November 2, All Souls’ Day had passed.
But I always remember the two men in my life: my grandpa, Tatay Juaning (Juan Montejo Menchavez, Sr) and my father, Papa Boning (Bonifacio Decio Maga, Sr.)
They were both “seniors” because they had “juniors”. Both had Spanish blood running in their veins (Menchavez and Maga) but they differ in heights. My lolo, Tatay Juaning (my mother’s father) is tall almost 6 ft and fair skin while my Papa Boning (my mother’s only lover) is just 5’4 and with brown skin. Though they differ in their outlook of life, but they had thought me lessons in life which unconsciously had greatly nurtured me of what I am today. I just realized in my later years, specifically in my midlife years now, in my understanding of life and service.
I can still remember that during his birthday, June 24, which is also the feast day of our town, my hometown Tabuelan, Cebu, the Menchavez family used to prepare foods (lots of food, sometimes with “lechon” and inihaw at kilawin na Bangus from the fishpond). As the tradition, after Thanksgiving Mass all the priests and the bishop present would be the special guests of the family. My grandma, Nanay Bebing (Servillana Comahig Suico) used to remind the cooks and the house-helps not to touch any food unless the the VIP’s came every time before she left to the church. Tatay Juaning who seldom went to church on his birthday, would be left behind waiting the visitors and special guests to arrive.
However, before the VIP’s came from the church (the mass was always longer in feast day) by eleven in the morning, Tatay Juaning had already served the food to all the tenants and workers coming to greet him. The usual argument (to be exact their annual fight ) was like this:
Nanay Bebing: “Why you served the special dishes reserved for the priests and the bishop and for our visitors to the tenants and workers? I told the cooks and helpers not to touch those foods. What a shame if we could not serve our visitors because the those special dishes were lacking already. Why served them those foods for our VIPs? Por Dios por santo ka Juaning! (at a very young age, I already memorized the lines,) there were other dishes cooked for them!
Tatay Juaning: “Good heavens, Bebing! You just came from the church and you got angry why I let our tenants and workers ate those special dishes reserved for our guests? Look, I shared the table with them, why be angry? It’s my birthday, anyway. Were you not happy that once in a year, during my birthday, they could ate those special foods? My dear, Bebing, those visitors of yours could eat the same foods you prepared anytime of the year, everytime they want because they could afford to buy and cook? Our tenants and workers who offered their labors for us would be denied to share the food prepared for my birthday?
End of the argument/fight. As usual, Nanay Bebing would leave and went upstairs to entertain the VIPs while Tatay Juaning, would remain talking with the tenants and workers and friends present. He seldom met voluntarily the visitors, unless he was called to be introduced.
He was a former DLGCD Disbursment Officer in Region IV. He was assigned to cities in Negros and in Cebu. Everytime he came home, he always had a story to tell me. Sometimes I observed when he run out of folk tales and other “Lola Basyang-like-stories” he recycled them with some twists and changed names of the characters. But since I long to hear his story every evening when he was around I did not complain. I pretended to hear a new story. But later when I was in elementary, the story-telling became social sharing. He would share me the corruption in the government agencies and offices, how he got “enemies” because he refused to “give-in” to their manipulation of financial reports. He would always say to me shaking his head, “How on earth this people in the government including the politicians who promised to serve the people but with all dishonesty and corruption? I think, I could not remain longer in my work in DLGCD because I am not happy for I got more “enemies.” So innocent, I asked him, “Why you got more enemies, Papa, instead of friends if you are doing your job well?”
He told ma a story: One Finance Officer in the city he was assigned was so angry with him because my father found out that the cost of 1 shovel which was only Php 185.00 was reported to be Php 480,00. All the items purchased were tripled billed. So, he went to check the shop owners where the tools were bought. But he was told that they were instructed to what prices they wanted to appear in the receipts. That was why many got angry with him. That was also the reason why the Late Secretary Rono (sorry no symbol in my laptop) used to transfer him from one city to another.
Once I met the Secretary in Cebu City where Papa introduced me, “Sir, my daughter Bhebut, Erahvilla our eldest who is now in Grade Five with honors.” I was embarrassed but I felt happy the way my father introduced me to the DLGCD Secretary. I was dumbfounded when he extended his hand to shake mine. And I could not forget what the Late Secretary Rono said to me, “Hello, Erahvilla but may I call you, Bhebut? You know, be very proud of your father for without his efforts and sincerity of his job, dishonesty and corruption in my department would never be known. How i wished all the government employees would take Mr. Maga an example, now happy to meet his daughter and nice meeting you, Bhebut. Good luck to your study.”
One Christmas vacation before I graduated in elementary, when my father was assigned in Manduae City, he brought me to his office and proudly introduced me to his colleagues but that time I did not fell shy but instead I smiled to them and said, “hello” and blessed the hands (bringing hands to my forehead in respect) of the elderly in the office. One of them when I approached him, said to me, “You know, Bhebut, Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal were already gone in this world but your father wanted to be like them.” Those who heard nearby laughed. Someone said, “Just tell your father that Rizal and Bonifacio were out-modeled, they were long underground. Tell you father to be a little kind to us.”
When we got home, during our story-telling-turn-to-social/political-sharing I told my father what their office-mates said and why? My father answered, “When I die, I want you to walk with your heads up. I don’t want my children to be told that ‘they were children of a corrupt servant. So, Bhebut, do not get envy if our neighbors could built big houses and have cars when they were just only a municipal treasurer. I can make more money with my position but because I love my family I would never steal people’s money.”
We were poor, our house was made of nipa and bamboo; no car not even a motorcycle; no television and our old wooden sala set was a handed down from my grandparents’ house; we seldom had new dress and shoes and it took sometime before we were able to have electricity in our house; no faucet installed and we used to fetch water for daily use in our neighbor’s well… What we got, I meant what Papa had only acquired which made me very proud to my classmates and friends was the ”home-library” a cabinet full of books: dictionaries, history books, a very thick Medical Counselor book (which I still have in our Family-Home Library today), children’s books, and science and psychology books. One book, which I re-read many times until I reached first year high school was Don Quixote.
Tatay Juaning was always angry to Papa Boning. He used to tell me. “Your father was stupid! He never cared his family! How could he sent you to college because of his honesty? of his principles? Could you cook with them? Were you be fed because of his stupidity? He was crazy! I regretted why I let your mother married him,”
As my father’s daughter I really got heart because I agreed and was very proud of his firmness with his principles in life. But at the same I understood what my grandfather was telling me because I experienced poverty in our own home. True to it, we really struggled hard to be in college, without scholarship and financial assistance from friends I never would be able to finish. My family of origin is relatively poor, even until now when in fact my mother’s side is landed, owned hundreds hectares of land and my father’s side also owned lands. Our house remains unfinished when father tried to built a concrete one before he left us with nothing.
My father may be right and he really wanted to live with his principles but even my siblings were not affirming to him anymore. They shared that when he was the Meat Inspector in Cebu City’s market, he was very strict and never allowed hogs/pigs, chickens and cows meats with diseases to enter the market. One time, men went to visit my father in his small rented room/apartment in Lorega, Cebu City with attache case filled with money (million pesos). It was offered to be his should he allowed hogs (not fit/healthy) to be sold in Carbon Market. He out-rightly refused without hearing more and said NO and drove the visitors out. My brother was so angry that he left my father, who during that time was in need of money for his medication. He never endorsed my brother to work in his department and to replace him upon his retirement even he was asked to do so by his boss.
My Papa Boning may be stupid, crazy, stubborn, etc… because of living out his principles into practice but I love him and still very proud of him and I had a lots of beautiful memories of him as a father. My Tatay Juaning cared the people who worked for him and was very practical. I do love him and would never forget that he and Nanay Bebing would always pay ten centavos in every 100 points I got in my exam or daily quizzes. That was how I earned my extra allowance in primary school days.
Both of them, Tatay Juaning and Papa Boning, even how different they were from each other, these two men in my life will always have a special place in my heart. I love them both and will always remember the lessons in life they both exampled to me.
In reflection, both men were right for we need also to balance in relation to our economic needs, our survival to live a descent but honest way of living while continue doing service and caring the people. But I am sure, I got more from my father, Papa Boning. 🙂