Hearth and Home
By Pablo A. Tariman

I- Prologue

Suddenly I yearn for home.

Home is an island about an hour’s away by plane and fifteen hours by bus and boat.

I am turning 67 in December and I consider myself lucky because some friends and classmates — some of them celebrities in their respective turfs – did not get to reach this age.

Meanwhile, a friend from pre-martial law years tripped and could not make it to recent presscons. Another colleague is in the hospital recuperating from one thing or the other.

The author with grandchildren at Mamangal Beach. Photo: Tamara Irika T. Abellana.

The author with grandchildren at Mamangal Beach. Photo: Tamara Irika T. Abellana.

I suppose one kept healthy by doing work reserved for household help and taking public transport to get a first-hand feel of what this government is doing for senior citizens.

With its non-working escalators and unpredictable trips, you realize that taking the stairs to an MRT station is a virtual invitation to heart attack. The coaches could turn into speeding coffins but you have no choice.

Living by your income, you realize you couldn’t afford a cab and you couldn’t take the plane to your island province – all the time.

I emailed my Frankfurt-based daughter and told her I’d like to visit the island with all my grandchildren. My Frankfurt-based granddaughter Keya is enjoying semestral break from her Frankfurt school and could we all spend at least three days in my home province?

Before I knew it, I have air tickets for my daughter and three grandchildren.

Foremost in my mind is that I want my grandchildren to visit the graves of their great grandparents and see the town of my birth (Baras) and have a modest picnic by the sea in Mamangal.

I’d like them to have a stroll along the seaside dike in Baras with the Minabalay Island in the background. I grew up with that island and I never tire just looking at it.

On a sunny day, this island stuns. On rainy days, it broods like a mysterious maiden. The chameleon-like change of mood reminds me of the lighting in the Broadway musical, “South Pacific” while someone was singing “Bali Hai.”

Turning right, you see the town cemetery by the hill. Beyond it in a seaside barrio named Tilod, I was born in December of ’48 some three years after the so-called Liberation of Catanduanes.

I’d like to go home once again – this time with all my grandchildren — as I wasn’t lucky as a grandson.

I never saw my maternal grandmother (a Guerrero) and what I remember of my maternal grandfather (an Arcilla) was a picture of him inside a coffin with all his sons and daughters in a proverbial picture taking before the last trip to the cemetery.

Briefly, I had very little memory of my paternal grandmother (a Sorreda) who didn’t last long after lingering illness. One summer day in the early 60s, my father and I hied off to the Big City to bury my grandmother at the North Cemetery. I never saw my paternal grandfather (a Tariman) whose name I carry (the town’s skimpy history file revealed he was one of the town’s chief executives). When I visited on All Soul’s Day during my grade school years, it felt strange seeing my name on his grave. (It happens that I carry his name).

Because when I see all my grandchildren, I think of my grandparents I didn’t get to know.

When I visit their grandparents with them in the Virac cemetery, I will likely recall the young grandson I was once.

With my granddaughters’ first flight to the island, I’d like to recall early days in my home province and how it has remained a favorite haunt even in my twilight years.

But first let me tell you how I coped with my first grandson.

II -Life With My First Grandson

Flashback 2009. When our part-time nanny said she’d like to do work other than take care of a 6-year-old, I decided it was time to let her go.

At the time she made that decision, I wasn’t busy myself, what with all concerts postponed, cancelled and/or shelved due to typhoons and floods one after another.

The boy is my first grandchild, and he goes to a Pasig public school with classes that start at six in the morning (you read that right: 6 a.m.!)

When you’ve been without househelp yourself, you just know what taking care of a six-year-old entails: Mondays to Fridays you wake up at 3 a.m., prepare breakfast at 4, check out the school uniform and the school bag, plus boil water for the child’s bath at 5, then rush out of the house by 5:30.

On the first day I was on my own, I decided I couldn’t afford to panic as I can no longer afford another nanny. Back home at six, I decided I have to be organized.

First order of the day while grandson is in school: soak dirty clothes in pails of Ariel, clean up the apartment and take a quick hot bath. At seven, I review my writing deadlines, check which press cons I can do without and those I can manage before I fetch the grandchild at 11:30.

After saving a story in a nearby internet café, I drop by a nearby fast food chain for a packed lunch, head off to school and go back to the house for lunch. Then check grandson’s assignments, PTA meetings if any, contributions for school projects, etc.

Then time for a quick nap, after which I turn on the TV and ask grandson to watch cartoons while I rinse out the laundry that had been left soaking since morning.

Meanwhile, I send regrets to organizers of noonday presscons, appreciation lunches, evening concerts and art exhibits. All of a sudden, my media life is gone. Good for my health and peace of mind, I console myself.

But as I was determined to keep what passes for a job, I realize there are events I cannot ignore and concerts I cannot miss.

So there we were, my grandson and I, on the opening night of Don Quixote, enjoying one act after another. I begged him not fall asleep while watching the “Nutcracker” until after the curtain call. He was with me too, enjoying the Philippine Youth Symphonic Band (PYSB), the boy surprised to hear “Pen Pen De Sarapen” sang by baritone Andrew Fernando with full band orchestra. In 2009, we both covered the 10th anniversary of Muro Ami, but after the message of the late director Marilou Diaz-Abaya, actor Cesar Montano and columnist Randy David, he wanted to go home and couldn’t care less about the open forum.

You’d think I’m already a veteran after having raised three daughters, now aged 30 and up. But sadly, I still panic when my grandson has signs of fever, texting the pediatrician at midnight and asking for instructions. My white board that used to list the schedule of various presscons now looks like a caregiver’s must-do: vitamins after breakfast, syrup for a cold at 2 p.m., another round of antibiotics before bedtime.

With the onset of the monsoon season notorious for bringing on bouts of cold and pneumonia, I realize that trips to the drug store may get to be as frequent as visits to the pedia. I take note of the forbidden meals (mostly junk food) and wonder how much longer I can depend on fastfood chains for lunch and dinner.

Two months later, I realize I can actually manage without a yaya and cope with an income hovering close to the poverty line.

I realize that life isn’t all about opening nights, wrong notes and 32 fouettes wanting in speed and focus.

One thing learned as I slowly morphed into a caregiver is the need to keep healthy, avoiding evening engagements (especially movie premieres that are always three hours late), being organized (even if you are reduced to panic at the mountain of laundry waiting to be done), and best of all, enjoying the light moments with my grandchild.

Because if you had scored a 75 as a father, perhaps you can aim for 90 as a grandfather. And better yet, a perfect 100 as a caregiver.

Ratings aside, there’s one reward that more than makes up for all the fatigue and sleepless nights spent trying to be Super Lolo: the jokes and laughter shared with my grandchild.

As I look into the face of my apo as he bikes in this quiet part of Pasig, I realize that he represents those pure and innocent years that I’ve lost when I joined this fact of life called the rat race.

My grandson Emmanuel is now 12 and is a handy assistant when I do my concerts at Kemji Resort.

By now, he should now have an idea about the kind of life I lead.

I am drawn to music as I am drawn to books.

But first, my grandchildren have to know the island of my birth.

III- The Island Beckons

And so they arrived in my island province together for the first time.

One is based in Frankfurt and two are in Pasig and together they will see and savor the island of my birth.

The author's grandchildren and daughter during a family picnic at Balacay Highland Point in Benticayan, Baras, Catanduanes. The place has an awesome view of the islands in adjoining towns. (Photo by Arlene P. Alamajeda of Marem Pension House)

The author’s grandchildren and daughter during a family picnic at Balacay Highland Point in Benticayan, Baras, Catanduanes. The place has an awesome view of the islands in adjoining towns. (Photo by Arlene P. Alamajeda of Marem Pension House)

My modest writer’s fees for the month metamorphosed into two-night inn accommodation and a package tour to the island’s selected tourist destinations.

Needless to say, this is my first package tour with my grandchildren and my first in the island.

The four-year old granddaughter has an obsession with beach and it is the only word she knows even as we remind her we are Virac-bound and that is where the beach is. She coos firmly with, “Only beach. Beach only.”

Earlier when the plane was caught in traffic at the runway before takeoff,” she muttered for everyone to hear, “What is happening here?”

Since our plane was No. 5 in a gallery of outgoing planes, we spent more time waiting than flying to the island which took only 40 minutes.

Impatient as the plane waited for its turn to take off, my granddaughter virtually ordered crew to move as she shouted, “Fly, fly.”

You realize your grandchildren have many things in common one of which was their sense of daring.

My 11-year old granddaughter – flying from New York to Frankfurt – asked permission to go to the cockpit. Right there and then, she told the pilots it was her birthday that day and could she please fly the plane for a few minutes?

The request was preposterous but then she was given access to the cockpit’s seat and was given a pilot’s cap to boot.

It is in a trip like this that you get to know your grandchildren (with a mother in tow) and how they are faring with life so far.

It is my grandson’s fourth trip to the island and so he took it easy while his cousins get excited seeing the island of my birth for the first time.

On the day Typhoon Ineng was lashing Northern Luzon, we were in the capital town’s Mamangal Beach and as usual, the youngest was the one who could hardly wait to play with the waves. The monsoon wind was pretty strong, there was a slight drizzle but there they were having a good time of their life savoring windy sea and cloudy skies.

The next day, we headed for the nearby Maribina Falls as the Catanduanes Museum and the church were closed on a Saturday.

You can see that river leading to the falls has dried up and it would just be a matter of time before this natural wonder would be a thing of the past.

My grandchildren were able to see the living relics of the 1830s with a visit to Bato Church. I used to mount concerts in the nearby Tingog Hall. That’s where I met the island’s most famous OFW – Esperanza Tresvalles whose life was played by Agot Isidro and whose son Tarik was played by John Lloyd Cruz in one MMK edition.

I recall that Tresvalles – a bipolar – entered the hall at the very moment soprano Luz Morete was singing “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa.” I was surprised to find out that she was the best-behaved member of the audience.

Then we headed to my hometown and passed the Doppler Radar station in barrio Buenavista. It was exhilarating sight up there.

But nothing matched the awesome sight at the Balacay Highland Point in barrio Benticayan in Baras, Catanduanes. I am from this town but I never got to experience the awesome sight from this promontory. The stunning sight — where the sky meets the sea and coupled with a view of many islands around Baras and Gigmoto towns — makes this spot virtual heaven on earth. You are rendered speechless by the sheer beauty of the mountain and the sea and with your grandchildren loving the sight, you just realized you have given time them ultimate treat of their lives.

So what do you learn from your grandchildren during this once-in-a-lifetime island visit?

My 11-year old granddaughter and my 12-year old grandson took time to wake up, the four year old granddaughter only needed a slight tap on her shoulder and she was up and asking where the next schedule was.

Looking at them asleep in this room which was our bonding area for two days before we headed for the Big City, you realize how quickly they have grown.

The two enjoyed the cocido and the latik and the guavas bought from the Virac market. My ‘sosyal’ granddaughter avoided them and was happy with French fries.

Finally, I brought them to my hometown by the sea. I pointed to them the coastal barrio where I was born, where I spent my grade school years.

I don’t know if what I said would ever sink in their young minds.

But at least now they have an idea where I came from.

For now, they can move on with their own lives and perhaps look back many years later that one day when they were young and tender, the were treated to the idylls of island life nobody cares much about these days.

I am sure this weekend getaway will find a place in their heart in between their PC games and a regular diet of Western cartoons.

Because in my time, there was no such thing as package tour, we didn’t hire taxi by Uber and all we had was a picnic around Minabalay Island and everything was all right with the world.

The author at his parents' and only brother's grave in Virac, Catanduanes.

The author at his parents’ and only brother’s grave in Virac, Catanduanes.

The tour ends with a private visit to our loved ones at the Virac Cemetery.

There my grandchildren saw the resting place of their great grandparents and my only brother.

Staring at those lighted candles, you can only reckon your own fate as you recall a line from Charles Baudelaire, “To the solemn graves, near a lonely cemetery, my heart like a muffled drum is beating funeral marches.”

(For inquiries on a special package tour — covering visits to historic Bato Church the Maribina Falls, Pagasa Doppler and Balacay Highland Point, among others — call or text Marem Pension House in Virac, Catanduanes at 09291620000.)

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