And we stood,
steady as the stars in the wood.
My childhood was built on marble floors, Bermuda grass, a nipa hut in my grandparents’ yard, wide suburban streets, and games of hide and seek. It smelled of sun, tropical heat, freshly baked brownies, white chocolate lollipops, sunblock, chlorine, homemade calzone. Lunches were preceded with visits to Church, and succeeded with play time on living room floors – toy bears with felt exoskeletons and moveable limbs in my hand and yours.
They said I was the only child you would get on your hands and knees for – sit on the floor and play pretend with. You – Wowo – putting the wo in my wonder. I didn’t know it then, but I was your biggest fan. My mind was filled with your stories. Days were wasted blissfully daydreaming about your carabao rides, and provincial farms; GI’s, and jazz; part time jobs, and escaping away to America. When you weren’t around to fill my head with fairytales, I compensated with books, juxtaposing your life with these fictional characters. You were my Indiana Jones – nothing you did ever sounded boring. From refugee camps to Open Cities, you gave one child a glimpse into another child’s perspective on a far removed war. From babysitting to road-tripping, you gave one teenager a glimpse into another teenager’s perspective on what it is to seek, and what it is to earn. You cushioned lessons normally learnt from harsh realities, with marshmallows and play time, with love letters and classic cars. You accented heavy truths with the optimism of innocence, and the allure of adventure.
I lived vicariously through your travels, your comprehension of many languages, your depth in perception. There were times when you were verbose – generous in providing me with endless Socratic dialogue, and other times your teachings were subtle – hidden in glances, sly smiles, knowing smirks, a green joke, advice sugarcoated in nonchalance. In your presence I was always learning. — In your presence, I always am.
I was born into your home – where you, and Aya, and Mama, and Papa, cradled me and filled my big eyes with wonder and my little heart with wanderlust. At 6, I listened to your fairytales. At 12, I wrote stories inspired by your wanderings. At 18, I told anyone who would listen that you were the man to meet. And now at 24, I find myself writing this. An open letter. An ode to a history – 80 years of inspiring love, kindness, and being beyond expectation; and the many years to come, of course. Funny how the things we know are true never do make it into the history books. Here is my history of you now for posterity: from the child you have told me so many stories of, to the man I call my grandfather who has shown me all at once how to be smart, just, true, chivalrous, kind, patient, and grateful; you are one of the biggest reasons I am able to go forth in this world, unafraid. Your stories were the first stamps in my passport – mythical, mystical places my mind could wander and lust. In your words, I found the spirit of adventure; and in your deeds, I found the inspiration to pursue that.
I love you everyday, more than is expressible in any letter written out of any heart cracked wide open for the world to see. Every moment that you are proud of me, I am proud of myself. Sometimes you seem moved by the way I move, but really it’s because I’ve been moved by you.
I don’t think I’ve told you enough: thank you for everything. Happy Birthday to you, Wowo – one of my favorite people on earth: my roots, my soothsayer, my friend, my beacon.
(P.S. I hope you’re surprised! 😉 I know you subscribe to this blog!)