Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Passing of a Gentleman and the Time-Warping Properties of Watermelon Seeds

There is a story about my late father-in-law, Servillano S. Aguarin that I never tire of telling people. But first, an introduction and farewell…

* * * * *

A Eulogy:

Mr. Servillano S. Aguarin, or “Biling,” as he was commonly referred to in his hometown of Dau (which, like most rural Filipino towns seems to think that 90% of nicknames should end with an “ng”) was a dashing figure in his younger days. He was one of many Capampangans who had the good fortune of finding work in what was then Clark Air Base in Angeles City.

"...his tired eyes belie a man who has truly lived, loved, was loved..."

In stereotypical Capampangan fashion, the man was a god of his kitchen, which he translated into a respectable career as a mess hall cook in the base serving American soldiers. It was probably there he developed the persona that although not an officer, was most certainly a gentleman.

When Pinatubo decided that happy days were over in Angeles City, Biling had to get creative in making ends meet. He was not a man of means in the years of his twilight, but he certainly made no shame of it. He held his head high at all times, and the level of his personal dignity made him an equal to anyone he faced, rich or poor. Though humble in his acknowledgement of his life’s realities, his tired eyes belie a man who has truly lived, loved, was loved, and rolled with life’s punches. And with that, he stood tall.

Servillano S. Aguarin passed away last April 17, 2009 in San Francisco, California from a string of medical complications. His remains were brought back to his hometown of Dau, Pampanga, Philippines last April 25, where every one of his ten children came back from different towns and countries to be together in his presence one last time.
He was 70.

* * * * *

Ah, I promised a story…

One odd weekend, we went to see Biling. Seeing us, he didn’t even give me a chance to ask him to eat out. Instead, he happily scrounged his cupboard, sent someone out for veggies, and assembled a simple meal of fried fish, watery mongo soup obviously stretched to fit the unexpected crowd, and just enough rice to round it all up.
He made no apologies, lent his company, and just kept literally dishing it out on the table with the quiet dignity of someone serving t-bone steaks.

It was the best bowl of watery soup I’d ever had.

* * * * *

The Wake and the Aformentioned Watermelon Seeds…

It was a typical provincial wake that usually takes place in the departed’s residence. Relatives were streaming in to add variety to a scenery chock-full of unemployed family members and by-standers who finally found a good reason to hang out for the meantime.
It was there where I was reminded that a new issue of Maxim’s U.S. edition handed to me by my brother-in-law who flew in was a commodity worth stealing.

My wife was obviously soaking up the family reunion scene and all. Her dad’s death, though sad, had been week-old news. People had done their share of crying. At least until the burial, where everything always has a way of coming back to hit home.

And there was little me desperately glassy-eyed from boredom and still wondering who stole that copy of Maxim with Jennifer Love Hewitt on the cover.
I can’t remember who handed me a mound of watermelon seeds, but with very little better to do, I made like the third chipmunk and started chipping away… and guess what? Over an hour had mindlessly passed by…
I will never see watermelon seeds the same way again…

* * * * *

I’ve also figured out the logic behind the all-night vigil on the eve of the burial, and why there’s always a gambling table at wakes.

The all-night vigil ensures that everyone’s eyes will be all red and puffy come burial day, and they will be so tired to walk and march that they will eventually break down in tears whether they are grieving or not. Makes for great and believable pictures.

The manipulated gambling on the other hand, makes losers of unsuspecting extended family members who are spaced out, crying and wailing over the money they lost the previous night.
It’s all rurally ingenious, I tell you…

Catch you later…

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