Today marks the 18th death anniversary of my lolo, Captain Generoso Aguilar Lopez. Known as “Jess” by his contemporaries, “Osoy” by family from Tacloban, “Papang” by the older Lopez cousins, and “Lolo Bulalang” by the rest of us (and I don’t know how the nickname came about, honestly), my grandfather was an ace during the Second World War and one of Philippine Airlines’ first pilots when Asia’s first airline took to the skies. He was a tall, rather imposing man with a large booming voice, and he always reminded me of Captain Von Trapp.
(While I was growing up, he used to sing “Eidelweiss” to me all the time. I still cry every single time I hear that song. See, just typing it brings tears to my eyes now.)
My Lolo was many things (both good and bad) to many people, but he was and always will be my hero. When I was a toddler, his room used to be separated from mine with a thin wall that had a hole in it–supposedly to allow us to share the air-conditioning–and I used it to crawl into his room and lie next to him while he was reading books. My grandfather was fond of reading, and to this day my one big regret was that I wasn’t old enough to insist on keeping his vast collection of vintage National Geographic titles after he passed away. Whoever got them after his passing was very lucky indeed.
Lolo was also always with his typewriter. While growing up, I used to be fascinated by the clackety-clack of his large typewriter, which he used to type numerous documents and letters to associates and family. He was very diligent about writing letters, and one of my prized possessions was a letter that he had written to my mom (in red typewriter ink) shortly after I was born. I love citing my grandfather’s typewriter whenever I talk about my roots in writing, because it was the sight of him typing letters, and the sound of his trusty tool, that introduced me to the romance of writing.
I learned a host of other things from him, too. I wasn’t really the adventurous type, but my lolo loved to fish and allowed me to accompany him a couple of times on his mini-expeditions, and it was then when I learned how to hook some bait and catch some fish. He also had a green thumb and could make any garden bloom with the most beautiful flowers and the most refreshing greens, and at some point after college I tried desperately to grow herbs and vegetables in our garden, too, but I failed dismally. (Still, I tried!) Oh, and one of the “funnest” things I remember about Lolo was when he would coach me this line:
Lolo: Bakit ka maganda?
Me: Kasi po, magandang lalaki ang tatay ng nanay ko.
Mind you, it was a tongue twister for then-four-year-old me, but I enjoyed that little game because it always made us laugh. Lolo wasn’t one to spoil his grandchildren rotten, but he took very good care of us, and I remember treasuring every little thing that my lolo would give me–be it a ruler or a pencil, a twenty-peso bill, a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (which he loved), or a birthday card. Lolo and I also spent a summer in the States together, and one of my favorite memories with him was walking around a mall, with my left hand clasping Lolo’s hand and my right hanging on to a bag of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies. (Yes, I had my priorities on straight as early as then, haha.)
My lolo was a great many things to me and I credit him for many things, but perhaps his greatest gift to me was the gift of faith. I was born a preemie (seven months, three pounds, twelve ounces), and my mom would always tell the story of how, at one point when I was in the incubator and still swinging precariously between life and death, they were looking down at me with my little back turned to them. When I turned my head around and smiled at them, my lolo declared, “She will live.”
And I did, and they named me Niña Rica, literally “rich little girl.” My mom would always add, “Rich–full of life!”
In many ways, this blog is a tribute to him and to what he wanted for me. Although I didn’t know him inside-out, I’m pretty sure that my grandfather sucked the marrow out of life.
So today, on the day when we remember his life and passing, I offer, once again, the words that I wrote on Father’s Day last year:
To the man who welcomed me into this world and taught me how to fly, my Lolo, THANK YOU for being my father during those first few months of life when I had none. Thank you for letting me crawl into your room as you were reading your precious books and your stash of National Geographic and teaching me the importance of reading and learning. Thank you for all those postcards and birthday cards and typewritten letters that you had sent me, because they opened me up to the gift of heartfelt words and to the joys of receiving letters from the mailman. Thank you for your huge, clackety-clack typewriter that first got me hooked to the sound of words being created on a page; I am still looking for that one perfect vintage typewriter to bring home that will remind me of yours. Thank you for teaching me how to fish; at least I can tell people that I truly now how to hook some live bait. Thank you for that great time we had in L.A. when I was four, and thank you for always singing Eidelweiss to calm me down. You were every bit my father as well as my grandfather, and I have learned so much from you about what it takes to be a man.
More than that, Lolo, THANK YOU for being my angel up there in heaven. I never really cried when you left us because I knew that you would always be with me, and you still are. When I dream of flying and falling, you are always there to catch me. That time when you appeared in my dreams to dance with me and tell me that I had “to fulfill a mission” for you, I never really understood what you were trying to tell me–until now. You were a commanding presence in my life while I was growing up, and to this day I feel your love and wisdom guiding me. I will carry on what you had asked me to do and make you proud.
*I love you, Lolo Jess.*