Monthly Archives: November 2017

MY UNCLE GREG

UNCLE GREG teenager

GREGORIO CENTENO JOSUE, 77, born on November 17, 1937, is the only brother, the younger one, of my mother.  They are only two in the family and their birth is 8 years apart.  Both were born in Ilocos Sur.  Their father, Justiniano Josue was a sea farer, a naval officer recruited by the Americans before World War II.  The mother, Pauline Centeno, with half Irish blood, on the other hand was an enterprising woman who virtually took care of her children in the absence of an OFW husband.

Gregorio is for me “Uncle Greg.”    He was my tutor during my toddler years.  He taught me fencing, reasoning and street fighting.  He would indulge me to ride on the bike, perilous at that time, and compete with my playmates in the neighborhood.  He had all the time in the world to take good care of me, not because he wanted it that way but because he wanted to use me as cover so that he would not be prodded to go to school.  He hated the discipline in school.  He would rather play basketball in the street or commute back to his childhood neighborhood in Caloocan to play ball with his peers—mostly scion of established families in the area.

I would oftentimes argue with him whenever he would goad me to study and prepare for school, “How come you are forcing me to study when you yourself do not want to go to school?”

“Listen to me young fellow,” Uncle Greg would intone, “even if I don’t go to school, my playmates are heir to the wealth of their parents.  Once we are of age, my friends will just share to me their prosperity.  Now, look at your playmates and tell me if they are children of well-to-do parents.”

What if all of us are poor and fledging?  What does that mean, Uncle?”

That means that all of you will have to struggle.  All the more you should study so that one day, you will be able to help them!”  my Uncle would stress the point over and over until I will be convinced to pick up my pen and complete my school assignments.

Years passed by with no school work behind him, I would realize that his pontificating was right all along.  He would be recruited by his well off friends in their respective business.  True, his friends inherited the fortune of their parents and he would be enjoined to join their firms.  Uncle Greg’s best friends were in the entertainment business (Premiere Production, the counter part of Hollywood’s MGM) and rightly so, he would become a staff and even a cameo actor once in a while.  He would be given assigned tasks to see the country side to monitor revenues of films by the outfit.  He never had any dull moment since then.

Uncle Greg settled and had a wonderful family.  He would require me to spend my semestral breaks with them.  I would be given assignments and taught further.  He would enroll me to study driving.  He would compel me to do art works in movie houses he managed.  He would expose me to the underworld too where most of his friends would moon light once in a while.   From there, I would pick up my lifetime vice of smoking.  (I stopped smoking after reaching the age of 60.)  Except for drinking, we shared the same dislike for alcohol.

We had great time with his friends more so in pulling one laughter after another.  Their amusement comes from highlighting and branding themselves with nicknames with their looks.  There was “Mata,”, “Ilong,” “Batok,”…  My uncle’s nickname in his close circle of friends was “Tenga.”  His large ears would be his defining difference from the rest.

Since his job was on Show business, our house would be visited by celebrities once in a while.  Several thespians would appear at our doorstep.  There was Ruben Rustia (a hall of famer, character actor), Eddie Fernandez (a prized actor known for his Lagalag series, until a twist of fate, when his star would dip and he would be imprisoned), Zaldy Zchornack , Ronald Remy, Roland Montes, Bayani Casimiro, Casmot, Popoy and a lot more.

Uncle Greg retired as administrator of a building owned by his friend, heir to an entertainment behemoth, Premeire Productions, during that time, at the age of 70.

From that time on, he would stay grounded at home entertaining friends, joining relatives in reunion parties and watching basketball all day long.  It was a passion which never departed from his interest.  It was likewise a sport which he never reneged even during the time when his mother was on death bed.  It has been said that when Lola Pauline, already seconds away from departing, was asking for him, and hearing the summon, my uncle, who was one of the best point guards in his team could only mutter, “I will be home, just a few more points to win the game.”

He arrived just in time for his mother to utter, “Congratulations.”  There was a smile on the face of Lola Pauline, thinking before she would pass away that her son will become an NBA player one day.  Well, that day never came.

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(January 16, 2015, Uncle Greg suffered a stroke and he was immediately taken to a nearby hospital at Novaliches, Quezon City.  He was subsequently transferred to the Lung Center of the Phillippines on the recommendation of a friend from the same hospital.  He was unconscious and never regained from his comatose condition.  Two weeks later, he passed away.  His family was saddened to recall a few months before when Uncle Greg was seeking for a priest for confession.  His kids were adamant since it might hasten Uncle Greg’s health condition.  They knew that he could still muster strength to recover from what ails him, after all, he is of the same age as that of Pope Francis.  But Uncle Greg’s routine was sedate and he could barely move around.  Besides, he would oftentimes be confined in the past for medical purposes and every time he would be hospitalised, he would come through healed and would immediately recover.  It was almost a routine for the family.  Not until that fateful day when a vein in his brain would create hematoma, a direct cause for his comatose status.

 

January 30, 2015 Uncle Greg departed.  It was also the day when the Philippine President then declared a National Day for Mourning, a fitting coincidence.)

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REMEMBERING TATAY

tatay pic

PROFESSOR CARLOS LEGASPI TESORO (born in Sta Ana, Manila on January 19, 1922 and raised in San Pedro, Laguna) gracefully passed away at home in his residence at 80 Naranhita St., Project 2, Quezon City in November 7, 2008 at the age of 86.

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Professor Tesoro was a self-made man, an unico hijo, who grew up not from the attention of his parents but on the busy laps of his maternal aunts.  His mother was a career educator who sacrificed family in favor of her mentoring profession in a number of educational institutions in various provincial capitols of Southern Luzon.  His father, on the other hand, was an itinerant gun supplier and a part time vagabond for a while.  As a result, my father grew up virtually mending for himself, working his way to school up until he completed his college education and more.

As a child, to satisfy grade school requirements, he must be enterprising.  On intervals, he would ask a neighboring store for a cup of peanuts to hawk around.  He would repack and peddle the fried beans on his way to school thus earning his upkeep and sustain school necessities.  His secondary education was spent while acting as errand boy in the convent across their municipal building, which effort would later earn for him a sponsorship to enter the seminary en route to priesthood.

The parish priest in the convent was amazed at how easily my father could grasp language especially Vulgate Latin, a dead language, still used by the Church then in celebrating traditional High Mass.  He was also a dutiful acolyte and a responsible church personnel.   Because of his performance, he was eventually sent to San Jose Seminary in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.  On his third year, looking more like saint in his seminarian habiliment, he was obliged to leave the confines of the seminary as part of the curriculum and given the mandatory exposure before he was to be ordained.

World War II however cut short his dalliance with spirituality and the threats of the invading Japanese forces in his town convinced him further to stay and consequently skipped seminary life.   In the course of his community exposure, he would save his town mates instead. Heroism indeed depends on circumstances.

My father had a rare gift for languages.  He learned Niponggo quickly that he used such linguistic skill in negotiating with the Station Commander of the Japanese Army in the area  to spare his town mates from being arrested and most likely to be  massacred on suspicion as enemies.  Truckloads of suspects from his town of San Pedro, Laguna were spared from the horror of execution.  He relished such accomplishment and his town mates ever grateful; and, because of the accolade, however fleeting it was, he was convinced to sideline his religious bent in favor of civilian education.

When the smoke of War vanished, every Juan, Pedro and Pilar went up the stage to claim honor for heroism.  My father merely walked away with a thought that he merely did what was right and he never wished to be recognized for such an extraordinary feat.  He would rather see smiling faces from those he saved rather than keep a cheap memento.

He sought employment at the Bureau of Post as labourer and later on, as bank teller and worked on odd jobs for his tertiary education at Letran College, a school adjacent his office.  After graduating in college, he enrolled in the College of Law at the University of Santo Tomas (where he had Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and former Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas as his prominent classmates)   and thereafter, took courses in languages.   He was an administrative officer at the Bureau of Posts when he met his future wife, my mother, Salvacion.  She was a staff secretary of a Division chief in Public Works whose office is situated in the main Bureau of Posts building in Lawton, Manila.

After a year of courting, father married mother and they bore two kids, a boy and a girl (I was the eldest).  After office hours, he would shuttle to a newly established school across his office, the Philippine College of Criminology as one of its pioneer faculty members.  His subject was Spanish, English and Rizal Course.

We call him Tatay.  He is a confirmed hyper polyglot—-a gifted linguist who had a mastery over several major world languages, Spanish, English, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic (language of Jesus) ,Italian, Nihongo, Mandarin and several major dialects Tagalog, Ilocano, Pampango and a splatter of Visayan and Chavacano.   He could have taken Mensa and would have passed it easily.  His IQ is terribly higher than 185. 

 I never had a time with him though when I was a kid because he was always secluded in his study room poring over his books whenever at home.  Such a sight intrigued me no end to spend my days later in reading stacks of books too without him even telling me to study or read or even write.  I thought that reading was a pleasurable experience, and he was right.   He struggled to provide everything for his family, from a well-furnished house (in Project 2, Quezon City and parcel of lots in Novaliches and Antipolo) to a regular education at exclusive schools for his children.  We never knew hunger, penury and any hardships at all.  Tatay was an inveterate pillar and a conscientious provider.  The downside however was that I could barely see him or had any recollection that gave us bonding sessions.  He was an academician through and through.  And like his mother, his life was the school.

There was something that turns me off in his personality though; he was always by himself.  He had no patience with foolishness and abhorred stupidity. He had a mercurial temper.  He hated trash talk, silly conversations and trivialities; and he would rather be confined in the company of his books. That made him an easy picking for those with illicit activities.  He could not determine who his friends and enemies were.  Of course, his enemies were those who wanted to fool him.  And fooled he became which merited a case for which his resources would reach rock bottom.  He was swindled by his friends and his fortune suffered to keep himself free.  After the courts had ruled his innocence, every saving he made for years went down the drain too.

The only time, precious as it was, I had the rare moment to stay with him was on his sickbed.  This was when the treachery of environment, stress of work, of struggling for his family, pressures from his office, caused him a series of major surgeries.  His body would be ravaged with tension related ailments. I would be there to take instructions from him on what agency or office to follow up his requests, his expense assistance and related medical and social concerns.  Along with my mother, I would be their go-to guy, errand and fixer and facilitator.  I cherished those moments except the sight of an ailing parent whom I have seen as indefatigable and one who never knew how to rest.  For me, Tatay was Superman and Hero.  On sick bed, he was, for me, just a figure relaxing before another bout was to commence.  During those trying periods, I matured several times over.

Tatay never wanted to retire although at 65 he was compelled to bow out from government service; but he never folded up in school.  He would be a regular college professor and language tutor on weekends up until his early 80s.  Occasionally, he would be hired as corporate interpreter.  He was also a tireless traveler. During holidays, he would be up and about visiting his children in their respective turfs.  He would always find time to visit his town in Laguna and attend feast days in nearby towns where he had relatives.

At an advanced age of 85, he would also regale me, every time I would pay him a visit (so that he would not commute anymore just to surprise me in my prison office), with a keen sense of history, keener mind and sharp intelligence.

“Guard and protect our properties, those were products of a lifetime struggle I made for both of you and Doris.  Guard it with your life and conscience,” a repeated chant, almost like a broken record, which Tatay would always implore every time he appeared at my doorstep.  I would hear the same mantra whenever I would visit him at home.

Even for once, he never had any symptom of dementia or forgetfulness.  He would never allow himself to be left out of the fad. He listened to the radio, to the commentaries and would read three major newspapers back to back everyday.   Even in his 80s, he would always sport the latest trend in haircut among the youth.  He had a complexion of a man only in his 40s and he was thankful to his parents for such genes on vanity.  He never entertained death even for once.  He knew that as survivor he can live forever.

For me, Tatay never left at all.  He will always be a part of my consciousness, a part of living history.

 

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