My Childhood with Jorge Robeje

Terence Talagon

© Copyright 2020 by Terence Talagon

Photo of the grandparents.

Iíve been wanting so much to go home to Guimaras; partly because I want to take a break from school, but mostly because I want to see my grandfather.

He has grown quite old, dragging his feet behind him while he would stumble on things laid haphazardly on the floor. He could not see much now, due to the cataracts that covered his eyes. Someone told me eye surgery would cost around eighty thousand pesos, an amount that could have been afforded by his working children but which they rather ignored.

It is sad that he would not recognize me when I enter the door, and that it would take a few seconds after my hello for him to know it is me. But he would always know it's me. He knows it's me when someone rubs his white head. When someone would pull his wise beard. When someone asks him how he is and sits at his side, he knows it's me.

Then he would arise from lying down, and he would tell me how he is seeing only gray light when his eyes are open. He would say good morning even though the sun is setting. He would complain a lot about his bowels and bladder before asking me whether I ate already and that heís sorry he couldnít cook for me anymore. And if I chose to stay, he would continue his stories.

He was born in 1937. He was young when the second world war broke out in the Pacific, and I assume he does not remember a lot about it. Most of his stories happened in his teenage years when he was in the waters between Guimaras and Negros islands.
He was a fisherman. His father was a fisherman. Even his fatherís father is one. He grew up fishing and swimming and diving the waters in the small islands near us. He would say that Ďback in the daysí the fishes are so abundant that they donít cost anything and he would often give the excess catch to their neighbors or exchange it for some vegetables.

When he grew up to a full man, he fished with his friends. He told me of the one time lightning struck their boat in the middle of the sea, and how his companion got immortal by lighting a cigar from the small fire it made. He would say that later on, he lost that friend to a storm.

After that, he would tell me how, when he was young, he used to watch boat races during the local festivals and dreamed to be a boat maker someday. So he built a home in the mountains with my grandmother where there was plenty of strong wood and started to carve his boats.

After a few years, his boats started winning the races. He got popular around town, and many would help him carry his boats to the shore every year. I remember following after them when I was young and my grandfather, still able.

When his children grew into young men and women, he took them to the islands. When they grew up and bore him grandchildren, he took them to the seas as well. Those were my older cousins. When I grew up he had quit boat making and fishing and has resorted to tending his animals and his farm.

When I was able to walk, he fetched me from our house. He carried me on his shoulders for three kilometers to the hills. There he took me to ride in his carabao and made me a net to catch dragonflies. Later that day, we dug worms and baited them in our fishing lines beside the river. When the fishes did not come, we left it overnight. First thing in the morning I checked it and cooked the haluan that I caught.

When I was in high school we transferred homes beside his farm. There was still a lot of adventures: planting vegetables, watching plants grow, milking our cows. But as I grew up, I witnessed how he walked slower and slower each day. How he began to stumble in the paddies. It was the onset of his cataracts.

When his son was bedridden due to stage four cancer, my grandmother had to sell the carabao for his medications. He died months later, and when I came home from my summer job, my siblings told me how he was the first to find his dead son. They told me that as he was walking beside his bed groping for his way, Isidro took his hands and put it on his chest as he blew his last breath. That day, I embraced my grandfather as he cried.

Now, all that happened to his life is everything that he has left and his memories would rewind again and again. The stories became repetitive, but I listened to them as though they were new to me every time.

When he would sit silently and stare at the void for a long time, I would interrupt him with a folk song. I would ask him to sing in his turn, but he would always decline, telling me he could not sing.
Once in a while, when his white hair would grow uncomfortable, I would invite him for a haircut. Afterward, he would always say he looked better while caressing his hair.

This summer I told him that I got accepted to a prestigious university in Manila. He smiled with utter happiness and clapped his hands. He said he had not heard of the school but that he wishes the best for me.

He will always be the face of my happy childhood. When I will miss home, it will be his face that I would think of first. It would be the glorious afternoons when we rode in the back of his carabao, the water we carried from the river to the fields, the birds we chased with the dogs, and the stories. He would always remind me of home- distant, faded but alive.

Terence Talagon is a student who likes to write in his free time and take part in online writing competitions. He has joined the provincial schools press conference and has won 1st place in feature writing. He is a friend, a brother, and above all, a grandson.

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