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All my grandchildren

One fine day, with corpses turning up like a bad habit in the course of the administration’s war on illegal drugs, I realized I am well into my ninth president and fourth grandchild.

I am reflecting on a little over six decades of a life that started on a Bicol island and continues in a bucolic place in Metro Manila. It is for this reason that I take advantage of yearly trips to Catanduanes courtesy of my Frankfurt-based daughter. I call these trips reunions because it is not often that I visit the island with nearly all members of the family present (one stayed in the big city to provide moral support to the Kidapawan farmers).

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The last time two of my three daughters were here, they were under the care of their grandmother who could see that I had a hard time beating deadlines and caring for growing children.

My eldest daughter used to see an island doctor who was also the town mayor, and my youngest had a good glimpse of island life even before early schooling. But they would soon be transported back to the big city because my work is here and their first schooling awaited them.

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My eldest daughter used to live with her grandparents in Sta. Elena in the capital town of Virac, in the same barangay where my grandparents (on my mother’s side) lived. I remember that in grade school, I attended those Arcilla reunions and wondered why the Arcillas were all over the capital town. (Actor John Arcilla’s father was born in Catanduanes. We could be distant cousins.)

I am a Guerrero on my mother’s side, and part of my early memories was taking typing lessons at Farmacia Guerrero, the first pharmacy in Catanduanes. I met the remaining owner of that pharmacy (a Guerrero who was once a Miss Vicar and the wife of a former judge). She struck me as full of wisdom and wit, which seemed natural for someone who lived on the island and never left. Stage director Nonon Padilla (a Guerrero and a cousin of 1964 Miss International Gemma Cruz Araneta) told me that his great grandparents used to visit Catanduanes in the 1930s because they had a homestead there.

As I watch my grandchildren enjoying the peace and quiet of Mamangal Beach, I can’t help recalling my own childhood on the island. I used to read the dailies and the magazines (Liwayway and Bulaklak) as well as the comics (Hiwaga, Pilipino) at the newsstand of Tia Merly Abundo near the San Jose chapel. I actually sold newspapers in Baras for the same newspaper dealer, and I remember going as far as the barrio of Macutal, passing through rivers and rice paddies. I thought a part of me died when I heard that Tia Merly passed away last year.

Marem Pension House, where my family and I stayed, is also full of memories. It was also where we stayed when my parents died; it gave us the privacy to cope with our sorrows. I have treated Marem as my own private home: I can occupy its dining area at 4 a.m. and write until breakfast time at 7.

But nothing matches the awesome sight from the Balacay Highland Point in Barrio Benticayan in Baras, my hometown. I have never been so stunned to behold, from this promontory, that spot where the sky meets the sea, and the many islands around the towns of Baras and Gigmoto. It is a virtual heaven on earth. I am rendered speechless by the sheer beauty of the mountain and the sea, and with my grandchildren loving the sight, I realize that I have given them the ultimate treat of their lives. They will remember this moment when, many years from now, they descend on the island with their own progeny.

My mother used to teach in Benticayan, and the woman who took care of me was a weather-beaten islander named Marla whose fisherman-husband died in the deep blue sea during freak weather.

Passing Tilod, I tell my daughters and grandchildren that I was born in that village by the sea and that I used to hike from there to the Baras town proper by way of the shore.

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I spent my grade school in Baras where a former mayor, Jesus Torrente, now 94, remembered that I played Jose Rizal in a school play and recited “Mi Ultimo Adios” in Spanish.

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So what did I learn from my grandchildren during this once-in-a-lifetime visit?

Looking at them asleep in this room in Marem which served as our bonding area for two days before we headed back to the big city, I realized how quickly they have grown.

For now, they can move on with their own lives and perhaps look back many years later to that day when they were young and tender, and they were treated to the idyll of island life.

In my time, after all, there was no such thing as a package tour. We didn’t call for an Uber taxi, and if we managed a picnic on Minabalay Island, everything was all right with the world.

Our tour ended with a visit to the resting place of our loved ones—their great grandparents and my only brother—at the Virac Cemetery.

After this visit, my daughters and grandchildren would have been provided with a picture of their father’s and grandfather’s roots on an island they may now call their own.

As Margaret Wise Brown wrote: “…it was good to be a little island,/ A part of the world/ and a world of its own/ All surrounded by the bright blue sea.”

Pablo A. Tariman, 60ish, covers the arts from music to cinema and gets involved in music festivals every summer in the island-province where he was born.

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