Table of Contents
- 1 Paete, Laguna, Philippines
- 2 San Miguel Beer
- 3 Gift of gab
- 4 Storytelling died alongside my parents
- 5 Deteriorating Photo Albums of the Past
- 6 I wasn’t moved by my heritage…
- 7 Town of Tolentino in the Marche Region of Italy
- 8 Kuya – big brother
- 9 Lanzones from Paete in Laguna
- 10 Green Hills and Three White Crosses
- 11 Paete is a town of carpenters and carvers
- 12 Wooden Sculpture of Joseph
- 13 Finally, a connection to my heritage
Paete, Laguna, Philippines
There were three young men, all wearing white shirts. One wore a polo style, and the other two, tee shirts. The one wearing the polo had a polished look about him that the other two did not possess. They took the corner table at the far end of what can barely be called a restaurant, resembling a social hall that had been vacated some time long ago and repurposed as an eatery. The three men were greeted with great enthusiasm by an old gentleman, who had the physical vibe of being the owner. He gave the one with the polo a strong squeeze on his shoulders and patted the other two on their heads.
San Miguel Beer
The old man made swift, went to the back, and within seconds, a younger lady in her early twenties, arrived at the table with three cold bottles of San Miguel Beer. The polished one went into his pocket and tried to quickly pay, but the older gentleman seeing this from where he was, back in the kitchen, yelled over to the girl and told her to not accept his money. A pack of cigarettes was pulled out of the tattered khaki trousers of the one that looked youngest amongst the three and passed one stick out to each.
Gift of gab
They didn’t speak at first, which is an anomaly in the country, because as a people, the Filipinos have a high facility for the gab. It was obvious that the day had gotten the better of them and needed refreshment before becoming themselves again. Life can be hard in the Philippines, but can be especially hard on the people of a small town like Paete, Laguna.
Storytelling died alongside my parents
There I was, noticing all of this while putting in a big food order for the table I was with. I was with a bunch of strangers that also happened to be family. I had left this town when I four years of age, and I had taken forty-four years to return. Both my parents grew up in this town, and the people that were seated along with me on the table were those who they had spent their childhood and early adult life with. As a boy, I had heard stories from both my parents about some of these people, but after having lost them both by the time I was fourteen, the great oral tradition of storytelling died alongside, and I had lost connection.
Deteriorating Photo Albums of the Past
To make up for lost time, my older cousins, aunts, and uncles told stories of both my mother and father as we sat around the table in the very hot restaurant. The one’s of my father were particularly funny and more elaborate which brought laughter and tears to those telling the stories. Photo albums close to deteriorating were brought out for me to view. I looked upon images in black and white of two young people that were my parents. To some degree, I feigned emotion and found it almost strange to not have been moved.
I wasn’t moved by my heritage…
I kept wondering if it was okay to not be moved by my heritage. I had been away too long. Inherently I had removed myself from experiences that may bring forth a sort of pain that I had escaped many years ago. I purposely made memories vague and had them softened by time.
Town of Tolentino in the Marche Region of Italy
In the past, I had paid homage to my heritage in some trivial way through other travels. I had visited the town of my namesake, Tolentino, in the Marche Region of Italy. I had visited Spain many times being intrigued with the connection my birth nation had with it. However, a visit to the actual site never crossed my mind. My approach was what I ignorantly thought to be a bit more sophisticated, maybe even more civilized, and though I knew it lacked the purity and the truth of actually going to the Philippines, it filled the void for many years.
Kuya – big brother
The streets were beaten by the hot sun. It was later in the day, but the sun and the heat did not subside, it was unbearable. A younger cousin of mine, who respectfully addressed me as “Kuya”, which translates as “big brother”, opened an umbrella to shade me from the sun. I told him to take it for himself, as I romantically thought that the heat would bring me closer to the people, the culture.
Lanzones from Paete in Laguna
We walked the town, bumping into people here and there that seemed to have known so much about me, but I, in turn, only received them as strangers. I was shown the houses in which my parents grew up. We continued and visited the family burial grounds, and beyond that, the family farm. I tasted the fruit that the trees on my family’s farm bears called, lanzones. Which I later found out was a national treasure. We visited the cathedral in the town center which was built by the Spaniards and the adjacent splinter church that my great grandmother established. The more we toured and the more I heard the stories, I was made aware that my surname, and the people that it belonged to, acted as the ventricles that pumped life into this town.
Green Hills and Three White Crosses
Beyond the glare of the sun, I was able to appreciate the green hills and the three white crosses that were set upon it. A stall with peanuts roasted with garlic wafted through the air and made my stomach grumble. Yet, there was no real connection. It was simply an opportunity to familiarize myself with family and enjoy the sights and sounds of another town, in another country. I was a long way from New York City, and for that, I felt rewarded by the travel experience.
Paete is a town of carpenters and carvers
Paete is known throughout the Philippines as the town that produced the best carpenters and carvers in the country. I know this as a fact, as one of my fondest memories of my father was of me as a child watching him with amazement as he took a small block of wood and carved out a miniature figure. He also had a penchant for making me a new stool out of wood every time I grew. In the industry’s height, the carpenters and carvers provided churches, municipal buildings, museums, and hotels with their wooden creations. These days, they are relegated to working on cruise ships making ice carvings for table centerpieces.
Wooden Sculpture of Joseph
I took a left from the main road following my nose, hoping to find a bag of peanuts, instead happened upon a shop with large wooden carvings displayed. I took a closer look at one of the larger pieces, and it was a wooden sculpture of Joseph, a father whose role is underrated in the Biblical Stories. The wooden form had a sense of humility. The piece showcased the creativity of the people and also served as a necessity to quench the spiritual thirst of the town, but most of all, it captured the essence of the people. In this one piece was the landscape of Paete. In this one piece was my heritage. In this one piece, I finally felt a connection.
Finally, a connection to my heritage
While gazing upon the sculpture, I heard behind me, laughter so loud and authentic that I couldn’t help but turn around to see where it was coming from. It was the two young men with white tee shirts, seeming as if they had a few more San Miguel Beers from whence I left them. As they rounded the corner, one of them yelled out, “Pa”. Behind them was the older gentleman equally as jovial. Rounding the same corner was a crowd, my family, which included my wife and my daughter.
“What are you looking at papa?”, asked my daughter.
“My father. I’m sorry, it’s Joseph”, finding myself holding back tears.
I am a son of a carpenter and this was his home, and on that day, I had returned. I was suffused with emotion.