i never had a grandfather. both my parents' dads died before any of us in the family were born. the closest thing i had to a grandfather was Manong. Manong was a relative of my Randrup grandmother. he took care of my dad when he was a boy and even until he grew up and had a family of his own. Manong used to go to our house every monday, without fail, when we were growing up. his arrival would mean that we get to buy Sarsi, balut, kropeck and sometimes even pinipig crunch (if his favorite PBA team, Ginebra was on a winning streak) at the nearby sari-sari store. Manong always had a small bag that contained his cutting shears (he was a barber) and his notebook that contained numbers to bet on for sweepstakes, the lotto and "ending". we were so happy that he comes to our place because that meant we get extra 5 or 10 pesos to add to our measly allowance.
Manong told me that there is an art to betting in the sweepstakes, in the lotto, and in "ending". it was a weird combination of our names, our birthdates, and the date of a significant event in our family. not just of us, but also of our other Randrup cousins, and we're a pretty big family, so just think about the combinations he was making. i think he won sometimes, but not the "jackpot" amounts, though. and when he did, we were almost always the first recipients of "balato".
Manong's barbershop was in malabon. sometimes, we would visit and get to sit on the old barber's chairs. we always got free haircuts. just a tip: if you have a daughter, please don't subject her to a barber's cut. take it from my elder sister, who, if i remember correctly, got a really "nice" barber's cut which we laughed at when she got home from a visit with Manong. Manong's barbershop was where several old timers hung out. it was there where i learned to play chess and "dama". beside his barbershop was a bakery, where we could buy all the Coke and bread we wanted, all charged to Manong's "listahan".
as we grew up and moved to different houses, Manong still visited, but not as frequently as the earlier years. the barbershop closed, and i think he moved back to the province with his family. occasionally, he went to manila to visit and would stay at my uncle's place. it's inevitable that Manong would grow old. he got old, frail, and hard of hearing that we had to almost shout near his ear.
the last time that i was in manila and he visited the house, Manong was again giving money to the kids, this time not to me, but to the gremlins, who all went rushing to the village store. we played "dama" again, and as always, i lost. surprisingly though, he lost to the eldest gremlin when they played chess. whether or not he deliberately lost the game or not, i'll never know.
when we talked, he was asking about my life in singapore, whether i was going to follow my mom and sister in the states, and when was i getting married and when he'll have an "apo" from me.
i told him that will come in a few years, when i've saved enough. shaking his head, he said: "sayang naman kung hindi ka magka-anak, walang magmamana ng talino mo".
over the weekend, i learned that Manong passed away. my dad said it really was just because of old age. i was too caught up in the practical details i needed to know..the how's, the why's, the when's that the reality didnt' sink in until now. it's strange how we think the constants in our lives will live forever. that's how i thought Manong was. i thought he'd be around a few more years to see my future gremlins. sadly, that's not going to be the case. sayang, i would have wanted my gremlin to be the recipient of Manong's "balato".
Manong never won the big amounts in the lottery, or in the sweepstakes, but i like to think he lived life the way he wanted to. so here's to you, Manong. thank you for taking care of us, for the many childhood treats, and simply for being our grandfather.