Day 3 of Thanksgiving, I must give to a very specific person(s): Tita Olga “Ol”, Tito Boyong, and Ninong Z. These three are the ones I really remember having to raise me and put up with me throughout the years. From the Philippines to the US, these three have had to witness my ups and downs and my ugly moments. Without them, I would have probably gone off the deep end a lot sooner than I did.
There are more than three aunts and uncles I really ought to talk about, but similar to my Day 2 situation, it would take me entirely too long to do an article about every single aunt and uncle who have helped me along the way.
Tita Ol was my godmother (my Mama’s sister). Besides my Papa, she was my primary guardian when my Mama left the Philippines back in 1986. She taught me by example how to have patience with children, to be nurturing, and to keep life fun and entertaining for them. She may have passed before she got a chance to raise her own son, but she instilled so many values and lessons in my older cousins she did raise as children. Some of them now have children of their own, and I can see some aspects of Tita Ol and her teachings come out of each of my cousins when they’re with their little ones. She’s also the one who got me into the stars… constellation, burning gas in space, kind of stars.
She used to send me glow in the dark star stickers, telling me to pick on and think of her, make a wish on another, and other fun thoughts that would keep my mind preoccupied from missing her. She was my mom before I even accepted my own Mama as my mom. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have such an interest in having kids of my own.
My husband reminds me of her at times. I remember twirling my finger in her curls, and my husband has curly hair (when he lets it grow out). When I get myself into some kind of “trouble”, and I hear my family nickname come from my husband, I hear her “You stop that right now” tone of voice in his. She may have been gone for nearing 15 years, but she sure sent me a great reminder of her with my husband. Even when he “tsk tsk” at me, it sounds like her!
Tito Boyong was the strongest father figure I can remember outside of my Papa when I was little. Today, he’s a grandfather of five, and he’s back in his element, taking care of the babies and the toddlers. My relatives would tell me that when I was a baby (and my Papa was on duty at the hospital) and I’d refuse to sleep and get all sorts of fussy and bratty, Tito Boyong would put me in the car, screaming away, and drive around the block a few times until I’d fall asleep. [Side note: With today’s gas prices, I’m glad it wasn’t in today’s world!] He’s still that type of father figure; quiet, reserved, and man, can he cook! Let me tell you… it didn’t matter what hour of the night my parents and I would arrive in New Jersey, there was always something on the stove or in the fridge, and before we even had the car unloaded, he would have plates out and food heated up and ready to go. Good part is that my cousins got his cooking skills.
There’s just something about Filipino dads knowing their way around the kitchen, whether it was learned or inherited. Something else I learned from Tito Boyong: Like my Papa, he’s got the patience of a saint. Watching him and my Papa and observing my aunt and my Mama, it’s incredible to see how two of the calmest men can live with two firecracker women. I vaguely remember him losing his temper, but I don’t remember what happened. That only shows you that I was extremely young and his explosion didn’t last very long. I strive to have that kind of patience.
Lastly but never the least, my Ninong (godfather) Z… Leo Zandy. My Papa’s best friend since … too long. I like to joke and say that they’re brothers from different families, which is why they named each other godfather of their children. Without Ninong Z, I would not have completely and utterly fallen in love with pushing the boundaries of learning and music. He (along with Tito Dave – saved for another day) shoved Kafka, Carlos Santana, Hendrix, Joplin, Sun Tzu, and other scholars and musicians onto my plate. When I demanded that I sit with the adults at night, he had me laughing at old stories about my Papa and him, asking political and historical questions, and he left me at the table hungry for more knowledge. He’s like the “cool uncle”, who you could bring to a secondhand book/music store and leave with nearly $200 worth of great material. (Between him, my Papa, and me, we did that a few times in Maryland.)
I only remember two events he couldn’t get to when it came to big celebrations, my high school graduation and my 18th birthday (which is called a Debut in Filipino culture… huge party… like a Sweet 16 or a Quinceanera). Other than that, he made it to my college graduation in Tennessee and my wedding in Las Vegas. He was my third father (after Tito Boyong) when my Papa was at the hospital and when my Papa left the Philippines to join my Mama in New Jersey. I can’t forget that this is another father figure who knows his way around the kitchen. However, as his kids and I will point out, he’ll try to drown you in soups, stews, and broths. I used to spend vacations at his house, and I remember there was an entire stay that all we had were dishes with some kind of broth… soup… Sinigang, Nilaga, Arroz Caldo, Tinola, Mami, and the list goes on. Now, he’s back in the saddle again, and this time, he’s raising his grandson.
Thanks to these three, I have a stronger sense of patience, an interesting perspective of children, and a love for the kitchen that can and will never be unmatched. I know what it means to be reliable because no matter what, they were always there to catch me when my parents couldn’t (because of the distance and the fact that I was a stubborn kid who didn’t think her parents were right). They kissed many boo-boos, scolded me when needed, encouraged me to reach out and discover things on my own, and oh yes, they were also my parents’ spies when I was living with them. I remember this one time in 2002, I believe it was, I was attending a Mock Congress Convention for a week in DC, and four days into the convention, my Ninong Z pops up at the hotel lobby, unannounced. His reaction: “Did you not think to call your parents? I know I dropped you off, but you need to call them and let them know you’re okay.” I was confused and told him, “But they told me to have fun and only call if I need anything. I don’t need anything. I’m okay.” His response? “Oh,” he scratched his chin, a big grin spreading from ear to ear. “I’ll be sure to tell them that. Still, call them. They’re worried. You’re having fun though? Yes? Okay, good. Call… if you need anything.” And he walked off. Sarcasm… I think I did learn it from my Ninong Z.
Day 3 of my 30 Days of Thanksgiving is definitely for my Tita Ol (RIP), Tito Boyong, and Ninong Z. Fond, fond, fond memories. *sighs*