Oct 7, 2008

The Lolo Upstairs

In the few hours we spent in Manila on the way back to Beijing from Bohol, we "swung by" my grandmother's house to say a quick hello. Unfortunately, in Manila, traffic, even on a Saturday afternoon, is absolutely beastly and it took us almost an hour to travel 17 km to see Lola. My only living grandparent, Lola Ine, will be 88 this December, and is in fantastic health and spirits. Bella is her first, and so far only, great-grandchild, and she is a lucky kid, to be able to get to know her great-grandmother.

Since Lola's relocated to the first floor of the house because of her hip, the second floor of the house is mostly unoccupied these days, except for an occasional distant cousin who might be hard up for a place to live while he goes to school. It's a dusty place, the second floor, full of must and decay and exposed electrical wiring, but somehow is still reminiscent of the times I remember as a kid, when my dad's brothers, cousins, and sister all still lived there and painted, drew, sketched, invented, made, and built all kinds of cool but ultimately useless stuff.

Creative as they all were, by the time I came around, only my Papa was still actively playing a musical instrument, and by the time I was 7 or 8, the family musical ensemble was just me, my dad and my grandfather, playing, respectively, the violin, the violin, and the cello. We played intermittently for a few years, and then at some point a cousin named Amparo (WHY do I remember that?) dropped and broke the cello, and Lolo went back to his main instrument, the violin, and our little family trio went on permanent intermission.

Lolo passed away in 2003, and it was clear when he died that it was the end of a very long and happy life that he and Lola had had together. It's tempting, and would be easy, to over-romanticize their story. But I'll mention: he had been a Japanese prisoner of war in WWII, and to this day, reading his memoirs from the Death March and the concentration camp moves me to tears. When he was imprisoned, he would write to his fiancee, my Lola, love letters on the wrappers of the native brown cigarettes, which somehow could be smuggled out of the prison and got to her. I've heard that she still has those cigarette notes, but have never managed to personally see them.

I know that there are skeptics even within my family, but both the night nurse and the maid say that on Lola's birthday last year, or maybe the year before, on Christmas Eve, they clearly heard violin music coming from the second floor of the house. Oddly enough, I of can-no-longer-watch-the-Lifetime-channel-because-they-have-too-many-talking-to-dead-people-shows fame, have never been particularly bothered by this. I just wanted to know WHAT he was playing for her. If true, what a romantic gesture, right? If Mik dies before me, I would be PSYCHED to hear some ethereal Led Zep and then some Tuvan throat singing on my birfday.

So. I loved my grandfather, and don't think I would be afraid of him if I were to encounter him in any form, but imagine my freaked-outedness when Bella, little Bella who has no idea of any of this, no idea of what would or could be upstairs, says, within 15 minutes of arriving at the house, turns to Mik and says, "Let's go upstairs, go see Lolo."