A snapshot of papa as a brother, son, and citizen

Today marks my dad's 17th death anniversary. A post to remember him. 

From a letter by my uncle dated January 2003:

During that summer vacation, our class assignment was to write an essay, "What I Did Last Summer." Manny did my homework. When I returned for my grade VI class, my essay was judged the best. But I was so embarrassed to myself. I vowed that I will always do my own homework, no matter the outcome.
After high school, Manny went to college in Mapua and got his B.S. degree in Chemistry. But he would always come back to Lopez for vacation. There were many times he came to see us in Siain - to bring us fresh clothes, food and allowances and to bring back the dirty clothes for laundry. After our high school, Manny enrolled Auntie Pina and me at Hope Christian for Chinese school and me in pre-Med at UE. We all lived with Albino above Seng Lee Hardware in Alonzo Street. That house burned down; Manny was able to save his slide rule and some chemistry books but not much else. Albino got married and we all moved with him to Nagtahan Street in Sta. Mesa. I believe he was working at Seng Kee Hardware at this time. He then went back to Lopez to help with Awa and Papa in the copra business and he also started teaching Chemistry in the college there. One time, I saw this book "Magic with Chemistry" in Goodwill Bookstore, so I sent it to him. Every year thereafter at the College Science Fair, his magic tricks with chemical reactions was the most popular show there. He was involved in so many activities in Lopez and was very well known there he had so many godchildren (mga inaanak). He was also involved as a coach in the summer basketball league. I believe he was still in Lopez when I left for the US in 1973. I did have a very difficult time for many years in the States. Papa (your Angkong) died a year after I left. I changed addresses several times, I went to Canada and back to the States. It was a dilemma deciding whether to stay here or return to the Philippines. As I was preoccupied with my own survival here, I had limited communication with Manny. But I do remember everybody wanted him to return to Manila; he was just too talented for a small town like Lopez, that the future's brighter in Manila. I wrote him a letter to that effect, and also I asked him if he was interested in coming to the States. But he was comfortable in Lopez and was reluctant to leave. Eventually he did. As you know, he was later appointed Vice-mayor of Lopez when Cory Aquino became President of the Philippines. I returned to the Philippines in 1987 after many, many years of absence. Then Awah got sick and we all had to attend to her until she died in 1992. I was working on getting reacquainted with Manny but it was not to be. His life was cut prematurely by an aggressive cancer caused by tobacco. It was one of my greatest regret that I did not have the opportunity of more time with him. But I do have many memories and fond recollections of Manny that I will cherish forever.
All of these came back as I related them to Mr. Sy. We had a long conversation on the phone.  He was so glad he spoke to me and was relieved to know his friend is now in God's Peaceful Land. As I sat the phone down, I started writing this letter because there is one other person beside Mr. Sy who needs to share these memories of Manny. Memories define us, memories give us strength and purpose. You are not just our niece whom we dearly love, you are also our memory of him. It is for memories the reason for shrines, mausoleums and museums. It is for memories the reason for Bahay Tsinoy - to remember the struggles of those who came before us, to define who we are, to resolve, to face the challenges before us. It is for memories why we are going back to Xiamen, it is where it all started for us. 

God Bless from your loving 
Uncle Torry

Along with a few memorabilia I have of my dad (his Jaycee identification card, his unused passport, a notepad), I keep this letter to keep him alive. In moments of panic where I fear that I have already forgotten his voice or that my years of being without him have already outnumbered the years spent with him, I take out his things, look at his handwriting, and then I take out this letter and try to splice myself within my uncle's words.

And I love that not only does my uncle's letter paint a pretty accurate portrait of his brother's several sides, it also captures what he (a sentiment shared among them siblings) thought about their origins, homeland, family, and how important these are to them (common among 2nd generation migrants, I think). A few months after he had mailed me this letter, my Uncle Torry took me, my three aunts (Claire, Anita, Feliza) and two younger cousins to Xiamen, Awah (their mother/ our lola)'s hometown. Eight years later, Uncle Torry, Auntie Claire and I went to Burma to meet Awah's sister's descendants.

Of course, it's also a never failing reminder of why they took me in after papa had passed (of which I will be eternally grateful for). :)

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