Born free again
(A tribute to my grandfather)
When my Lolo, Alejandro Ladiao was born in May 3, 1920, the eldest of five siblings from Brgy. Cabudian, Duenas, Iloilo, his journey has began, a journey that would leave a mark of inspiration in each of us in our family. But before he walked the final road of his life three years ago, he always asked me to write his autobiography, his life story and when he’s gone in this world, I would read it in front of his family, relatives and friends. I usually told him “Lo, gusto ko ya tani kon isulat ko gid man ang istorya sang kabuhi mo…gusto ko handa na gid ang isip ko…pungkuan ta gid mayo kag istoryahan sa tama nga panahon”. He would respond: “ti to ginasulat mo gani kabuhi sang iban nga tawo sa newspaper dapat tani kon isulat mo gid man ako akon gid pinakanami ”. Then he would laugh softly and continue reading the newspaper that he’s holding. I have no concrete response but a smile in my face and told myself that one day I will do it. I realized my Lolo is a deeply sentimental man… just like me. Way back in high school and even in college, I often asked myself where did I got my sentimental nature as a writer. Why do my writings bear mostly my deepest recesses and emotion? When I started to got myself involved in campus journalism and newspaper writing job, he would usually read my articles word-by-word or sometimes bother me with his unending questions about vocabulary. Later, I finally grasped the thought that indeed we have the same level of sentiments when it comes to expressing ourselves.
But my Lolo is not a writer. He’s a humble carpenter who builds dreams with his hammer and saw. When he was a boy, my Lolo used to tell me that he had big dreams. With his undeniable wit and sensible thoughts, he used to tell me that he always got the admiration of his teachers and classmates in school. Though he doesn’t weave and play with words like me, he was gifted with numbers, a mathematician by heart. But hardship and poverty left him with no choice but to give up his quest to finish his studies and pursue Architecture or Engineering in order to support his family. At a very young age, he stood out as a breadwinner of the family. But behind the struggles of daily life, my Lolo kept several pages of his drawing plan about his dream house that he wanted to build someday, a specific dream that gave him inspiration to transcend such wonderful reverie to his children.
In the wake of World War II in 1940s, my Lolo who was in his late teen, he met my shy and soft-spoken Lola who was seven years younger than him. When Japanese invasion started to send ripples of fear in the country, Alejandro and Monserrat got married, the couple who became my beloved grandparents. When the war ended, they headed to the city to start building a happy family with nine children. Two of their eldest children died in their younger years and only seven of them were able to survive. Still plagued by poverty, my Lolo pursued his humble job as a freelance carpenter and construction worker while my Lola took care of the family. Though my Lolo became a disciplinarian and emphasized the importance of education as their chance to build a better life for his children, he never failed to build a happy home bounded by strong spiritual faith. He knew that his strongest shield is his faith in God.
With his perseverance and patience amid his meager salary, he was able to send his children to school and taught them to help each other. One by one, his children finished their studies, earned their diploma and became professionals. But the road to success of his children was a tiring journey. There were stories of heart-touching sacrifices and inspiring struggles to pursue their dream. My Lolo used to tell me how his heart breaks deep inside every time he saw his children walked kilometers to go to school or let my Lola carry the burden of fitting his meager salary to the needs of the family. But as the story goes on, his strong faith in God assured him that indeed his children will succeed and fate was truly kind.
Then I was born, his first grandchild. My Lolo assumed his role as a loving grandfather. Then my bother and my cousins were also born. Like me, they were also loved equally by my Lolo as the extension of his dream and hope for the future. For him, we were his sunshine behind the dark clouds that tested his faith to see the brighter side of life. Maybe, it’s also true that when a father becomes a grandfather, his perspective about love deepen even more. He was a good grandfather to us. He was there for us in every step of the way and if ever we lose our way home, his love lead us back to his arms. I am most grateful for my Lolo for everything he did for us. He honestly taught me that money can’t buy everything in this world. But sincerity, forgiveness, contentment and happy memories can conquer every man’s inner universe.
A month before my Lolo bid his fateful goodbye, I woke up one night surprisingly saw him finishing the drawing of his dream house. I remember him telling me about his drawings when he was a boy, a boy who was destined to become a humble carpenter and a loving family man. I watched him while sketching the final details of his dream house in recycled bond papers. All these years, he never gave up his dream to build a better home for us. And when I literally analyzed his dream… it doesn’t actually mean a big beautiful house that might worth million of pesos to build but instead a small simple home filled with love and happiness that cost nothing. Now I know, this is my lolo’s dream… his dream house is us, his family… Someday Lolo, we will build your dream house.
For me, my Lolo was a great man. He is the greatest man I’ve ever known in this lifetime and if I might live five more lifetimes I couldn’t accomplished what he had sow, achieved and given for his family. His greatness transcended inspiration of passion and optimism in our family and those people who knew him closely. For me, I would love to remember my Lolo as a leader of the band. His words were capable of giving us wings and lift us up to a higher ground. My Lolo is not afraid to cry when his heart breaks because he knew he was human enough to understand the matters of the heart. Sometimes, a man needs to cry not to show his vulnerabilities but to admit the existence of the heart. Whenever my Lolo goes he brought a piece of us that only he can return to its proper place and make us whole again. Likewise, he left us seeds of faith to God that if nurtured properly it would lead to an inspiring life. All my life, I never truly had a real father. And finally, fate made me realize that the father I was looking for was right there beside me, waiting for the warmth of my sweet embrace while extending his open arms. For us, his grandchildren, my Lolo was more than a father. He was more than a teacher, a mentor, a confidant, a friend and a best friend. When we were afraid he gave us strength, when we were alone he gave us a family, a home where we could rest our tired hearts. Now I know, my Lolo was a great man because his greatest possession in this lifetime is not worldly things but only his fragile heart, a heart that doesn’t stop loving his family unconditionally.
I know that I didn’t kept my promise to my Lolo to write his life’s story and print it in a newspaper for he is gone to follow a journey that never comes back to us but a road that leads to eternity. The greatest fan of my lonely writings as a sentimental writer had left for good when he took his last breathe in the morning of December 28, 2008 at St. Paul Hospital. It was a peaceful sleep with an eternal smile on his face knowing that his fragile heart led him to fulfill his destiny for our family. Now, no one will bother me with questions about vocabulary and read my writings word-by-word. But I guess, it’s better this way because I understand what God wants me to do—to write my Lolo’s life story through the ways of the heart.
Thank you, Lolo Andong for everything. You were born free again…