My family lived with my grandparents until I was eight. So basically we kids spent our formative years with my grandparents, uncle and aunts.
I remember my grandpa vividly. We call him Lolo Francis. He would take us out whenever it was payday. We would either go to the park or go see a movie or eat at our favorite Chinese restaurant where me and my kuya(older brother) would order special halo-halo and monggo siopao while Lolo shares with us his Pancit Canton and Pan (Sliced Bread). He would take us to the Christmas Party at his office and we would enjoy the games and go home regaling everyone about the party and showing off our new toys. He was to me the best electrician I know back then (what can I say, he's my grandpa!). Mommy said she was still young when he opened the first radio shop in Iligan and that was quite a feat back then.
Lolo Francis was so full of good stories. He was funny actually. He never seemed to run out of antics whenever a situation calls for it. When my kuya took a fall from climbing the hollow block wall (which gave while he was on top) in our backyard, my parents scolded him and warned all us kids in the house not to do what he did. He was just super-adventurous. Mommy took kuya to the doctor. When they got home from the clinic, kuya was in a crutch and limping real hard. And to impress upon us the danger of having accidents, lolo walked into the room and did this skit:
Lolo: “Ayo!” (Good day!), “Ayo!”
“Naa si Ivan?” (Is Ivan Home?”)
“Kinsa nga Ivan?” (Ivan who?)
“Si Ivan nga kiang ba…” (Ivan, the cripple)
And he went limping around the house all day, saying, “Do you want to be crippled like this?” We never attempted to climb up high walls or trees without being accompanied by the oldies after that.
But, he was a disciplinarian. My mom used to tell us that, growing up in the farm, Lolo used to wake them kids as early as 4am to get an early start for the day. The eldest daughter, Auntie Madeilyn was assigned to the kitchen and Mommy was assigned to the house cleaning chores, and they would team up to do the laundry afterwards. All the chores have to be done before the sun is too high up in the sky. Lolo would not want to see them idle, and so would continuously give them things to do. He says these were for character building and discipline, something that Mommy also did with us.
My Lolo died at the age of seventy. He got lonely after Lola Susing died. He acquired many illnesses soon after. I was already studying and away in College when he died. I went home for his funeral. And I was not surprised at the number of people who came to pay their respect. He was a good soul. And he will continue to live in our memories. I sure have plenty of tales to tell my kids about my own Lolo Francis.
I was still so little when Tom-Tom was born. I vaguely recall Mommy being rushed to the nearby hospital the night before. Everyone was busy preparing for Lolo’s birthday. When I woke up the next day, Daddy was already home and getting ready to go to work. I later learned that my mom gave birth early that morning.
The day went by in a blur, as everyone seems to have loads of things to do. It was late afternoon when I heard my aunts buzzing downstairs at the kitchen. Curious to see what was causing all the commotion, I peeped down just in time to see my Mom getting up the stairs with my Auntie behind her carrying a little baby. They just rested in the room, while us kids (my two brothers and cousins, too) took turns silently filing in to the room to take a wee look at the newest member of the gang. We were told not to make much sound as it will just wake the baby up. By nightfall, I saw Dad hurrying home to change so he can take us with him to visit my mom. He still did not know mom was already discharged from hospital. So just imagine his surprise when he opened the door and saw them already home.
That night was truly doubly fun for us all. Lolo Francis and Lola Susing were very happy. Daddy and Mommy were also very happy. My aunts and uncles, lolos and lolas, cousins and brothers, and even visitors joined in the merriment and gaiety upon learning of the double birthday celebration. My mom also said they named the baby after Lolo and my Papa Tomas (Daddy’s only brother). He was named Francis Thomas. And everyone began calling him Tom-Tom.
Then a bombshell was dropped on us. The next day, Tom-Tom was rushed to the hospital. Apparently my mom or Lola noticed that he was cyanotic. He was turning blue, and everyone knows it is not a good sign. The doctor explained he had a hole in his heart. He stayed for two days at the hospital and was placed in an incubator. When he came home, we were all very quiet. I remembered being told that we should not stress the baby. So we just peeked in on him and would silently leave the room.
There were two more episodes of cyanosis and he would be rushed to the hospital again. I do recall my mom crying all the time. She was very sad. I know my dad was sad, too. But since he was working, I could not see him in his melancholy. Mommy was staying at home and I sensed just how sad she was.
They were told that Tom-Tom will not be able to make it. We were living in a small town down in the south where medical facilities and staff were still not that up-to-date. And all we could do was accept that fate. In readiness for Tom-Tom’s demise, Mommy had him baptized right away. Tom-Tom’s godparents were a priest and a nun who Mommy knows from our school.
Tom-Tom died early morning on September 28, 1979. It was biesperas (eve of the town fiesta). Our patron saint in Iligan City is St. Michael, the Archangel. And because nobody wanted to dwell too long on the pain of his passing, he was buried that very afternoon. The fiesta was not a happy one that year. My Mommy was wallowing in grief and Daddy was very quiet and aloof. And we kids did not know if we could laugh and still have fun.
Every Sunday after mass (we usually attend the 9 o’clock mass), we would go directly to the cemetery and put flowers on Tom-Tom’s tomb. Mommy explained to us that Tom-Tom is already an angel and has gone to join God in heaven. All through my life I have always pictured him as a cherubim, silently watching over us… crying with us when we hurt, laughing with us in our joy, praying for us when we’ve fallen, and cheering for us in our every adventure in life.
It was sometime this year that I was talking to my mom about family stuff and all. Then she suddenly said that she remembered Tom-Tom. She said he was the handsomest of her 3 boys. She saw when he was born that, although he was darker than my two other brothers, he had the most prominent nose and the most gwapo features. I was amazed she remembered. I forwarded an email two months ago of a beautiful and touching story about how a little baby was touched and saved by the Lord. And Daddy emailed back that he suddenly remembered about Tom-Tom and said Tom-Tom would have been 27 years old already this year. Again, I was amazed he remembered.
Tom-Tom had only a week to travel this life but he has blessed us in that short span. Lolo Francis lived to a ripe old age and he has blessed us so much and touched a lot of lives around him. I am still struggling in my own life and I can see that I’ve still got a long way to travel and still have much to learn of life.
"Think of stepping on the shore and finding it heaven, of touching a hand and finding it God's, of breathing new air and finding it celestial, of waking up in glory and finding it home." - Don Wyrtzen