My cousins in the Philippines sent photos of their mini gathering a few weeks ago and it made me miss them and being around family so much. That, along with friends celebrating Lunar New Year with their inherited and chosen families, inspired this free write:
At this kitchen table
This kitchen table is the beginning
and never the end.
New friends are welcomed here.
Old friends have cried here.
We yell and laugh here,
at this kitchen table.
This kitchen table
has endured coffee spills
and knife cuts.
It has heard its share of tsismis.
It holds the weight of a family bickering
about money, careers, bad behavior.
Holiday meals have been served here.
Ordinary meals, party buffets,
merienda prepared by grandparents,
the occasional snacks and beer.
Stories have been exchanged here.
Stories are being written here.
Lives are being lived here,
at this kitchen table.
Earlier this week I went to the funeral of a dear family friend. Growing up in a tight Filipino American community, my generation called him “Lolo” (as we do with all elders of a certain generation). It means “grandfather.”
I was holding back tears throughout the day and I couldn’t help but think back to six years ago, July, when my own maternal grandfather died weeks before my parents were set to travel to the Philippines to see him. He was the only grandfather I knew. My dad’s father died decades before I was born. Yet I probably spent more time with Lolo than I did with my actual grandfather (whom I called Itay which means “father”). It’s not his fault–or anybody’s, really. That’s the nature of a transnational family. People get left behind. Decades pass until you see each other in person. Technology may advance and be readily available but not in every corner of the world.
My fondest memory of my grandfather was in 2006. I had just graduated from college and the family went on a long-awaited trip to the homeland before I had to start my first professional job. By this time, his health had already deteriorated and he was mostly blind. We really couldn’t understand each other. He was a Waray speaker through and through. Me: English. Maybe a little Tagalog.
I was sitting on a bench outside of his house when a stray cat jumped on the table and I screamed in fright. He was sitting across the table and immediately turned towards me and began to ask where the cat was, waving his arm from side to side to dissuade it from returning. This gesture of protection was one of the rare times I felt so loved by a grandparent. Here was this person who didn’t know me that well and could barely see but none of that mattered. I was scared and he was by my side.