Sunday, May 31, 2009

watching a lifetime

It was rather appropriate watching "Up" tonight, the latest Pixar movie.  There's an opening sequence that fast forwards through the main character's life with his wife.  It is a sequence that is succinct and effortless that shows a man who once experienced joys and adventure and even now alone attempts to continue on this journey together.

I had spent most of the day at the funeral for Uncle Cef.  He was 81.  He and his wife were one of numerous families part of the Barkada.  Many of them lived in Oakland, and many of them were nurses.  They raised their children together and many of their children's children consider each other cousins even though there are no blood ties.  For many years, I thought us and the Barkada were the only Filipinos in Oakland.

When my parents arrived in the US in 1970, they were met at the airport by my dad's uncle, the first cousin to his father.  When they arrived, they stayed at his house, and for a time next door at Uncle Philip's.  They were adopted by this Barkada.  My sister's first babysitters were these women.   Auntie Esther, a nurse at Kaiser, had been there the day each of us were born to welcome us into the world.  My sister and I called most of them auntie and uncle.  Their children, about 6-7 years older than us, were our cousins, though technically they would have been 2nd cousins once removed.  In a time, when my parents had left their parents and complete social structure in the Philippines, the Lomuljos, the Monteclaros, the Prados, were the family parties we attended on a regular basis.  The graduations, the weddings, the baptisms and now funerals.  Mostly funerals now.

With my parents out of town, and my sister pregnant, I was left as the lone representative of our family to pay our respects for Uncle Cef.  The "old" family as I called them.  It's been some time since we last saw them.  Uncle Cef and Auntie Esther had come to our wedding 3 years ago.  We had seen him and his family all together for their 50th wedding anniversary 2 years ago. 

Yesterday and today, we listened as family, friends and their grandchildren, memorialized him: his humor, his strength, his helpfulness.  The priest had gathered the family at the casket for the final prayers.  I flashed back to their wedding anniversary, as the same priest had the family gather around them then too.  A moment of great joy juxtaposed with great sadness in my mind.

I re-acquainted myself with the aunties and their children, who of course all knew me way back when.  I learned the names of their children and their spouses.  Their children's children seemed confused by all the strangers that knew their family.  Where did these people come from?  How did they know their family?  Even though, I could say to many of them, I remember when your parents were married, and when you were born.  I remember.  I know.

I came to discover other people I had known from other circles, connecting again here.  A fellow from work, a student from kali class.  They were friends of the grandchildren, the newer family.  The grandchildren were strangers to me.  I was connected to the earlier years, their grandparents, their parents before we had all moved on with our lives.  The circles that repeat and reconnect were palpable.  

I had brief conversations about where I am now.  It was just a sight to recognize faces and remember when we were all a bit younger.  That seemed like enough, to see that we were still here.  To remember a time when life wasn't complicated.  

When I left the reception and greeted Auntie Esther, she seemed smaller than ever, impish now, but still always with the loving sparkle in her eye.  "I remember" she tells me, "I know you.  I know you when you were a baby and your sister too.  And now all of you so grown up. I remember. I know. Thank you for representing your family.  Regards to your parents."

I looked around the room with a mixture of sadness, joy, and gratitude.  Those who I had known and who had known me were now passing.  I would no longer know their grandchildren as those lines grew thin.  Yet, I was grateful to them for what they had given my family, for us.  How they had opened their doors, their guidance, to a young couple separated from what they had known to provide the example how the values of family, community and barkada played themselves out on this American plateau. 

I don't know much about the aunties and uncles of the barkada.  I was too young to learn their last names, or know about where they originated in the Philippines nor how they came here.  I only know of the family parties in orchid and rose filled backyards and how I had to mano po a line of elders in the dining room.  I am anak ni Rebecca at Narcing.  The second daughter.  How tall I had become from the baby they had once held in their arms. 

The cycle of this "family" is coming to a close as the memory of our connections disappear with the Barkada generation.  The elder children in each family will complete for their parents the last of the obligations and tributes to the other families when their parents pass and this will close the circle.  This is the way of things.  We have already gone on to form our own barkadas and families that are still growing.  Those too will come to this moment of goodbye.

"Up" seemed to reflect this day.  What memories do we take with us?  What do we hold on to?  How do we continue on?  How did that life teach us how to live this one?  

Thank you Uncle Cef for what you brought to this world. Goodbye.

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