Sharing family stories
- Paulynn Sicam (The Philippine Star) - September 6, 2014 - 12:00am

When I was 20, I thought 40 was old. When I turned 40, I thought 60 was old. And now that I’m a senior and inching closer to the next decade, I’m starting to wonder what “old” really means.

Because in my family of 10 siblings, all of who are now senior citizens, no one acts like an old person. From the oldest who is 77 to the youngest who is 61, we all seem to be the same age.

In March, all 10 of us will be in Manila to celebrate our father’s 100th birthday. Dad was 22 when he and Mom had their first child, and 20 years later, when he perished in an airplane crash, they had ten children, the oldest of whom was 19 and youngest, four years old. With all of us born within a span of 15 years, we all kind of grew up together. Which is probably why there doesn’t seem to be a generation gap among us today. We don’t call our elders kuya or ate. We tease one another with no deference to age, wisdom, wealth or eminence. And when we are together, we all seem to be forever young.

Joey Ayala, whom we met when we were younger, once remarked about our family — that when we are together we don’t seem to need anyone else.

He is quite right, we tend to be complete among ourselves. But we were not always this tribal. In fact, it was not easy growing up with nine loud, bright, strong-willed, individualistic, demanding and teasing siblings. I was teased a lot by an older sister when we were growing up, over the silliest things. But then we all got teased, by one another. It was a challenge holding back my tears and the urge to fight back, or to run to our parents for help. But survival was the name of the game. It was the better part of valor to suck it up and try to be a good sport, than go down in ignominy, only to be teased again. Some of us were less merciful than others, but we all somehow survived the ribbing and the mocking. And today, even as we recall the bad old days, we can’t laugh enough about those humiliating times.

It is such a privilege being seniors together with my siblings. For one, when we eat out the senior citizens’ discount is across the board. But seriously, it is such a gift that at our age, we are still complete and in reasonably good health, and that we truly love and appreciate one another. We can thank our parents for the good genes, and for raising us to be always a family, tightly-knit and responsible for one another, and for giving us a hefty dose of discipline coupled with a healthy sense of humor and the absurd.

Growing up, each of us thought we were Dad and Mom’s favorite. How cool is that? They made sure we not only had a good education but also did well in school. And they somehow left each of us with a special memory of them so that even our youngest who was only four when Dad died, can talk about him with intimacy.

When we’re together, we spontaneously break into song – the ones we grew up hearing on the stereo at home, Broadway and Gershwin tunes our parents liked to hear us sing in unison when we took road trips, with Mom at the wheel. We tease each other about the same old things that made us cry when we were kids, but this time, we laugh so hard, our jaws hurt. We recount family stories we’ve heard many times before, sometimes with new ones unearthed from the memories of our older siblings. And we check with one another our recollections of the greatness of our parents and grandparents, with some of us filling in the blanks left by fading memories. And, of course, a gathering would not be complete without a spirited discussion of politics and social issues.

When I am with my siblings, I am like a sponge, absorbing as much of them as I can, knowing that one day, time and gravity will catch up with us and we will finally grow old, and our stories will fade from our memories. Which is why I am happy to see the interest of the next generation in our stories of the past.

It is totally satisfying sitting around the long table in our brother’s house with nieces and nephews wide-eyed and curious about our family history, absorbing our narratives and being part of the easy camaraderie of their elders. Seeing them enjoy our company and appreciate even our most disgusting jokes and puns, I know our family legacy is secure in the next generation. Our stories will probably live on and even become the stuff of legends in our family lore. Our offspring may scatter all over the world, but I am confident that they will carry with them our stories, if not our strong sense of family, and their children will grow up knowing that they belong to a proud, distinguished, loving and fun-loving clan.

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