Monday, July 21, 2008

V: The House My Grandfather Built

The house on Bignay Street is separated from the road by a simple metal gate that reaches just above my chest. During all hours of the night, the street is pretty busy. There's a 7-11 around the corner, and the jeepneys and motorized tricycles honk their horns while passing through.

On the other side of the swinging metal door that's attached to the gate, there's a cozy little porch with a furniture set made out of bamboo, and a single metal swing suspended with thick chains. On one of the walls, a little blue box labeled with "mails, bills, etc." hangs against the bricks, throwing off the symmetry of the three hanging ferns placed on the wall for decoration. Beyond the porch, a wooden sliding door with a bluish tint leads into the house.

This is the house my grandfather built. My mother told me that it was once a 2-bedroom project house. But my grandfather, a career policeman and an artist for pleasure, tore it down and rebuilt a bigger property in its order to comfortably house his wife and 12 children. That's right, 12, my mom being the 2nd youngest. (On a sidenote, my grandmother actually got pregnant 15 times, but obviously... had 3 miscarriages.)

Nowadays, only one of my grandfather's children lives in this house; Tito Roly, we call him ("Tito" meaning "Uncle"). He is accompanied by his wife, some of his kids (my cousins), some of his brother's kids (more cousins), and their children (my second-cousins). The rest have moved on, mostly to the United States, where I was born in 1981.

I've been to this house once before; I was only a year old and I vaguely remember falling off the piano bench and yelling "aray ko!" ("ouch!") really loud. The upright piano, now severely out of tune, still stands in its original spot. But besides that, the rest of the house was only a faint memory... until now.

On Sunday night I sat on one end of the bamboo couch in the porch patio, next to my brothers and across from my second-cousins Aaron and Marvin, and cousin Mimi (short for Michelle). Marinating in a cloud of cigarette smoke (from the Marlboro, Lucky Strike and Mild Seven cigarette butts overflowing in the ash tray),we attempted to catch up on an entire lifetime of experiences.

We were essentially strangers, having met only once with no real recollection of shared memories. But luckily, we all had an innate curiosity about each others' lives and a genuine desire to bond the way family should. Equipped with a couple bottles of local Tanduay Rum and Diet Coke, and a pair of acoustic guitars, we did exactly what came naturally... spend the entire night drinking a shitload and singing every song we could possibly think of.

Marvin played an acoustic version of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," utilizing his intensely amazing ability to play in harmonics. We sang aloud in unison, probably waking all the neighbors on the street. More songs, covering Incubus, Oasis, Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, The Cure, Mr. Big, Extreme, Smashing Pumpkins and everything 90's, filled the air as we finished off the first bottle of rum and went through a few more packs of smokes.

Tito Roly, who was talking to my parents near the metal swing, got trashed and decided that walking inside the house to take a piss was a nuisance, and therefore opted to relieve himself in a potted bush instead. We laughed... a lot.

I learned from my cousin Aaron that locals here like to call young, pretty girls "Lolita"... similar to the way we call them "prostitots" back home. He said that the Backstreet Boys were "baduy" (corny), but we all agreed guiltily that some of their songs are catchy as hell. My brothers and I, still not completely used to the humidity, were sweating as if we were in a sauna. We got a few more mosquito bites, and turned a little red from all the alcohol, but it was all worth it.

Before we knew it, my parents were walking to 7-11 to get some "pulutan," or "snacks" to satisfy our drunk munchies. When they returned, we ate siopao and Filipino Cup Noodles, which I should add, is way better than the American version. By the time we were done, it was after 3 a.m. and we were drunker and happier than we ever could've wished for.

I'm not sure if it has anything to do with our blood, but it amazes me how effortless it was to enjoy that night. Maybe there really IS something in the family bond, that helped us to transcend the shallow lines which normally keep people from becoming close in new social situations. It was as if we knew each other our entire lives and never missed a day. And it made us all sad to think that it would eventually have to end, that my brothers and I would have to go back home to California, and that the next time we would see them would probably be years from now.

But no matter how much time passes by, I know I can take comfort in this memory. It happened in my grandfather's house, where the closeness of my family really began. And I'm grateful to be a part of it. In the end, even though this house is on the other side of the world from where I grew up, it still feels like home... not just because it's the house my grandfather built, but also because its roots are in the family that my grandparents built.

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