Jeepneys and Airplanes

imagesFOR as long as I can remember, I always addressed him as “Tatay” [Father]. Everyone among his grandchildren called him “Lolo” [Grandfather] but the eldest among them preferred to call him “Tatay.”

Amador Grande Bautista, my mother’s father, was born, grew up and lived in Tondo, Manila. At a young age, he learned how harsh life could be. After graduating from high school, he had to start working as a jeepney driver. A charmer, who had a striking resemblance to Fernando Poe Jr., he married at a young age.

Mama, who was the eldest, was still in grade school when her Nanay walked out on them. Tatay had to raise five kids all by himself.

From the time he became a single dad, barely 10 years after his marriage, Tatay’s day began at 3 a.m. Upon waking up, he would make breakfast for the children and prepare the things they had to bring to school. Then he was off driving a jeepney for most of the day.

He plied the Blumentritt-Balut route for eight long and hard hours daily. As soon as he was done with the day’s work, he went to market. Then he would hurry home to prepare dinner for his kids. After that he would help them with their assignments, and put them to bed before going to sleep.

This was Tatay’s life for 20 years, and not once did he waver in his resolve to give his kids a better life. He did not marry again even though a number of women were throwing themselves at him. For like I said, he was a charmer.

I have pages of baby pictures showing Tatay holding me in his arms. My fondest childhood memories are of the times I spent with Tatay. When there were no classes, Tatay usually took me with him on his “pasada” [route]. I would sit beside him and collect the fare from the passengers. But when I complained that I was getting dizzy and felt like throwing up, he would take me home at the earliest opportunity.

It was part of Tatay’s routine to visit us every day. And every day at 6 p.m., I would be at our gate, impatiently waiting for him. When he arrived, he would give my two brothers and me our Magnolia Chocolait. After dinner, he would proceed to entertain us with his stories of adventure and play with us until it was time for bed. Then he went home.

Tatay lived in a small shack in Tondo. When we went to college, my brother Zirek and I opted to stay with him, despite the cramped space in his shack. We never once felt the hard floor on our backs because of Tatay’s jokes. He had a way of making us forget our problems.

One day when I was a college senior, I received a frantic call from Tatay. He wanted me to go home immediately because his house was being demolished. I rushed home and found Tatay in the midst of the rubble that was once his house. It was the first time I saw him crying. “What’s going to happen to us?” he asked in Tagalog. And I had no answer.

For the next two years, Tatay lived with various relatives. He stayed for a while in Pampanga, with a daughter in Del Pan, Manila, and then with a son in Cavite province. But wherever he was, we were constantly calling him to ask how he was. He always assured us that he was OK.

When I started working, Mama and I agreed that Tatay should live with us. Seeing how thin he had become on our last visit made us more determined to take him home.

In June last year, Tatay came to live with us in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. He was 69 and his asthma had worsened. The attacks came frequently. But he was still his old jolly self. My mom had to keep reminding me not to make him laugh too much, because his laughter was often followed by coughing and another asthma attack.

In November last year, Tatay and I had a joint birthday celebration. My brothers Dexter and Zirek brought their bands over to our house and played songs that he liked. Tatay was up till the wee hours of the morning. His brothers were there and they chided him for waiting so long to have his “debut.” He later told Mama that he was very happy because it was the first time he had a “grand” birthday celebration.

On Christmas Day, Tatay was teary-eyed as he opened gifts from each of us. It was his first Christmas with us, so we wanted it to be special. I videotaped the whole celebration.

Last July 16, minutes after I reached home, Mama and I were shocked to find Tatay crying and clutching his chest. He complained that he was having a very hard time breathing. “I must be dying,” he said.

We hurriedly brought Tatay to the doctor. During the short trip to the clinic, he was asking me if I had a nice trip. It was the same question he would ask me every time I went home for the weekend, and I loved him even more because despite the pain, he still showed me his concern.

In the days that followed, we learned that Tatay was suffering from enlargement of the heart. We also learned that he was having difficulty breathing not because of asthma but because his arteries were blocked. His condition was not good at all.

Tatay loved surprises, and seven days after the discovery of his heart problem, he pulled the biggest one on us. He left us, and took with him a part of my heart.

The death of my grandfather is something that I still cannot talk about without tears falling from my eyes. I have lost count of how many times I have replayed July 23 in my head and wondered what I could have done differently to change what happened. Death has a way of making everything seem surreal. And right now, as I struggle to get up from a hard fall, I am at a loss as to how I can resume living in the real world.

When my job application to work at the Manila International Airport Authority was accepted, Tatay had told me: “Galing talaga ng apo ko. Makakasakay na ako ng eroplano nito.” [“That’s my granddaughter — really talented. Now I will be able to ride in an airplane.”]

It has been more than three months since Tatay left me, and I am so sorry that I never had the chance to fly with him. It seems I am not as good as he thought I was.

Whenever I go home, I still stand by the door and wait for Tatay to come out and ask how my trip was. But nobody asks anymore. Still I take comfort in the thought that wherever he is now, he is up above those airplanes he wanted so much to ride.

I love Tatay. I miss him so much. And if he knew how much I missed him, I know he would be crying, too. But maybe he will keep remembering me by waving at the airplanes passing by.

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