Strange and amazing how one picture can stir up remarkable recollections. This one did, one posted by my Auntie Rose Cruz on Facebook as part of her Father’s Day tribute to her father. Wenceslao Manuel Sr., my Lolo (Grandfather) on my mother’s side. Upon seeing his photo, I was immediately transported to another time, another age, just out of the sixth grade.
It was a sultry summer in the farm called Auayan (or Awayan) in the Bicol Region, Philippines. An expansive agricultural land of gentle rolling hills both sides of a railroad track. While the west portion was populated with coconut groves, the eastern areas were heavily spotted with rice fields and orchards bordered by a river whose green waters snake between thin strips of sandy shores. I’m trying to pierce my memory for the reason why that summer stood out for me. For one, I just graduated from elementary, and was taking a respite before gearing up for high school. But no, that wasn’t the reason for that remarkable summer.
I stare at Lolo’s picture again, and memories flood back, almost like a movie reel progressing in spectacular panoramic color. Center of the flashback is Lolo, with Lola at his side, seated at his usual spot in front of the large farmhouse window equipped with panels laden with little squares each framing old, shiny white Capiz shells; the panels, always slid aside to let the breeze flow into the expansive square house of rare, sturdy native wood, some yakal, some molave.
But why, again, was that summer so important to me then, and even now?
I focus on that one afternoon after lunch during that summer vacation. Lolo called me to where he sat by the window, chewing his usual beetle nut red juicy mixture wrapped in a tobacco leaf, a custom and a routine especially common among older men in the province. To this day, I believe there was a medical value to the chew called “mama” (with a heavy accent bearing down on the second “a”). Or perhaps, it was a cultural tradition akin to the senior males of that time, the “Dons” of the upper echelon – but of course, that’s my wild guess. Not to be sidetracked from my story — Lolo purposely struck a conversation with me, barely 12 years old then. He genuinely was interested in my studies, how I was in school and what I looked forward to in high school. I was awe-struck. My Lolo, speaking with me! In that “old culture”, children were supposed to be mostly seen and not heard. And there was my Lolo wanting to hear me! I felt that I was on the stage, and my audience was this very important man who at that special moment was all ears and eyes for me. You see, that was even more remarkable, because I am his first grandchild of dozens of grandchildren. That rare lengthy exchange with my Lolo was the highlight of that summer.
My Lolo, a quiet man of gentle nature, short but with a well-built stature, a little over 5 ft. tall, very calm in demeanor, but known to have a temper when provoked or for good reason. A man whom I rarely heard speak but had penetrating eyes that observed all. Kind, intelligent and, most remarkably, humble. His humility and pleasant demeanor were what made him much loved and respected by his tenants and workers.
He had much to boast about in his age and his generation. He was a successful professional, extremely relied on as a skilled and honest surveyor. He was not the only surveyor in his family at Montalban, Rizal, Philippines. So were his two other brothers. And because they had direct, first-hand information of choice lands for sale, were able to accumulate enormous land holdings in and outside Montalban. I learned that the Manuels, along with their cousins, the Rodriguez and Bautista families practically owned Montalban, Rizal at that time. But with simple, unpretentious ways, you’d never think Lolo was of that privilege clan. He was not the regular Don, though many in the farm preferred to call him Don Manuel. Decent, fair, hardworking, respectable, benevolent — words that jump out of my mind as I think of this lovable, grand, wise ol’ man.
For Lolo, his main land holding was Auayan (in Bicol) and some areas in barrios outside its periphery. It was a sizable agricultural enterprise, and Lolo was a full-fledged farmer. Cultivating the land for agriculture was his primary goal. His dream was for his children to faithfully hang on to the land, wanting to ensure that circumstances would not lead to losing their share of the farm. That was a Utopian dream. That, of course, did not happen for some for practical reasons. You see, Lolo was never a businessman. He was a farmer at heart. A firm believer in the promise, value and stability of Auayan. Auayan is still there, mostly belonging to the Manuels and their families.
That summer was very important to Mama and Papa as well. That was the time Lolo asked them which part of the farm they chose for their share. Mama and Papa, both academicians by profession, decided to take years of sabbatical from being a chemistry professor and college education dean respectively, to try their luck at farming. Papa was in frequent conversation with Lolo for farming lessons and advice. Often, I found myself eavesdropping on the conversations, only to realize even at such a young age that Papa, himself a dreamer: thought he could be a farmer, He had the interest, but not the skill nor know-how for this novel field. But Papa and Mama were excellent gardeners who cared for vegetables and flower plants on our backyard and veranda windowsills in our home in the city. That was the extent of their farming, Nonetheless, they determinedly ventured into farming, and Lolo must have been baffled by their pursuit of a field they knew little of, as he patiently watched and counselled.
One other reason why I loved to visit my grandparents’ rambling farmhouse in Auayan. Lolo loved to cook for the family, especially complicated meat dishes. I remember him pounding vigorously for hours in the kitchen, tenderizing beef from a butchered farm cow. The prolonged poundings announced that there would be sumptuous meat entrees for lunch or dinner, and we all eagerly looked forward to the meal. Lolo came from the Tagalog province known for its residents’ preference and talent for cooking savory meat cuisine. My Lolo also was a literary buff with a penchant for memorizing American and British poems. If he loved poetry, he must have been a romantic at heart. I can imagine him serenading Lola not with songs but with poems.
Proof of his preference for the simple life, Lolo opted to live most of his later adult and senior years in the barrio of Auayan where he could be close to the land he loved — until the later part of his life when, for medical reasons, he had to stay in Naga City.
Now, I remember where and when I first saw Lolo’s picture – that was in an album that memorialized his funeral. This makes me very sad, because for some reason, I could not attend Lolo’s memorial service. I must have been in Manila then, during my grad studies at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. Why I didn’t go, I don’t know. So, this is difficult for me now. I am saddened as I remember Lolo. and just like what my Auntie Nora Isidoro said in her response to my Auntie Rosie’s FB posting of Lolo – I miss him, and I love him.
Happy Father’s Day in God’s kingdom, Lolo!