Saturday, January 20, 2007

Solitary pleasure... from INQUIRER.net

YOUNGBLOOD
Solitary pleasure
By Katrina Marie A. Balmaceda
Inquirer
Last updated 00:52am (Mla time) 01/20/2007

I BELIEVE that when men reach a certain age, they choose a favorite chair in the bedroom or sala and spend the rest of their days in it.

Six years ago, my Lolo [Grandfather] came home from the United States. Every day after his arrival, he sat on a chair in his room. But when our sala was renovated last year, he began sitting there for most of the day.

Crossword puzzles take up most of my Lolo's time. He wakes up when his alarm clock tells him to, eats whenever his stomach grumbles and sleeps only when his eyelids hint at heaviness. He pleads to be brought to the mall at least five times a day.

When he cannot find someone to accompany him to the mall, when he does not feel hungry and he finds the puzzles boring, he indulges in a solitary pleasure: reminiscing on the past. But the moment an equally bored grandchild engages him in conversation, his solitary recollection ceases and he invites his grandchild to walk with him back to the days of his youth.

He was a guerrilla during the war with Japan. He was 24 and a medical student in Manila when he came home one day to find his boarding house emptied of people and belongings. All the students had gone back to their provinces to avoid being drafted into the army.

My Lolo was caught in Bataan, and he was forced to join the Death March. During the march, the Japanese soldiers never allowed them to have food or drink, not even a sip from the filth-laden canals by the road.

At some point, my Lolo, who had already been weakened by malaria, lost consciousness. The Japanese thought he was dead and threw him into a pit filled with corpses. But a Filipino laborer who was digging his grave noticed Lolo's eyelids moving. When the Japanese soldiers were no longer looking, my Lolo was brought to safety. After a close brush with death, Lolo got a second chance to live.

I learned about my Lolo's best friend, after complaining about a certain "Piping" who often phoned and asked my Lolo. I was told Piping was his best friend from the time they were in college. But the fact is, Piping didn't just speak with Lolo, he shouted over the phone.

That was when I learned that when one gets old, his hearing ability weakens. He then believes that other people have the same problem, so he stops talking and starts shouting.

One day, I suddenly realized that I hadn't been answering calls from Piping for quite some time. I congratulated myself for knowing when to answer the phone and when to let my sister deal with the eccentricity and hearing problem of my Lolo's best friend. But the truth was, Piping had passed away.

When I was 10 years old, I met another friend of my Lolo. This man, who was our neighbor, told me and my sister that girls kept chasing Lolo when they were in college.

Some years later, when Lolo came home from the United States, I asked him if this story was true. But I need not have asked because quite often during conversations with his grandchildren, he would recall his romantic experiences and blame all his colorful past on the women. He was only a poor, cute guy who was too weak to resist and was overwhelmed by the women, he would say with a chuckle. Yeah, right.

During their golden wedding anniversary, Lolo and Lola danced to the tune of "To All the Girls I've Loved Before." And sometimes, as he pauses to ponder an answer to the crossword, I would hear him whistling the tune.

I suppose that when a man gets old, the music that nurtured his teenage soul stays with him. And for my Lolo, Frank Sinatra's songs are unforgettable.

When one gets old, he dips into his reservoir of memories and turns it into a river of stories, replete with remembrances of lovers and friends, "barkada" [groups of buddies] and broken families, seven children and 24 grandchildren.

When one gets old, he dedicates his songs to Rose who was the first love, to Natividad who bore his first child, to Andrea with the beautiful body, and, finally, to Crispina, whose hands he held when they were young and tender and firm but which have now been toughened and wrinkled by half a century of marriage. And he will thank God for Piping who grew old and half-deaf with him and for the stranger who didn't finish digging his grave.

While one is young, he must live without remorse. He must drink life and "drain the cup to its dregs." He must dance in rain on mountaintops and run against the ocean's waves. He must muddy himself in childhood soil and dine well at his wedding reception. He must seek the sting of medicine when he stumbles and wear his scars like badges and take the time to laugh at himself.

When one is young, he must involve himself with people not merely out of curiosity but out of concern. When a man is young, he must throw himself without reserve into the widespread arms of his God and know the bliss of surrender.

My Lolo has been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for nearly a decade now. His memory is fading away. The reservoir has sprung leaks. These memories of his youth may just be among the last he can enjoy in solitary pleasure as he sits on his favorite chair day after day.

Katrina Marie A. Balmaceda, 19, is a third year media communication student at Saint Theresa's College, Cebu.



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