We called him “Tiyong”…. The Tagalog (Philippine word) for uncle. He was Primitivo Castillo Padilla, my Mama’s stepfather…whom I considered as my Grandfather.
His marble tombstone indicated date of birth as December 16, 1917 and date of demise as December 5, 1978…and so, it goes…it is his 30th Death Anniversary this year… and I am dedicating this blog entry for him…In memoriam.
Stories told to me by Mama never left my memory…their real father, Leoncio Leonardo ( a street in our locality was named after him, L. Leonardo Street), died when Mama was three and aunt Aida around seven. Leoncio died due to a lingering illness. That left my beautiful grandmother, Benita, to solely care for her two beautiful daughters…until Primitivo came into their lives. He worked at the Pasay City marketplace and was a known figure there (he did every job there is in the marketplace – an industrious man, I must say)…and was said to have come from the island of Cebu. My grandma Benita and “Tiyong,” to cut the long story short, lived in together, bought a house which until now stands still (with major renovations)...and were gifted with two children, Aunt Cora (my fave aunt) and Tito Alain (my fave and ONLY uncle, you see, even in my paternal side, I have only aunts…Dad was the only boy). “Tiyong” was a very caring stepfather to Mama and Aunt Aida…tending to the needs of his family…and a very neat and well-groomed man.
I remembered growing up with “Tiyong” around the house…looking out in our window to see him approaching the gate…as a very excited little girl, I always waited for the “goodies” he brought me every single day of my childhood…candies, toys, pastries…without missing a day… and these words, “Gidget, dapat mabait ka lagi, ha, Ineng, para may pasalubong ako sa iyo lagi” (Gidget, you should be very good always, Ineng [another Tagalog word for little girl], so that I will bring you goodies always.). Though the “pasalubongs” were but tangible and superficial representations of Tiyong’s thoughtfulness and love…without doing so, I felt he truly loved his entire family…including me, being a step granddaughter, he treated me as his own. I never saw him civil or indifferent towards my Mama, even after my grandma Benita died in 1972. He was my perfect grandfather. I got some scolding and spanking from him too…but, after those bouts..he would explain to me reasons why he did so, and which, at the early stages of my life… I understood to accept my own mistakes.
1978…I was ten. “Tiyong” was brought to the Philippine Veterans’ Hospital (He was a war veteran). He was confined there due to some problems with his internal organs. I remembered seeing my Mama and Aunt Cora crying. I could not ask the reason why they were crying… all I remembered was the feeling of disbelief and grief on my part as a young girl… even then, I have felt what they were feeling as adults. I never showed them though, I cried alone in the toilet (my favorite place of grief, until now). I celebrated my 10th Birthday with “Tiyong” still around. They discharged him from the hospital already, but he was very, very weak…Mama concomitantly took care of the very ill “Tiyong” while she worked at a cigarette factory. Mama must have loved him so much as her own very own father. As the days went by, “Tiyong’s” medical condition worsened, calling on Doctors to check him and give medical treatment every now and then… and everytime those Docs went to see “Tiyong,” I would go to the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, to whom he was a devotee, and would beg her to tell Jesus not to let “Tiyong” die. When he felt better, I also felt better…funny thing.
Two weeks after my birthday, “Tiyong” called me to his room, I still remembered the foul smell of his “first aid” medication which he applied to my and my cousin Dino’s wounds whenever we had some cuts and scratches or bruises… coconut oil mixed with pounded garlic (traditional medicine!). He asked me what gift do I want for Christmas… I was amazed… I wanted to tell him, “for you to live forever and see me grow up and still guide me in life as your very own granddaughter”… but, words wouldn’t come out from my mouth… I was taken aback. He told me, “I know what to give u for Christmas…a dress! But, you should wear it!” (He knew I hated girly dresses! I preferred pants and t-shirts, rubber shoes than girls’ shoes)… What can I say? Words were put into my mouth… I remembered smiling back at him. He was becoming weaker each passing day, and a week prior his demise, he handed me a plastic bag with a gift in it…With all the proud words, “I personally chose and bought this for you, Gidget.” I knew what it was…my dress! Infront of him, as he requested, I opened the gift and found this very girly pinkish-peach dress with floral design in the fabric (white roses)…The first thought that crossed my young mind was, “Oh! My God! I’m not going to wear this stuff!”… but, I took a glance at him, and he was very happy to see me holding the dress… he told me to go to my Mama and had the dress fitting session then… The dress was quite small for me, honestly…but, a dying man’s wish is everyone’s command…so let it be. I fitted the dress and when he saw me in it… those words, I still remember, “You are so beautiful, Ineng (little girl)…” That made him happy…the last smile I ever saw on his face.
December 5, 1978…Dino and me were watching Sesame Street and were playing. “Tiyong” went down from his room and went straight to the toilet…he had some personal cleaning done, I supposed, and went out of the toilet wearing his new sando and pajama, combed his hair too. I remembered he touched my hair and Dino’s…then proceeded to the sofa to watch TV with us. After a while, we noticed he was unusually quiet. We talked to him, he did not reply, but his eyes were open wide…this time, he wasn’t staring at the TV, but his eyes were fixed towards the stairs going up to the second floor of our house. We shook him, no response…we even giggled. There was only Dino and me, and I am the older kid at 10 (Dino was 9)… I called up Mama who was then at work and told her everything…I got the first shock of my life…my first remorse… “Tiyong” was dead…he just died in my and my cousin’s arms. I cried and felt heavy.
Three decades after that sad December 5 event, I still feel the pain inside…losing someone you love and respect… I still cry when I remember that sad event… and until now, the dress is still with me…the last memoirs of “Tiyong.” I never intend to throw away that “gift”… I would pass that dress on to my lucky daughter…for her to hear the words, “You are so beautiful, Ineng…” coming from a grandfather who meant every word he said…and until now, reverberates back to me.
“Tiyong’s” pasalubongs, the dress and all other things he shared in his entire life with me were just mere representations of his tender loving care for a little granddaughter he treated as his own… they can never be erased from my memory and feelings…including the pain of losing him.
Life went on for me… more “Tiyong”s who came and passed away. I was prepared…
Primitivo Castillo Padilla…”Tiyong”….you are in my heart always…
Your step granddaughter, your “Ineng”…your little Gidget.