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Visits that define us |

Sunday Lifestyle

Visits that define us

FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura - The Philippine Star

It’s the time of year when first cousins who once moved to the other side of the world come for a visit. I love seeing them, entertaining them (and myself), taking them to places they enjoy visiting. From my mother’s eldest sister, my cousin Didit who lives in Barcelona blew into town with her youngest granddaughter by her eldest son, Sophie. The last time I saw Sophie she was two years old, blonde with lovely natural curls, almost frizzy, tumbling around her adorable face. Now she is 18, slim, pretty, intelligent, most of all helpful. Grandmothers love helpful grandchildren.

They put up with the miserable lunch I bought for them at the restaurant I could walk to. The food has gotten lousier but we lunch for the company. The food comes in last. Sophie has just finished the equivalent of high school in England. Her mother is English. She is on her gap year, the year between high school and college given to the English so they can explore life, know themselves better and decide on what to study in college. She has decided to know the Philippines better since half of her comes from here.

Didit says they’re taking a tour of the Philippines. When you go to Baguio, I suggest, try to see if the house on Outlook Drive still exists. That’s the house where we — most of the first cousins with our grandmother — spent our first summer vacation together. It was a beautiful house with a lovely terraced garden. It turned out to be haunted, but we enjoyed ourselves immensely before we knew it. Didit and I just exchanged looks over the table and we each replayed our memories of that fateful summer in 1955 when we were children. I had memories of a red and green swing we used as a stage for our childish performances.

That was the first part of my times with my cousins. It was a Sunday when I brought my younger cousins from my mother’s youngest sister to Quiapo where I go at least once a month to buy materials for the rosaries I make, vegetables, plants, glue, makeup, everything and anything you want for much less than any mall. It’s where you can get beaded slippers like you remember from your childhood sold to you by a Chinoy who talks to you while shaving.

I brought them to Wellmanson, the store that has everything from magnets to Year of the Rabbit icons. They bought everything for their grandchildren while I got eye pins, beads, all sorts of things for rosaries. On our way out I saw two rose plants — one yellow, another pink for P100 each. I bought them to add to the flowering plants in my tiniest garden. I had also left my driver money to buy me one marang, for me the most wonderful fruit in the world.

We had lunch at the most delicious Filipino food restaurant in Market! Market!: Kamay Kainan owned by Jimmy Reyes who has been inviting me over forever. This time I thought about bringing my cousins there because I know they love Filipino food. Also we all grew up eating a lot of Aristocrat food and Jimmy is part of the Reyes clan. We enjoyed the kare-kare and bagoong, the innovative sinigang na ulo ng salmon — everything, but most especially the ukoy. My grandmother used to cook that wonderfully. I pigged out on that. It was a magnificent lunch. Of course, it was a Sunday and thankfully I had a driver who could take us everywhere. Thanks immensely, Jimmy, we will be back for more delicious food.

On the way home we talked about our childhood. Chispas, my cousin Nancy remembered, was the Spanish word their mother used to describe girls or women who were flirtatious. Napaka-chispas niyon, she would criticize, meaning, “That girl is a genuine flirt.” Today I looked it up in Google. Chispas means “sparks” in English. It doesn’t literally mean “flirt.” But who cares? Once upon a time, a generation of Filipinos understood it as “flirt.” I personally think it’s a truly charming word. Chispas! I love the sound of it.

There was another phrase their mother used to love to describe a girl who wasn’t gorgeous at all but they couldn’t remember the phrase. They remembered a word — estuche, which means a “case,” according to Google. I thought it meant a case with glass for the old saints. My cousin Peeney thought it meant the doctor’s black bag, which is possible; a carrying case. We couldn’t remember the phrase but certainly we remembered the people, our parents, their similarities and differences, our grandparents whom we adored, the way they talked, the way they laughed and criticized other people.

I love when my cousins come to town. We always revisit our childhood and see how it defined us, made us the people we have become today. We think: wasn’t it just great?

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