My maternal grandparents immigrated to Canada when I was about six or seven years old. Those were the days before the internet made such things as email and FaceTime possible. Happily, my grandfather was an excellent correspondent. How I looked forward to getting a fat letter in the mail, addressed to me, with several sheets my grandfather had tapped out with two fingers on his electric typewriter, his penned signature and perhaps a few handwritten lines from my grandmother at the end.
Now he is eighty-one and—save for the occasional malapropism—still playing with a full deck, as they say. I got to thinking lately about how much of his life I don’t really know. He may have done the writing, but my grandmother did all the talking, and I knew all the stories from her childhood, especially the harrowing ones about the occupation of Manila during World War II. Still, when she died twelve years ago, I deeply regretted not having recorded those stories, fleshing out the details with her, and perhaps getting them into some organized, written form.
But now I have the chance to learn more about my grandfather and write his stories down—or, even better, to get him to write them down. Despite his protests to the contrary, he is a writer, and his letters (emailed, now) are still a pleasure to receive and read.
I thought at first that I would collect his stories and then wait for just the right moment, sometime in the future, to sit down at my leisure and see what I could do with them: a memoir, perhaps, or a history. But I’ve begun to realize—the way life goes, that perfect moment may never come. So I decided to stop being such a procrastinating perfectionist and start sharing his stories with you, in large part just as he has written them, in his own voice.
Tell me about the first home you remember living in as a child, I asked him, just to get things going.
I remember living with my [maternal] grandparents. It was while with them that I was attending elementary school. My most memorable experience, in fact, happened here. I remember playing hooky one schoolday, and, boy, did I get it from my Father. I think you may have heard me tell the story already…
Was that when Lolo Judge put you in a sack…? (My great-grandfather was a lawyer and eventually, a judge. He and my grandfather shared the same name, Amador. But to us younger generations, Amador Sr. was Lolo Judge. I remember him as a tall, thin man, with a shock of white hair. He never said much and I was rather in awe of him, partly because I knew that once long ago, he had put my own tall grandfather in a sack.)
The principal of the school I was then attending was a poker playmate of my Father. The evening of that fateful day I was truant they had a poker session, and the principal then casually asked my Father why I was not at school that day.
The following day was judgment day! I was sentenced, just as he was once when he was a boy…to be put in a sack, tied from a branch of a baling-bing tree for about an hour, then whipped by a belt as I was still in the sack, kept in the bathroom the whole afternoon, and finally released early evening when my Father came home from work.
My adoring grandmother didn’t talk to my Father for more than a month after that! That taught me a lesson I never forgot. Future truancies were better planned, but I think the reason I was never caught again was that my Father had already passed the sword, so to speak. I suppose I was meant to inflict the same punishment to my future son, only I never got to have one, and it was never intended to be inflicted on daughters, I guess. So, your Mom and Aunts never experienced it, however much they all deserved it later, I can assure you!
This took place in Daet, Camarines Norte, where I was born and raised until World War II broke out.
As they say at the end of Filipino serials: Abangan ang susunod na kabanata! (Stay tuned for the next episode!)