The oldest person I know may, sooner or later, be no other than myself. That entered my awareness with a jolt; there are now very few people whom I know, who are at least 10 years older than I am. Frightful, isn’t it?
One fine day before the pandemic, I was thinking of whom I could consult about the whereabouts of Mr. X during WW II. Although this person was quite revered in the local scene up until Pearl Harbor was bombed, there is absolutely no record, good or bad, of what he was doing during the Japanese Occupation, or how he escaped being killed.
Until recently, there were two reliable sources who were old enough to have answered my queries and confirmed my assumptions about Mr. X. They could have shared valuable information not contained in history books, nor online. They must have patronized the same tailor and barber as Mr. X , flirted with the same society girls, had coffee at the Botica Boie on the Escolta. But I procrastinated and before I knew it, the pandemic fell upon us. Both of them died, months apart, not of Covid 19, but without warning. Now, I shall never know about the exploits of Mr. X. How can I ever forgive myself!
Should I tell my grandchildren, nieces and nephews to draw up a list of questions while I am still around? Should I warn them that they might regret it, if they do not ask me now? Or, should I take it upon myself to tell them about family matters, political stuff , events that they might want to know about when they are older? Shall I start shaking the family tree?
I had a paternal aunt who did just that. She delighted in telling stories about our family and other families we know, as we younger ones lingered at the edge of a conversation after a sumptuous Sunday lunch. In the course of years, I realized that my aunt was not merely spreading naughty gossip because her stories had pith and context. She was actually a pioneer in local oral history. A pity that she never had time to write anything down, much less give a seminar of arrange a conference for historians. She answered a lot of my questions and perhaps, I should write down, or make a hard copy, of my aunt’s vocalized histories, while memory still serves.
My only grandson—he will be 21 next month—does ask me a lot of things simply because he was born and grew up in Mexico and has not completely mastered the ramifications of our luxuriant family tree, or trees. He asks me profound questions as well about things that can only occur to someone that young and innocent. Lola, he once asked, if you could have had one of these gadgets, this technology, in your youth, which would you choose? He looked at me expectantly, he really could not imagine what my choice would be. The cell phone, I said firmly, my friends and I agree that if we had had cell phones, our lives would have been completely different. Silence. My grandson could not figure it out. Why, Lola? Because we could have called up all the boys we knew and sent them all kinds of messages. In those days, it was taboo for nice girls to telephone guys—we only had landlines—it was considered cheap, too forward. You never called up Lolo Tonypet? Never, I said. I had to wait for him to call me. My grandson laughed uncontrollably .
What other gadget, Lola? The laptop, I love the cut and paste and how easily I can access information with a click of a finger. When I was in school, we had to physically consult volumes, in the school library just to counter check a historical date.
Next time my grandson zooms—he is living somewhere else now because of the quarantine—I shall encourage him to ask about his great grandparents on both sides of the family because in their own way they participated in building this nation. I shall start sharing oral histories of the family, both happy and sad; he should begin recording all this now that he is still not the oldest person he knows.