fossilizing my parents
That brief, touching moment; that elusive feeling that passes under your nose like a whiff of faint perfume; that short-lived nanosecond of bliss, as painfully fleeting as an orgasm; that scathing sorrow which seems to thrive longer than one lifetime—all these would go down the way of the dinosaurs. Unless, by some powerful medium, you consign them to posterity by transforming them into fossils, which, in all its raw crudeness, could still stand as woozy representations of these feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
And that’s exactly what we do. We “fossilize” every event, every ephemeral emotion so as to have something to cling on to when life suddenly gloats at our misfortunes, or when our trusty neighbor spreads a rumor about some stinky shit in our closet. This is precisely why blogging, which replaced the handwritten journals of more genteel, less dizzying times, suddenly became such a craze.
History, itself, has been written (and is being written) to chronicle the life of a civilization, to put down on paper, or etch into stone, the societal undulations of a people. (Although, most of the time, history merely succeeds in immortalizing the twisted perception of the victors’ bloated egos.) That is the only way we could, more or less, hold eternity or arrest time.
I have been into this “fossilizing” thing for quite some time. I am so anxious to the point of paranoia to record every event in my life before they recede into oblivion. The thought of suddenly dying without even leaving a piece of myself scares me. How will the world know that I existed? My bones will probably just want to laze around in my padded coffin than tell tales.
I began where my eldest sister, Sol, left off. She chronicled in a journal all my firsts—first word, first step, and first bath. She even kept my very first artworks. I found this tattered folder containing, among others, several indistinguishable doodles in crayon, which I drew when I was only three. And it gave me such joy to look at stuff I made during a time when my mind was still pure (believe me, there was such a time!), a time when I had yet to experience the sting of cynicism and the stab of doubt.
My life is fairly well documented, or “fossilized”.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same thing about my parents whose long lives deserve a narrative of epic proportions. Except from an article I wrote about my mother’s fear of hospitals, which got published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Youngblood two years ago, I have not written much about them.
They are probably the only living people I know who have such colorful, feisty, contrasting personalities but still manage to get along well. We refer to them as “the oldies” at home because they’re actually old enough to be my grandparents. They are already in their 70s, while I’m still in my 20s. (Yes, I was a menopausal baby and I know what you’re thinking! No, I wasn’t born with three nostrils, five ears, and a sealed up anus. I am as normal as can be, I just turn into a psychotic serial killer every time I hear “Bulaklak,” “Basketball,” “Spaghetti Song,” and other insightful hits of this generation).
If my parents could blog, they would probably eat up millions of megabytes off cyberspace. To say that their lives are interesting is an understatement. And I consider myself lucky that I was able to see them in their best, worst, and well, funniest.
My father is a local town character, much like your typical town idiot, neighborhood clown, and chatty philosopher packaged with a sunny disposition. He knows everybody and everybody knows him. Through his connections and street-smart dealings, he can circumvent any government office’s red tape and procure important documents faster than you can say “corrupt politicians.”
He could give private investigators a run for their money with his uncanny sleuthing skills. Some decades ago (yup, decades!), during the time when courting was still the norm rather than the exception, my sister brought home a suitor. Of course, the guy was properly presented to my father who asked him some basic, I’m-the-girl’s-father-so-I-have-the-right-to-screen-you questions.
After a while, he left my sister and the guy alone.
Exactly one week after, my father came up to my sister and asked her to ditch the guy. Stunned, my sister asked why.
“He has a wife and kids. He’s only fooling you.” True enough, the guy turned out to be very much married.
With an innate talent for singing (nobody can belt those Perry Como and Frank Sinatra ditties better than he can) and a knack for theatricals, he drives around in his old, rickety jeep, pausing once in a while to holler at an equally ancient acquaintance or to make faces at children.
I don’t know how he does it, but he seems to have this weird, charming way to children’s hearts. Everywhere he goes (and I’m not exaggerating here) children call him lolo (grandpa). He would holler (he just loves hollering) “Thank you Lord….” and the children, as if by instinct, would shout back “Thank you Jesus!” Then he would stage his one-man impromptu performance. Encouraged by applause, he does various silly antics, comic magic tricks, and a sing-and-dance number which children find extremely amusing.
Once, while we were on the street, several street children excitedly ran toward him. After the customary Thank-you-Lord-Thank-you-Jesus crap, my father handed out one-peso coins to each of them.
I must’ve gotten my non-conforming attitude from him. Just last Holy Week, he, together with my mother, took part in the community’s Pabasa (raw, throaty chanting of the passion of Christ). I tagged along to take pictures.
With his creamy, baritone voice, he easily gave body to the bland, off-key, and lazy chanting of the other participants. But, a few measures after, he suddenly veered away from the traditional melody and invented his own complicated tune, which further threw the whole group off to some surreal key from Mars. And then, realizing that the whole chanting thing didn’t work, he actually recited the lines like a poem. Why bother with those stupid chanting when your goal is to get understood, he argued.
And then there’s my mother. She is the gooey snail to my father’s hard shell. If my father’s a proud extrovert, she is the coy introvert. At her age, she is still a prim and proper, puritanical maiden who would never go out without a half-slip under her duster or skirt. She walks around in our townhouse grounds every morning to meet with her senior citizen amigas whom my father teasingly calls Samahan ng mga Hindi Matae (League of Persons who Can’t Shit).
Their daily morning conversations would go something like this:
“Hey, how are you doing? Were you able to shit this morning?”
“No, were you?”
“Well, uhh, no. But I was able to shit last night and it was great!”
Then they would proceed to talk about the size, color, thickness, viscosity, or smell of their respective morning excretions. At times, they would even trade phone numbers of great doctors or swap herbal teas that purportedly could scare the shit out of one’s colons, literally.
Despite her malfunctioning intestines, she still has the strength to maintain two houses—our old, ancestral house in Palatiw and our unit along Jenny’s Avenue. All day, she busies herself up, despite our protestations, with household chores. Even if she has a maid who would do anything to her bidding, she still chooses to perform some tasks by herself.
At her prime, she was a great swimmer, having grown up beside the Pasig River when it was still pristine. (Just imagine how ancient she is to have seen those murky waters at its best.) She spent hours washing clothes by its banks. And when she got tired of washing, she would cling to a huge banana tree trunk floating in the water and ferry it back and forth across the whole breadth of the river. A modification of our modern lap-swimming today. If she could still swim regularly now, she would probably be my constant companion at the pool, sans the banana trunk of course.
Even though she walks like a turtle now, she still does not use a cane or a wheelchair. One Sunday afternoon at Rainforest Park, I played badminton with her. And, to my great surprise, she could play well despite her humungous tummy (I wonder if she’s pregnant), her age, and her wobbling gait. It was one of the best badminton games I’ve ever played; I had a blast.
After the game, she came up to me, pointed to my sister who was doing her idea of brisk walking, and whispered, “Look at your sister, she’s only in her early forties but she can’t even reach her toes like I can.”
Incredulous, I dared her to go reach her toes. Without batting an eyelash, she stretched out her arms and effortlessly reached for her toes without bending her knees! Jeez, I’ve taken stretching classes in college but up to now, I’m still hard put to reach my own toes! I shut my mouth about toes and stretching since then.
Her shyness and lack of socializing skills are compensated by her resolute determination. Oh yes, the humble lamb is a tiger inside the house. At home, nobody can lay claim to the title of “Biggest Resident Bitch.” That would just have to be her. She can start bitching about your dirty shirt and somehow end up bitching about the leaking faucet.
When she wants something done, she would harangue you no end until you get to do what she wants. She’s the only one I know who could outtalk my already talkative father. And she does not only holler, she can howl with a shrill, shaky timbre.
I should know; that’s how she inculcated in me the importance of education.
There’s so much to say about my two lovable oldies. I could go on and on about their perseverance, hard work, stubbornness, eccentricities, and craziness. I could draw funny caricatures of them because of the way they argue about trivial, nonsensical things. I could heap praises at how they sacrificed their own happiness and trampled on their own pride just to put their five children through college.
Or I could start writing a book about them.
It’s the only thing I could do to draw out from them decades of pain, joy, bliss, sorrow, triumphs, and laughter. It’s the only way they would be able to communicate to their grandchildren’s children. It need not be published and circulated nationwide. I only wish to print one copy, photocopy the rest and then distribute them to family members during reunions. ‘Just my own little way of honoring “the oldies.”
This would be my new project starting this month. I’d start interviewing my parents at every possible opportunity. I would do what my eldest sister did to me when I was an infant. I want to finish the book before the inevitable happens. I want them to read about their own lives, cry at their past hurts, laugh at their own follies, exult in their own accomplishments, and feel the pride of a son who has nothing but admiration for them.
It’s never too early to start fossilizing one’s parents.