Is there a place you visited or stayed in that haunts your memories or continues to live in the heart? There is such a place for me. It’s my grandfather’s farm called Auayan or Awayan, an immense stretch of land in the northern part of the province of Camarines Sur in the Bicol region. Nostalgia prompts me to write about Auayan, more than 600 hectares acquired by Lolo (Grandfather), a surveyor, and which eventually was subdivided among his ten children. He also generously offered some hectares to Grandmother’s two sisters, spinsters who devoted to helping Lola (Grandmother) care for her children and the family home.
Auayan is a wide expanse of rolling hills and valleys bordered on one side by a river that gently snakes toward a bay in the far town of Libmanan. The puzzlement about this river, especially where it flows beside Grandfather’s farm, is that its slim banks glisten with white sand. Often, I wondered how the sand from the ocean’s shores got carried to Auayan’s river banks. The river beach, as I call it, stands out in a picturesque way against the turquoise glow of the waters. That’s another of my puzzlement: why the river always looks the rich shade of blue-green. Perhaps, because of abundant vegetation underneath the waters, like a thick blanket of vibrant moss on the river bed. But in the evenings, the waters turn a deep mysterious green that cascades in eerie silence.
What is it about “all you can eat” that just draws folks to restaurants that pitch that on the menu. I admit, I’m a sucker for it, aren’t you? When I’m with a group and we struggle with the very important decision of where to have lunch or dinner, and someone interjects, there’s an “all you can eat” seafood place – no need to push me. I’ll push everyone else. It’s a mindset that can be deceiving. Can make you think you can eat as much as you want, with no consideration at all for the capacity of the stomach, nor its ability to digest large and mixed portions. Darn the advertising draw that’s so powerful. I go anyway.
So, last weekend, I attended a church fundraiser in Palo Alto, an event I always look forward to every year – an “all you can eat” crab dinner. It was no surprise that 90% of attendees were baby boomers or older. Is it this generation that falls easy prey to “all you can eat” offers? Or, is it this generation that worries less about calories? Or, is it this generation that scrimps on meals every day for health or other reasons, that a big break is so welcome. I’m glad I went. The crabs were meaty, plentiful and free flowing. The heads and legs kept coming. I wondered if the sponsor cornered the entire supply of the Bay Area. I was afraid to ask – didn’t want to jinx the table service.
This Lola still works, part-time, three days a week. I appreciate the chance to get up earlier than usual in the morning, pick an attire appropriate for the office, prim my hair and prep my face, fix a quick breakfast, take the vitamins and scheduled meds, wash the cup and plate I used, bag my baon (packed food) for lunch, check the stove, then out the door. That’s the routine for work days which, I admit, I’ve gotten the hang of and which I miss during prolonged vacations. This routine could all flow in a rush or in a slow, pleasurable progression. Either way, it’s rooted in my system.
What I’m saying here is, partial retirement seems best for this baby boomer. While having some days off is necessary for errands, appointments, personal chores and rest, maintaining a regular work schedule on other days provides variety and challenge, two ingredients to sustaining vigor, interest, positive outlook and the excitement of anticipation. Work can be a motivation to stay healthy, for what good is determination if the body is not able or lazy. But knowing there are urgent matters to complete or deadlines to meet can goad the body to move and overlook the pain or the tiredness, even the laziness. Work is good for the soul, mind, body — and yes, the pocket.
Last night, I heard an energetic rendition of a waltz by Chopin. I stopped working on my computer and immersed myself in the piano music by my house guest. It was moving in the sense that it made me stand up and perform fancy footwork on the floor to the rhythm of the piece. Suddenly, I stopped my swaying and sycophantic moves and sat down. A memory so vivid crossed my mind. I allowed it to float fully into my consciousness.
I was a young girl, lying on my thin pillow, ready for sleep at around nine in the evening. Something kept me awake, however. It was that same piece by Chopin played over and over again in hopes of perfecting it, perhaps. I remember the music came from a beige-painted 2-story house across the river, just almost the opposite side of ours. Our house stood around 12 meters from the river bank that was dotted with a few banana plants and a couple of sampaloc trees with branches often laden with lumpy fruit pods. Sampaloc pods contain seeds embedded in fibrous substance which, when ripe, are sucked for their tangy sweet and sour flavor. Thinking of that river reminds me of sampaloc.
I ask myself why I don’t engage in cooking my favorites often anymore. For one, my children are grown and married and living away from home. I would have loved to cook for my grandson, but he, my son and his wife are an hour’s drive away. My husband had gone to the beyond two years ago. He loved the few cuisines that I mastered, though he really was the master chef at home. He had such talent, creative skill and speed in cooking, he never failed to amaze me. Cooking was not his profession; it was a hobby and a passion. The man of the house often was the toast of the party, and I was very proud of him. Adding here, that I always cleaned up plenty after him. Small pay for the gourmet dishes laid out on the table. So, cook for myself? Hmmm … not much motivation there. Unless there’s a party to prepare for at home … or a potluck to contribute to … or, I’m craving my own favorites, like now.
I’m sitting in front of my laptop, searching my brain for what I can write about this moment. So, I think about today. A lot of happenings, true, but so little to write about. There mustn’t have been anything that interesting to share. OK, what about what I ate for lunch. That came from my sister who now and then gives me samplings of her cooking. I can’t say much about the food, except that it was a delicious dish of bitter melon sautéed with eggs and tomatoes; I gobbled it all up. So, what about my dinner tonight? That was good, too. Oops, too bad, I didn’t cook that either. I bought it from an expensive high-end grocery store in the neighborhood. Can’t tell you how that was made either, except that it was one of the best stuffed cabbage I’ve eaten. Think, there must be something!