Let me tell you the story of my grandfather, Lolo Romy.
He was a soldier in World War II, fighting the Japanese as a guerilla. One day he and his troop got captured by a Japanese platoon and they were held prisoner at a camp somewhere in the jungle.
Back then captured POWs were usually tortured for information and sometimes just because the Japanese soldiers just wanted to have some fun. One by one, Lolo’s troop were skinned alive right in front of him. Here’s the interesting part though, Lolo was deathly afraid of knives. As he watched a friend of his slowly being tortured, Lolo went crazy and started kicking the Japanese soldiers holding him. Straight from an 80s style action movie, he somehow got free and he ran like a madman, zigzagging into the jungle with bullets zipping overhead. Then he hid in the tall grass and somehow found his way back to headquarters. Somewhere in the house is the bayonet and grenade that he took home as a souvenir from the war. I think I dropped the grenade once. Everybody had a minor heart attack.
Afterwards he sought a quieter life and settled down in Batangas where he married a lovely lass who became my grandmother. There he became of all things an art teacher. His old students still call him maestro. Up the stairs in Tanauan he has this mural of an underground seascape which was made entirely out of broken glass. In one bedroom there’s a triptych of a Barrio fiesta made out of walis tingting and bits and pieces of scrap. Here and there are examples of his calligraphy work. The house in Tanauanis filled to the brim with his artistry.
My own memories of him start with the homemade toys he gave me: A kite made out of old plastic bags; A hand carved trumpo which I could never get to spin more for more than ten seconds; homemade pencil covers so that your newly sharpened mongols don’t break too easily. He also made the best damned paper airplanes that looked like they could fly forever.
The one time he got mad at me was when I somehow got on the roof of the house and I stayed up there all morning. I ran up and down the rooftop when suddenly my leg fell through a weak part of the roof and I spent a good thirty minutes trying to get myself out. Lolo got so mad because now there was a big hole in the roof of the kitchen and it was going to rain soon. I spent the whole day hiding because I thought I would get spanked.
In many ways, Lolo and I were polar opposites. He was quiet and reserved whereas I could talk your head off. He rarely showed emotions while I had my heart on my sleeve. He was an artist who dealt in images and I deal in words. But he was a big part of who I am as a person. He taught me about quiet resilience and he taught me to see beauty in the simple things. Godspeed Lolo Romy! Make me a paper airplane up there that will fly forever!