MY UNCLE GREG
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.
(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.)