Kuya Ronnie

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - The Philippine Star
Kuya Ronnie
Kuya Ronnie Tenorio, he knew what sacrifice for family meant at an early age.

Selflessness was a word not often used by Kuya Ronnie, the eldest in our brood of five boys, but he had been showering our family with it ever since we were small. We were recipients of his kindness. He had a generous heart that knew how to sacrifice. And for that I will remain forever grateful.

When he was three years old, he received a gift from our father: a bike with three wheels. Tatay, a farmer, saved P17 so his eldest could have a bicycle. It was Kuya’s prize for being bibo, and for calling Tatay, “Pogi.”

That bicycle was passed on to us by Kuya. And in time, his kindness, too.

We were fine with hand-me-downs. Whatever didn’t fit Kuya anymore — shoes, shirts, shorts — would be handed down to us. No complaints. And if it was the turn of the younger brothers to have new clothes, which happened every other Christmas, the elder ones would have no qualms about wearing their old Christmas apparel.

Kuya Ronnie — whose real name is Fernando, named after Fernando Poe Jr., the favorite actor of Nanay and Tatay because they would save up to watch his movies in a makeshift cinema in Gulod — was always our leader. We followed his rules. Hold hands when we crossed the streets. Look after each other. Share. Go home before sunset. Be responsible.

Kuya was accustomed to hardship. When he was barely in his teens, before the crack of dawn, he would be by the lake securing food for his family and the family’s livestock. He drove a “buffalo wagon” or kariton ng kalabaw to haul suso (small snails used as fodder for ducks for them to lay eggs) from a moored banca. He would distribute the suso to the duck-raising neighborhood. His payment was his first dibs on the catch of the day: seashells, small shrimps, ayungin, biya, tigite, kanduli.

Money was hard to find in those days but to those who knew how to work before sunrise, food was free from the lake. And it was free food from Laguna Lake that Kuya was most diligent about. He took on the role of the big brother seriously by making sure we would have menudong hipon or menudong tulya on our table. Tatay would make pospas na kanduli. Nanay would make sinalab na ayungin or ginatang biya. Even if we ate such fare every day, we did not complain. From time to time, we would smell the juicy hotdogs or longganisa being fried in the neighbor’s house. We just imagined them.

At three years old, Kuya received a bike from Tatay.

After his errands in the lake, Kuya would take a bath and prepare for school. After school, he would help our father in the backbreaking chore in the field. It was a routine he dealt with for many years. No whining. No whimpering. No bellyaching. He bore it all.

Once, he came home from the lake as pale as a ghost one early morning. It was past 2 a.m., the kariton ng kalabaw brimming with the day’s haul of suso tilted and he fell to the grassy ground. It was dark with only the illumination of a few stars to witness the scene of a near-fatal accident. The beast continued the journey and a wheel of the wagon almost run over Kuya’s neck. Had he not the presence of mind to whistle, the carabao would have not stopped on its trail. That experience did not faze him. He continued his job.

When he was barely 13, Kuya brought home from the lake some driftwood. Those pieces of wood were used to serve as makeshift posts in the pen that would house our ducks. Years passed by and my parents said goodbye to duck raising. The enclosure was dismantled and the wood was left to dry. Two of the pieces of wood bore leaves. In time, they grew big. They are now the shady himbaba-o trees in our backyard.

The himbaba-o trees are resilient, like my Kuya. They provide shade on a sunny day and whiffs of breeze on a balmy night, the way my Kuya provides security and comfort for us.

When he was 17, he found a job as a factory worker in Asia Brewery. It was 1983. He earned P18 a day with an additional P1.50 per hour of overtime. He would work for 12 hours, with no day off, for many, many years.

He afforded us our first ball of ham one Christmas Eve, courtesy of the Christmas basket given him by the factory. It was a delightful, unforgettable experience having ham on Christmas. To this day, I still smell it being fried — the scent of joy, of plenty, of new beginnings, of dreams coming true.

In a separate bag, there were Heno de Pravia and Nova soap bars and Maxam toothpaste. In another stash, a case of Manila Beer, which no one touched, until some neighbors asked for it.

His salary in the factory formed part of my allowance when I was in college in UPLB. When I finished college, I promised him that I would help send his future children to school. That was one way I could repay his kindness.

Kuya’s best quality is his resolve to never be disheartened. He’s the coolest of us all. He never raises his voice. When confronted with challenging moments, he will just say, “Itchorayt (It’s alright).” Then he will smile. And whistle. Or sing Rey Valera songs.

Under the himbaba-o tree, Nanay Candida is showered with love by his sons Ronnie, Gaddie, the author, Odick and Rod.

After his stint in the factory, he wanted to become an OFW in Saudi Arabia. He had us in mind. Our mother borrowed money from her father for Kuya’s placement fee. Tatay sold a carabao. All was ready. Money was paid. We were already dreaming of a better life. The recruiter, however, did not fulfill his end of the bargain. Eventually, Kuya charged it to experience. In Kuya’s mind, greater fate would favor him one day.

If selflessness would take a form, it could be found in Kuya, now a casual employee in the city government. He turned 56 last Feb. 6. He abandoned his dream because he wanted his brothers to continue their education. I am a grateful product of his selflessness. My fate now could have been his.

Today, Kuya has a licensed chemical engineer from UP Los Baños in Nikki and a registered nurse from San Beda Manila in Paula. His daughters are his pride and joy.

He jokingly says that his kariton ng kalabaw will soon be a Montero. He remains a dreamer.

I remain grateful to the dreamer in him.

(For your new beginnings, e-mail me at [email protected]. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed weekend.)


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