Seventy-six
NEW BEGINNINGS () - September 18, 2011 - 12:00am

On my father’s birthday last Wednesday, my mother woke up very early, put on her nicest blouse and puffed Johnson’s baby powder on her face. Her movements were precise; there was even palpable excitement when she took a 20-minute jeepney ride to McDonald’s in Cabuyao. She ordered a burger. She sat comfortably in a table for two, perhaps to enjoy also the splay of soft yellow-orange, cotton-like clouds outside. With her hands she split the burger into two — with one share slightly bigger than the other. She ate her portion, the one that was smaller. The other half she happily brought to my father’s grave in the cemetery.

The distance between the fast-food chain and the cemetery was only five minutes away on foot. But that day, she must have sprinted her way to her beloved’s gravesite. Along the way, she saw stands selling flowers but chose not to buy a single bloom to offer at the foot of my father’s grave. The half-burger was enough to express wholly her love for her husband who passed on early last year.

At the padlocked entrance of the cemetery, she shouted for the name of the caretaker. She must have roused him in the boon of his sleep because it was only 6 a.m., two hours early for the usual visiting time. The caretaker unlatched the gate for my mother to enter. Always grateful, she thanked him for always opening the gate for her every time she went to visit her husband.

In a wooden bench fronting my father’s grave, Nanay sat down as she mumbled a prayer. It was a short prayer. She wanted her prayers direct, short and specific, perhaps for God to easily footnote them in His heart. Then with a smile traversing her face, she placed the half-burger on top of her husband’s grave marker but not without wiping it first with her palm. She stared at the marker that bore the epitaph: “The sun of our universe.”

She was the moon. He was the sun. Together they formed a universe. Their five children became their stars.

“Happy birthday, Syo,” she said. There was genuine happiness when she uttered her birthday greetings to her husband. “Syo” is her term of endearment for her husband she married on May 23, 1965. “Syo” is the abridged version of Cresencio, my father’s real name. He called her “Ne,” perhaps because he was older than his wife by almost 10 years. They promised each other that they would honor their marriage vow. For richer, for poorer — they stuck it out even on those days that there was barely nothing on the table. In sickness or in health — Nanay did not leave Tatay’s side even if it meant sleeping uncomfortably on a bench outside the ICU room when her husband was confined for 24 days before he passed on. Till death do them part — now that he’s gone, she remains in love with her husband. 

That morning in the cemetery, she took off her shoes to feel the blades of the grass under her feet. The well-manicured grass at her husband’s gravesite was still heavy with dew and she enjoyed the fresh feeling it brought her. Perhaps that was the closest physical manifestation that she could touch her husband. Many times she kissed him in her dreams — all happy dreams.

She talked to her husband as if he was there in front of her. She reported the going-ons in the lives of her grandchildren. “Malaki na si Nikko. Binata na. SK chairman. Nagkaroon ng responsibilidad, nag-iiba na ang mundo. Pero palagi pa ring dumadalaw sa atin,” she said of her eldest grandchild. She continued: “Si Nikki nasa UP Los Baños, Chem Eng. Si Paola, dalaga na; third year high school na. Si Gabby, malaki na rin, sa atin natutulog kapag walang pasok. Si Nikkelle, gumagandang lalaki habang lumalaki, natututo na ring mag-gala. Si Alex, malambing pa rin. Nabungi nga eh.

She added: “Maayos naman kami ng mga anak mo. Maayos naman kami.”

She recalled happy moments. She confided some challenges, some secrets. She whispered sweet-nothings. Even sang some kundiman songs. She went on and on. She was happy. She was genuinely happy.

After about an hour, she stood up. She said a little prayer again. Her prayer was perhaps delivered instantaneously to God by the cool, sweet breeze of the morning. 

Dadaan muna ako sa palengke,” she said before leaving her husband’s grave. “Ipaghahanda kita ng paborito mong pancit mi-ke na may kasamang kintsay at chorizong pula. Sa pancit man lamang ay makasama ka namin ngayon. Happy birthday ulit, Syo.”

That afternoon, we celebrated Tatay’s 76th birth anniversary at home. And we knew, that moment, 76 was the number of love.

(For your new beginnings, please e-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com or my.new.beginnings@gmail.com. You may also follow me on Twitter @bum_tenorio. Happy Sunday!)

CHEM ENG HAPPY SUNDAY HUSBAND LOS BA MAAYOS NANAY SYO
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