The ‘Other House’
When my brothers and I were young, we called this house the “Other House.” As a child, I walked with dad and measured its distance from our own house and concluded that it was merely 100 steps away. It was nice having my grandparents so near us; it was nice going over there to play by the beach.
Having fun in the Other House was easy and simple. Back when the water was clean, my brothers, cousins, and I would pick up shells or snails from the low seawall and gather these in one place. A makeshift swing hanging from an old tree, a stick, a stone, and a drawing on the sand, fishing, a bird’s nest, or even just plain sitting on the seawall and enjoying the fresh, fresh air were among the things we loved in that seaside place.
As a little kid with a big imagination, I considered the backyard of the Other House my fairy land, my palace, my office, my zoo. It was my digging site, my gold mine, where I found a gem-studded hair clip in the shape of a ribbon and other things I treasured as if I were Ariel from “Little Mermaid” with her cove of human things under the sea.
I used to spend every summer morning in the Other House with my Lola Lily, Catalina Buagas Colinares; we had our routine in which I got paid to comb her hair as she slept. If I saw a white strand, I was under direct orders to pluck it out even if she was asleep.
As a child and up until I started law school, I found the Other House full of wonders yet to be uncovered. I would pore through the dozens of old albums and look for Daddy in the photos. In those photos I discovered a lot of things about Daddy and his siblings.
First and foremost, Daddy, despite being skinny, had abs when he was a teenager. He rode a mountain bike and a skateboard, and he was also a swimmer. Like Lolo, he loved the chickens found in the right side of the house. Tita Ruby wore huge vintage glasses or shades, Tito Erwin was quite the ladies’ man, Tita Rox was part of the CAT (Citizenship Advancement Training), Tita Era celebrated a birthday party wearing a beautiful dress, and Tito Ari—well, I found old love letters from various girls who loved how good he was in tennis.
Apart from the vintage piano, another piece of furniture in the house that gathered the most attention was the glass cabinet, which was literally a human-sized collage of letters and photos. It was a time capsule, proudly displaying letters sent by Lola’s grandchildren starting from when we were five years old until we sent graduation photos from high school to college, as well as other letters from relatives from her beloved hometown, Mati in Davao.
The Other House was our comfort place, where the clan would gather and spend hours and hours eating and talking. It was our family-photo-shoot studio with the best natural lighting, and the best view of the sea.
But last Nov. 8 Supertyphoon “Yolanda” hit Tacloban City, and that very same sea we loved ate up the land and washed away not only our house but also the Other House, and with it our beloved, beautiful Lola Lily.
She was a jolly person who always looked pretty. She called me “Mal,” and I guess that in her eyes, I never grew up. She made the best leche flan in the whole of Tacloban and also the best chocolate cake which, at one point in my life, made me really fat. She was my protector from some bullies, always saying I looked like her when she was young (although that is debatable because she was really a beauty).
Lola loved movies. She watched all movies, no matter what genre. When a scene got intense, she would sit up straight and hold still until it was okay to relax. After the movie ended, she would regale us with a review and a recap of what she thought were its highlights.
Lola was a vibrant soul, a quirky woman full of excitement and laughter. She might have been a nervous person but she was courageous enough to ride the banana boat when the clan went to Boracay. And her age did not hinder her from donning a bikini, in that same vacation, which shocked us all, mostly my dad. Her age also did not stop her from joining our nightly patintero game which required her to run around the sand in her bright pink beach pants, trying so hard to catch us youngsters.
She was very hardworking and very caring. She loved the family and loved it when we were all together. She was fiercely protective of her loved ones, like a lioness watching over her cubs. She was always concerned with our education and very much interested in our love life.
Of her good qualities, I think the best of the lot was that she was a woman who walked with God. She loved God, and it showed in her daily life. She shared the Word with a lot of people, and she was ever animated, her eyes lighting up, her laughter ringing, and leaving an echo of joy and cheer.
She was a great human being.
Lola Lily, we are heartbroken, but we are also happy that you are now in your palace in Heaven, making leche flan for everyone up there. We miss you and love you forever.
We also sorely miss Tita Letlet and cousin Baby Mayo, without whom family gatherings will never be the same. And we remember Tita Au Au Tan, whose passing has also caused so much sorrow.
Mari Colinares, 23, of Ateneo Law School, used to live on Magallanes street in Tacloban City. She writes: “‘Yolanda’ took away four loved ones, my parents’ house, and my grandparents’ house. It is causing my family and me a lot of pain… I wrote this simple piece about my grandparents’ house by the sea to commemorate my Lola whose body has yet to be found at this writing. My Lolo is now 85 years old and severely injured. I’d like to offer this write-up to him and to all my loved ones who passed away.”