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Remembering Ambet

January 3, 2007

“Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.” [Elisabeth Kubler-Ross]

Perhaps it was my mother’s birthday yesterday that reminded me of you. We always called you Ambet, not lola. [Which reminds me, I know I have asked this question as a child but my memory now fail me as I try to recall the reason why we always called you that.] You were an imposing figure in the community. When I was younger, I used to hear stories from most grown-ups that at least once in their childhood, they feared you. Their parents would invoke you as if you were the devil incarnate. [Funny, I think my students think exactly that way of me now.]

I wonder why I never saw that side of you. Was it because I was your first greatgrandchild? You only called me “Marrrrlen.” Remember how you would scrub me with pumice and threatened that I will grow as dark as my father if I don’t give in to your scrubbing. You also cautioned me against eating berries [“Madi iti lumboy ta makapangisit“] and pork. You taught me to have books in my bed rather than pillows – you said that sleeping with books retains what I have read. Your botaka [rocking chair] has been refurbished and I brought it with me in the Dean’s Office for good tidings. You are also responsible for my love for coffee – not one Starbucks concoction would beat your coffee with rice in that tin mug. You also taught me how to look at clouds and marvel at their changing silhouettes – to a child, it was as if we had the world’s greatest secret and our summer afternoons just sitting in front of the old house and looking at clouds trained me to see wonder in the things that are often taken for granted. I almost forgot, I recall watching PBA and you always cheered for the team that wears the lighter-colored jersey. I didn’t feel too alone (with only Uncle Erwin as the only other Ginebra fan in the house) cheering whenever the now Senator Jaworski and his boys wore their white uniforms.

In my mind then, you were the only thing constant in my world. I would arrive from school and find you seated in that botaka,akin to a watchful sentinel. On hindsight, you quietly instilled in me a yearning for serene solitude – how did Oriah Mountain Dreamer put it? Ah, “if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.”

When I went away for college, I returned to my most desolate Christmas – when you suddenly left us. It was so swift, so much like your no-nonsense manner of dismissing petty household problems then. I couldn’t bring myself to accept then that you were gone already. I remember that just a few months earlier, there was talk that the family will try to trace your family in Abra. I never looked at you lying in the casket. That wasn’t you and I never wish to remember you that way. I thought you’d haunt me for not being there during your funeral. Haan ko kaya, Ambet. Sometimes, I still half-expect to see you to be sitting in that chair. There was one semestral break in college when I actually called out for you – Adda nakon, Ambet – and actually anticipated a “nagladawkan” reply. It took me a few moments to realize that you aren’t there anymore.

I miss you, Ambet. I still hate lumboy and have long turned my back on meat, save for that occasional poultry. I hope you will never tire of my visits. Save for my conversations with Him, I only have you to tell my deepest pain – sorrows I would not acknowledge even to myself. In more ways than I can ever comprehend, you have been my hiding place, that sanctuary I can always return to when life becomes too forlorn.

When people ask my maternal roots, I always say that Amma (my grandfather) has well-traced roots in the Municipality of Sta. Maria but I quickly qualify that the other side of my roots begin with a little girl who got lost and survived on her own, even when the man she loved was seldom beside her. I long wanted to tell Atty. Joy Crisologo-Escolin that you once served as househelp for her family and I have always been proud of that. In the same way that I am fiercely proud of how Nanang Belen (my grandmother) raised Mama and my aunts and uncles by peddling foodstuff. Amma too – one wonders how a hawker and a hospital janitor were able to send all their six children to school. [Perhaps, the uphill struggle that my folks fought to be able to adequately provide for my generation gave rise to a conviction that there is no such thing as “undignified” labor. ]

Mailiw nak kaniam unay, Ambet. I will say goodbye now because already are Someplace else. I draw strength, however, in the certainty that I can always call you back – as I just did now.

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