What will they remember?

I spent the weekend reading the memoirs of my uncle Francisco Lopez one of Paciano Rizal’s grandchildren who lived to a 100 lucid years. Tito Fran could recite the “Ultimo Adios” until the day he joined his Creator. Two decades ago, during one of Gen. Paciano’s birthdays– always celebrated with pomp at his lakeside residence– Tito Fran confided that he had begun writing about our illustrious and mysterious forbear.

On the very day my two half-Mexican grandchildren (Tekwani and Aurora) flew home after a month-long vacation in the Philippines, the landscape looked rather bleak for this doting grandmother. I wept as we bade each other goodbye, there was a sudden vacuum in my living quarters, and even my pet cats seemed distraught by their absence. To cheer me up, my dutiful son took me to lunch after which my daughter-in-law invited me to see “The Post,” a movie about press freedom during the USA’s war in Vietnam. Before going to bed I began to read Tito Fran’s reminisces of his grandfather.

A pity he could not draw, as he would have wanted to paint a portrait of Gen. Paciano Rizal, his Lolo Ciano. As we already know, there are only two extant pictures, one taken surreptitiously by a grand nephew, Leoncio Lopez Rizal, the other when he was lying in state. Judging from those photos, Lolo Ciano’s face was “elliptical,” according to Francisco Lopez. In the 1920’s, his grandpa sported a crew cut, very similar to that of General Aguinaldo’s, but by then his hair had turned white. His complexion was like “halabos na hipon, a light pinkish color, a warm color…” which Tito Fran attributed to the daily baths Lolo Ciano would take in a gurgling spring beneath his house that flowed directly from Mount Makiling. “Not hot enough to broil one, but warm enough to give a retiree like him a somewhat natural pinkish complexion…”

He would have painted Lolo Ciano in a camisa de chino, that collarless long-sleeved light cotton shirt he used to wear around the house. “There must be an expression of serenity in his eyes,” said Tito Fran, “but more than serenity, something lingered in those eyes, what, in the years past, he had suffered at the hands of the Spanish authorities; there must also be an expression in his eyes of past activism, a rebellion against oppression.” He doubted whether a portrait painter could capture “the real eyes,” that inexplicably soulful gaze, of his Lolo Ciano.

Tito Fran included a letter he wrote, in 2006, to a historian of the National Historical Institute (now National Historical Commission of the Philippines) who had contributed an article to a daily newspaper. According to this historian, after the Philippine-American War Paciano Rizal devoted his remaining year to farming his lands in Calamba. Tito Fran corrected this, — Paciano Rizal did not devote himself to farming his land in Calamba because there was no longer any land left for the Rizal family in Calamba to cultivate, since the very day when they were actually stripped of all their holdings in that town, since the very day they were ejected and driven out and away from the place, way back in September of 1890, upon the orders of the then Spanish Governor General Wyler.” That paragraph was underscored and I could almost see an incensed Tito Fran pounding on his typewriter.

Francisco Lopez was born on 8 July 1913; he said his siblings were privileged to have lived with their Lolo Ciano “in a cozy nipa hut, surrounded with an open-air verandah, in that quiet town of Los Baños, province of Laguna, facing the once upon a time idyllic azure lake of Laguna de Bay.” (Later, the nipa hut was destroyed during a typhoon so Paciano Rizal built a sturdier house designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro, Juan Luna’s son.) Then they had to migrate to Manila for primary schooling. During those years they lived with him, their grandpa never once spoke about “ the sacrifices and heroic deeds he had to do, for love of parents, or for a brother and, oh, for country: Indeed, he was truly a very silent man.”

Why didn’t Gen Paciano want to remember? Tito Fran wrote: “The only rationalization we can give is that Lolo wanted to impart to us only the virtues of love (not hate), of mercy and forgiveness (not revenge), of patience and diligence (not laziness and indolence), and this we also know, in his humility, Lolo considered country first above self.”

In the first chapter of his recollections, Francisco Lopez described how after supper while the sun sank in the distant horizon, “the flickering lights of coconut oil lamps appeared one by one along Calamba’s shoreline. As if recalling a long story of the past, Lolo would point at those lights and tell us, ‘ Mga apo, ayun ang bayan ng Calamba, yoong maraming kumikislap-kislap na ilaw.’ (Grandchildren, that is Calamba, the one with many sparkling lights.) Later in life, they understood “the full meaning and implications” of Calamba and those precious moments with their grandfather.