at least tried to postpone it, because I thought it would stop It from happening. At least, not until much later on in my life.

Crazy, right?

By Mikko Ona

By Mikko Ona

I just came from Mikko’s wake this afternoon together with the other Speple and I just can’t help but be overwhelmed by everything. I don’t really know her that much, aside from she worked on the Splayday poster which was awesome, but I could totally sense that she was a bright person, radiating her love and warmth to everyone around her. This was all based on the pictures and letters they put up.

Being the sometimes-emotionally attached person that I am, I managed to hold it in then I overheard this man talking to her dad:

Guy: What was her major?
Dad: ComTech.
Guy: So she wanted to be like you?

I dunno why, really, but I think that hit me. She could’ve gone on, have a career, and be like her dad. I wonder how he felt after hearing that. We only have 2 weeks until finals week and one more year until we graduate. Yet, she died. 😦 I’d like to believe that everyone gets to Go eventually–death is inevitable–but I guess her time was just too soon.

***

My overactive mind then tried to work its magic…

What if it happened to us? What if I died? What would my parents feel? What if my brother would die ahead of me? Will I ever be able to handle it and still stay sane?

I know I’m overreacting to this but I can’t help it. We’ve had our fair share of relatives or just people we know die before. We’ve attended their wakes, their funerals, and we think they’re enough to prepare us for Death. Yet, when it happens, we find that we can never be ready. We’re wrong. It’s still the same hurt and grief and sadness and maybe even regret that grips us every time something like this happens.

Then again, I wish I could be prepared.

I Love My Monito, Yes I Do

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                     I love my monito but I won’t tell you.

                     Huddled together in my grandparents’ house, at the living room to be exact, a loud rendition of this song fills the room as my cousins, titos and titas, mom, younger brother, along with my grandparents—Nanay and Tatay—anticipate who the lucky recipient of the gift is. “Siya ang head of the family. Saba siya unsahay pero okay lang,” (He is the head of the family. He’s quite loud sometimes but it’s okay) I said as I described my monito and was now moving around, ready to give my gift. A chorus of ooh’s and ah’s or even just loud peals of laughter then followed right after I handed it over, its mysterious owner revealed. “Si Tatay!” If one were walking in the streets and happened to pass by, it would probably seem to him/her that the loud squeals and cheers came from teenage girls and boys when really, they were adults in their late 30’s or 40’s who just so happened to be excited upon receiving their presents, their giddiness also evident in their wide grins. This was how I always remembered what Christmas was like. This is how I always wanted it to be.

                     Even when I was a kid, Christmas was the holiday I most looked forward to. For my father’s side of the family, it wasn’t just Christmas. It was also a season of our own festivities: Nanay’s birthday on the 18th, Tita Jenny and Tito Pidoy’s wedding anniversary on the 21st, and Ate Fretze’s birthday on the 27th. Christmas week was jam packed. I have learned to prepare my stomach for heavy dinners, which usually consists of homba (adobong baboy), pansit (for long life), ice cream, and any other food family members decide to bring. “Diet” was a foreign word to us during that time. Yet, among all the activities that made up our week, I think the main highlight of the celebrations is our Monito/Monita Gift Giving.

                     After quite a few years of doing it, I was suddenly appointed “Chairman of the Programs,” a term coined by Mommy Whennieh, my tita. This meant that I had the responsibility of writing the names of each family member who will be present during the event—from my grandparents to my cousins—on a piece of paper, rolling it, and then keeping it in a small container. When the members would drop by the house a few days before Christmas, usually after arriving from Cebu, I would then have them pick their monito or monita randomly. I’m not sure if they know this but being given this task has one secret quirk, a conspiracy I have with my mom. Instead of picking a random name, we would choose our monito (or monita) for the family and pick his or her name from the jar in secret. We usually choose someone who we think is easy to pick a gift for in order to make the trip to the mall easier.

Photo not mine

                     After all the hullaballoo caused by last minute preparations and hectic shopping mall trips come the big day—Christmas Eve, the day of our gift-giving. Dinner is served at our grandparents’ house, with everyone coming in their best casual clothes and eating mostly ordered dishes from JJ’s Seafood, a restaurant where we usually order food during special occasions, and some dishes prepared by the few members who are actually inclined towards cooking. Sometimes, if people are up to it, there’d be desserts and other sorts of carb-filled food—biko (sweet sticky brown rice), ice cream, buko pandan, or special lasagna baked by Tita Penny.

                     At around 9 o’clock, the TV is turned off and upbeat music is played as everyone would gather in the living room. A prayer, usually led by Tatay, signals the start of the night’s festivities. Before the giving out of gifts, the giver is supposed to give a clue on who his/her monito or monita is, usually a description or a memorable event they both shared. It’s funny how everyone would throw in their guesses of who it could be.

                     “Gwapo? Ah, si Adrianne siguro na!” (Gwapo? Ah, that must be Adrianne!)

                     “Dili. Basin si Patrick. Pwede pud si Ken.” (No. It might be Patrick or even Ken.)

                     Everyone would then erupt in squeals and laughter after finding out if their guesses were correct or not upon the delivery of the gift to its owner. This cycle then continues until everyone is finished. A series of enthusiastic “Thank you’s” and warm hugs is exchanged after everyone has opened their gifts, their gift wrappers and boxes scattered on the floor.

                     When Ken, our youngest cousin in the bunch (of a dozen), was already old enough to talk, he’d sometimes recite a poem afterwards, to the admiration of everyone. After the program, people would come up for another round of food and the usual chitchats and lively conversations between family members who haven’t seen each other for a long time continue. The elders (or young at heart, as I’ve always thought of them) position themselves at the dining table while my cousins and I watch TV shows, get busy surfing the net or playing the PSP, and whatnot. By 2am, Tita Jenny and the others start to say their final Christmas greetings and then leave for their own homes. It was yet another Christmas Day celebration.

                     Like every holiday or celebration, tables are cleaned, bags are packed, and we then return to our usual routine. Looking back, I sometimes think the whole thing required too much effort. Having to think of what gifts to buy and when to buy them, add to that the long lines and large crowd in the malls, kind of made me feel like it was such a hassle. Yet, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. How I wish I could go back to those times.

 ***

                     No matter how fun or important they may have become, there are just some traditions that are bound to be broken one way or another. Pluto is now off the list of planets in the Solar System. Ateneo now accepts women in the college level. Hey, my dad might even be there during my next graduation. Change is inevitable and this was no exception.

                     The first blow would have to be the first Christmas without Tita Penny back in 2004. She died of a kind of lymphoma, a rare kind of skin cancer about a week before Christmas (my mom broke the news to me while I was studying Math for our quarterly exam the next day) and it affected us deeply, especially Nanay who had just celebrated her birthday a day before Tita passed away. Because of what just happened, I didn’t think the whole gift-giving would still push through but, eventually, it did. The mood was a bit more quiet, more subdued. I remember Ate Daye, the eldest among us cousins, leading the opening prayer and how we were all trying hard to stop our tears from falling. No matter how much we kept our composure, some were unsuccessful, including me.

                     The show, as they say, must go on, which is why we mustered our courage, put on a brave face, and tried to have as much fun as possible. I’d like to think that it was how Tita Penny would have wanted it anyway. I’ve always seen her as one of the funny and loud titas that I have, with her sharp wit and laugh that seemed to echo in the room. As petty as it may be, it was that time when I felt sad because she wouldn’t be able to give me and my brother Christmas money anymore. Also, I began to miss her famous lasagna. Hers was one of the best ones I’ve ever tried and now, we won’t be able to serve it anymore during family gatherings.

                     Five years after, in 2009, we were missing another family member again. This time it was Nanay. After a few times of being in and out of the hospital, she passed away early in the year, in March. I admit that period was emotionally draining, since everyone of us in the family would be called to gather in her room for quite a number of times, never really knowing if that would really be our last moment with her or not. The first Christmas without her, a few days after her birthday, was just as sad or maybe, even worse. For us cousins, she was our grandmother; for my titas and titos, she was their mother. Since most of us in the family are close to her, her death deeply affected us.

                     Once again, we were all trying to hold back our tears but our sadness was too strong and it overpowered our desire to appear brave. Aside from the usual catching-up done by the elders, almost all of us were reminiscing about our moments with her. “Luya na gyud kaayo to si Nanay adto.” (She was already very weak during that time.) As they pondered about her last days, their eyes were often in a faraway gaze, their thoughts somewhere else. After the festivities were done, I saw them off the gate as they left for their respective houses, helped my mom clean up the mess in Tatay’s house, and as I turned off the lights in the living room, I couldn’t help but wonder if that would be the last Christmas I’d have wherein we were that complete. It was.

                     It may sound bad but I have come, in a way, to be wary of December. Although the holiday spirit is still there, I can’t help but still feel a certain void somewhere, the empty chairs reminding me of family members I used to laugh with and happier days we used to have. As unreasonable as it may sound, I’m afraid that we would again be missing another member in the family sometime soon, death taking them away from us. Then again, I wonder if this is how the family can come together again just like before, since it would mean everyone would come home. Although we sometimes visit our cousins in Cebu and spend Christmas there, having our own mini-gathering and dinner, it will only be a shadow, an echo of a time when we were much happier and complete. It’s just not the same.

 ***

                     Whether we like it or not, time never really stops for anyone, leaving us no choice but to go and move on with our lives. So, we did. Tita Jenny and Ate Fretze moved to Cebu for Ate’s college. Ate Chad, Mommy Whennieh’s daughter, soon followed and stayed with them in order to find a job. Tito Ondoy and his family became too occupied with work and school and prevented them from coming to Bohol. As the years increased, our number dwindled. With the changing circumstances, it became harder to bring everyone together in order to spend Christmas like we used to. What used to be a festive and loud event eventually turned into a quieter and smaller one. Christmas came to be just my mom, my younger brother, me, Tatay, Tito Pidoy, Mommy Whennieh, and Daddy Casto. On rare occasions, my dad would be there, too. To celebrate, we would only have a simple dinner, admittedly not having as much food as before. As early as 12:30am, we would already start cleaning up, a far cry from before which usually lasted way after midnight. Although it took a bit of time to get used to, I’ve slowly learned to accept the fact that these changes were inevitable and that I—we—had no choice but to live with it.

                     When I have my own family, I would like to continue this tradition. Thinking about who my future monito or monita would be and what gift he or she might give me excites me and hopefully, my future family members will feel the same, too. What joy it would be for them the love and warmth of spending time with your family, the same feeling I felt whenever we had our Christmas celebrations. I wonder if they know me well enough to pick out the things that I really like (although I believe gifts are meant to be appreciated no matter what). Also, this time, I won’t cheat in choosing my monito or monita. I promise.

 

Something I put off posting since I had a slow connection back home but now that I have a better one, here it is. 🙂 Tell me what you think.

30-1 Tamblot Street

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I love my monito but I won’t tell you.

Huddled together in my grandparents’ house, at the living room to be exact, a loud rendition of this song would be sung by everyone as we—my cousins, titos and titas, mom, younger brother, along with Nanay and Tatay (my grandparents)—anticipate who the lucky recipient of the gift is. A chorus of ooh’s and ah’s or even just loud peals of laughter would then follow right after the gift is handed, its mysterious owner revealed. To an outsider, it would probably make one think twice if these really are adults in their late 30’s and 40’s or just a bunch of teenage girls and boys who are as excited as someone who had just received a present, their giddiness evident in their big grins. I don’t know how or when it started but it has always been like this in our family, on my father’s side, every Christmas. And how I hope it would always be.

Even when I was a kid, Christmas was the holiday I most looked forward to. Aside from the usual Christmas festivities, two from our family, Nanay and Ate Fretze, celebrate their birthday a few days before and after Christmas, respectively. I have learned to prepare my stomach for heavy dinners, usually consisting of homba (adobong baboy), pansit (for long life), and spaghetti. “Diet” never existed in our vocabulary. Yet, among them all, the main highlight of the celebrations would be our Monito/Monita Gift Giving.

Unsure of how it came to be, I became the so-called “Chairman of the Programs,” a term coined by Mommy Whennieh, my tita. This entailed the responsibility of writing the names of each family member present, from my grandparents to my cousins, on a rolled piece of paper and having them pick their monito or monita randomly. This would usually be done when they would visit my grandparents’ house after arriving from Cebu, where they live, a few days before Christmas. Being given this task has one secret quirk, a conspiracy I have with my mom. Instead of picking a random name, we would choose our monito (or monita), including one for my brother, and pick his or her name from the jar in secret. That person is someone whom we think is easy to pick a gift for in order to make gift-shopping easier. Sometimes, it would be four whenever my dad’s home, which isn’t that often due to his job overseas.

After all the hullaballoo caused by last minute preparations and shopping mall trips come the big day—Christmas Eve, the day of our gift-giving. Dinner is served at our grandparents’ house, where everyone would come in their best clothes and eat mostly ordered dishes from JJ’s Seafood, a restaurant where we usually order food during special occasions since there are only a few in our family who are fond of cooking, or maybe they’re just too busy to do so. Sometimes, if people are up to it, there’d be dessert and other sorts of carb-filled food—biko (sweet sticky brown rice), ice cream, buko pandan, or special lasagna baked by Tita Penny.

At around 9 o’clock, the TV is turned off and lively music is played as everyone gathers in the living room. A prayer usually led by Tatay then signals the start of the night’s festivities. Before the giving out of gifts, the giver is supposed to give a clue on who his/her monito or monita is, usually a description or an event that happened between them. I find it funny how everyone throws in their guesses of who it could be (“Gwapo? Ah, si Adrianne siguro na!” Gwapo? Ah, that must be Adrianne!). Peals of laughter and a series of hugs will be given once the gift is handed out; and the cycle then continues. A series of enthusiastic “Thank you’s” is exchanged after everyone has opened their gifts, their gift wrappers scattered on the floor.

When Ken, our youngest cousin in the bunch (of a dozen), was already old enough to talk, he’d sometimes recite a poem afterwards, to the admiration of everyone. Usually, people would come up for another round of food (if there’s still some left) after the program and the usual chitchats and lively conversations between family members who haven’t seen each other for a long time continue. The elders (or young at heart, as I’ve always thought of them) position themselves at the dining table while my cousins and I watch TV shows or get busy surfing the net, playing the PSP, and whatnot. By 2am, Tita Jenny and the others start to say their final Christmas greetings and then leave for their own homes. It was yet another Christmas Day celebration.

Like every holiday or celebration, tables are cleaned, bags are packed, and we then return to our usual routine. Looking back, I sometimes think the whole thing required too much effort. Having to think of what gifts to buy and when to buy them, add to that the long lines and large crowd in the malls, kind of made me feel like it was such a hassle. How I wish I could go back to those times.

There are some traditions, no matter how fun or important they have become, that are bound, in one way or another, to be broken. This was one of them.

The first blow would have to be the first Christmas without Tita Penny in 2004. She had died of a kind of lymphoma, a rare kind of skin cancer about a week before Christmas (my mom broke the news to me while I was studying for our quarterly test the next day) and it really made an impact on us, especially on Nanay who celebrated her birthday a day before she passed away. Because of what just happened, I didn’t think the whole gift-giving would still go on but, eventually, it did. I remember Ate Daye, the eldest among us cousins, leading the opening prayer and how we were all trying hard to stop our tears from falling. Some were unsuccessful though, including me.

The show, as they say, must go on, which is why we mustered our courage, put on a brave face, and tried to have as much fun as possible. I’d like to think that it was how Tita Penny would have wanted it anyway. I’ve always seen her as one of the funny and loud titas that I have. That time, I felt sad because she wouldn’t be able to give me and my brother Christmas money anymore. Also, I thought of how we won’t be able to taste her famous lasagna during family gatherings anymore.

Five years after that, in 2009, we were missing another member again. This time it was Nanay. She passed away early in the year. The first Christmas without her, a few days after her birthday, was just as sad or maybe, even worse. Since most of us in the family are close to her, being the Nanay or mother to everyone, it had a pretty big impact on us.

Once again, we were all trying to hold back our tears but our sadness was too strong and overpowered our desire to appear brave. Aside from the usual catching-up that was the topic of everyone’s conversations, they were all reminiscing about what ended up as Nanay’s last birthday celebration the previous year. “Luya na gyud kayo to si Nanay adto.” (She was already very weak during that time), they pondered about her last days, their eyes in a faraway gaze. You see, it was quite an emotional rollercoaster for us during those days because she would appear better one day and worse the next. I think that was the last Christmas we all spent together in Tatay’s house.

Time never really stopped for anyone, leaving us no choice but to go and move on with our lives. Tita Jenny and Ate Fretze moved to Cebu for Ate’s college. Ate Chad, Mommy Whennieh’s daughter, soon stayed with them in order to find a job. Tito Ondoy and his family became too busy with work and school to come to Bohol. With the changing circumstances, it was harder to bring everyone together in order to spend Christmas like we used to. What used to be a festive and loud event eventually turned into a quieter and smaller one. Christmas came to be just my mom, my younger brother, me, Tatay, Mommy Whennieh, and Daddy Casto. We’d only have dinner, admittedly not having as much food as before. By 12:30am, we would already start cleaning up.

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Although it may sound bad but I have come, in a way, to become wary of December. I’m afraid that we would be missing another member in the family. Then again, I wonder if this is how the family can come together again just like before. Yet, that’s the thing about “before’s” and “what was,” right? No matter how much you try to do it again, it’s just not the same.

When I have my own family, I would like to continue this family tradition. Thinking about who my future monito or monita would be and what gift he or she might give me excites me. I wonder if they know me enough to pick out the things that I really like (although I believe gifts are meant to be appreciated no matter what). Also, this time, I won’t cheat in choosing my monito or monita. I promise.

I made this for Workshop class last sem and since it’s Christmas-y, decided to post it. Sorry, I didn’t have time to really edit it, though. Comments would be very much appreciated.

On another note, I’m finally spending Christmas with a complete family this year. My dad’s home after about more than 5 years, I think. All I know is that my brother and I were kind of small (grade school, I think) since he was last here. Because of his work, he’d always have to leave for it at around December, sometimes two days before Christmas so, I know, I admit it does make me sad.

But we’re all here this year. Even though it’s not as lively or grand or as loud as my previous Christmases, it doesn’t matter because I’ve always wanted our family to be complete especially this season, when it’s all about spending time with the family and whatnot.

So, merry Christmas to you! 🙂