Monday, September 15, 2008

A Family Thing

I never met my maternal grandfather. Peregrino--Perry, as his friends called him-- was a foreman working for Ford in the 1950s to the 1960s, as well as an occasional shop teacher. In my mother's house there used to hang an old picture of Peregrino in my grandmother's room, and I remember looking at a stern, authoritative figure, with perfectly coiffed 'Jose Rizal' hair, eyes that looked at imperceptible sights in the far off distance, and a thin, hazy suggestion of a smile. When I was younger and I misbehaved, my mother would tell me stories of Lolo Perry-- strict, stern, and disciplinarian-- and how my behavior would simply make his blood curdle. They were quite the stories!

This much I know about Peregrino: he was born in the province of Catanduanes in the 1920s, whereupon he was orphaned at an early age, and had to be raised by distant relatives. Coming from a poor family, he had to start work at an early age; by the time he was in his teens, he had seen the grit and grime of the real world, and vowed to make a better life for himself. Now in those days, these decisions were literally life-altering; and thus it came to be that Peregrino left his home in Catanduanes to begin his sojourn in Manila. That was the last he ever saw of his brothers and adoptive parents.

He met my grandmother in college--she, studying mathematics, he, a vocational course in engineering. The whirlwind romance eventually blossomed into a marriage; Peregrino would move his family to the (more or less) suburb of Santa Ana in Manila, where they lived in a compound leased by their Spanish landlords. They would spent the better part of a decade and a half in that compound, until, tired of the congestion afforded them by Manila, they eventually relocated into the then newly developed Teachers' Village in Quezon City. They had a small bungalow built, with enough land to raise some farm animals. It was the first house in that street, and even today, my mother's house carries the patina of age and history on its walls. This was around 1965.

Now, my grandfather wasn't able to go to a 'proper' university; but this did not stop him from constantly reinventing himself. Since his immediate bosses were Americans, he gradually developed his English skills; in fact, he forbade any and all materials not in English to be read, listened to, or watched in their house. At the dinner table, Peregrino, with characteristic solemnity, would admonish his children to 'Masticate your meat' and to 'rectify your bad manners'. Disobedience, or failure to comply with his orders, meant immediate punishment. When he would argue with my grandmother, it was always in high-phalutin' English.

Like many Filipino fathers, my maternal grandfather was not exactly very pastoral. His word was law, and in his house, he was king. He was also somewhat of an amateur athlete, with an easily bruised ego; one time, challenged by a younger colleague at the factory, the then already 55 year old Peregrino ran a mile in an effort to beat his younger opponent; he lost, but his simmering temper certainly shut up the competition! Conversations with Peregrino more or less followed an interview format; 'How was your day?', was followed by 'Have you eaten?', and then by 'Have you done your chores?', an optional (but liberally used) 'Why is the standard of your work very poor?' and then finally by a reminder to 'Thank the Lord you're still alive'. That was it.

Peregrino, like all men, had his faults; his was an irascible, stubborn, almost Iberian temper. He kept mostly to himself; as mentioned, he had an easily bruised ego, and he was always very demanding. But for all his flaws, Peregrino was really a simple man. He was a man of genteel manners, who never failed to welcome visitors with his company. Often, Mormon missionaries would come to visit their house, and he would invite them in for polite conversation. When the topic of polygamy was brought up, however, he simply could not restrain himself and would chase them off the gate with his bolo. He found joy in fixing broken appliances; he would always wake up at four in the morning to inspect the grounds. No dead light bulb, no broken link of a chain, no clogged toilet, no stray piece of garbage escaped his eyes. Even today, at my mother's house, all the appliances are the same ones that my Lolo Peregrino had built, albeit with some tweaks, alterations, and many repairs done over the course of the last three decades.

He died of cardiovascular failure in 1987, at the age of 66 (67?). Ironically, he was on his way to the Philippine Heart Center, which was only a few blocks from their home. As it happened, an ashen-faced Peregrino suddenly slumped to the ground; by God's grace, a tricycle driver (picture a motorcycle with an attached sidecar) nearby witnessed the event, and carried him on his back to the Heart Center. He would not last for much long; a few more days at the hospital, and he would succumb to the sleep of death. He died on 17 January, exactly a week before his birthday.

Almost a year ago, as I was having lunch with the family, the topic suddenly shifted to my late maternal grandfather. Appalled at the way my sister was chewing her food, my mother admonished her to 'masticate your meat'. I sat there, listening to her stories, when a sudden chill crawled up our spines. The date was 17 January.


Andrew said...

What in Heaven is a bolo and how does one use it to heave off unwanted guests? Do tell!

Archistrategos said...


A Bolo is kinda like a machete. Here's a pic, it's simply awesome: