Delusions Of Grandma


This blog entry about the events of Thursday, December 23, 2004 was originally posted on December 28, 2004.

DAY 432:  You Star Wars geeks out there are probably reading the title of this entry thinking I am playing off the famous Han Solo quote from Return of the Jedi after he is released from being imprisoned in carbonite.  Well, as much of a Star Wars geek I am myself, I am not playing off of Han’s line because it has already been done before; “Delusions of Grandma” is the title of a novel by Carrie Fisher, which the actress-turned-writer used in her post-Star Wars career when she was trying to distance herself away from her persona as Princess Leia while still trying to bank on it.  I’m afraid it hasn’t worked though, for I will always remember Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia — more specifically, I will always remember Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in the gold bikini from Return of the Jedi, as most guys of my generation will. 

Yowza, Leia!  No, that’s not a light saber in my pocket, I’m just happy to see you!

ANYWAY, IN A GALAXY CLOSER TO HOME in a time much closer to now, there is my grandmother, or Lola as we call her in Tagalog, my own living grandparent today.  At the ripe-old age of 86, she has been over the hill and back again, almost to the point where she reverted back to the Terrible Twos.  She has become a child again that everyone has to feed, baby-sit and occasionally sing to. 

“Lola won’t recognized you,” my cousin Raymond warned me as we rode to the countryside province of Bulacan.  “She doesn’t recognize any of us.”

“Us” in that statement is a lot of people; it’s no wonder she has a hard time remembering everyone.  I have trouble remembering.  My mother is the eldest daughter (number 3 out of 11) of eleven children that my grandmother gave birth to.  (Concurrently, my father is one of eight.)  You can imagine how much I trouble I can when I had to make a family tree for a school project in the seventh grade.  Eleven plus eight, plus all the people they married, all on that level of the hierarchy plus all of their kids on my level of the hierarchy.  Let us not forget the cousins on my mother’s level — my grandmother is one of multiple siblings — and then all the people they married and their children. 

Confusing, huh?  My family tree is more complicated than a universal all-in-one remote control.  Seriously, you need an Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to sort it all out.  Fortunately, my father had just sent me such a document attached to an e-mail; unfortunately, it only covered his side of the family, leaving me to visit the Rivera Clan, my mother’s side of the family, without any instructions. 

What’s more confusing is that with such a big gap of time between the eldest and youngest people on my mother’s level of the family tree hierarchy, there’s a whole generation in there.  I am writing this now as a 30-year-old, and I still have baby cousins technically on my level of the tree that haven’t been potty-trained yet.  When my friends try and pressure me into settling down and having children like they are, I tell them, “How can I start a family?  My generation is still being born!”

Anyway, you get my drift.  I have a whole bunch of relatives, and having grown up away from most of them, it’s hard for me to keep track of who’s who, to match faces with names.  Fortunately in Filipino culture, every woman who appears to be on the hierarchal level above you is a tita (aunt); every man is a tito (uncle), and you can simply call them as such and still be respectful.  (This includes people you’re not even related to.)  This is a very convenient custom so that one doesn’t have to deal with those “Hey… you” moments when forgetting someone’s name.

SO BACK TO MY LOLA (grandmother) on my mother’s side of the family.  She and my late grandfather had raised a big family of eleven children.  Eleven kids?  That’s not a family, it’s more like a Filipino village! you may be thinking.  This is somewhat true because they raised everyone on a big village-like farm in the tropical and rural province of Bulacan, about two hours north of Manila, more if there’s traffic.  The huge estate was a self-sufficient farm that produced more than enough for the family livelihood (the surplus was sold off), with chickens, pigpens, private rice terraces, its own water well, and a fish pond.  At the heart of the estate was a big house with orchids in the front, the house my mother grew up in, which, over time, had been joined by other houses on the estate for family members to branch out and live in.  Today the houses still exist in the gated compound for a whole new generation to be raised, and for future generations to come. 

When I arrived to my humble roots — me, the American cousin — I was not welcomed with a big fanfare the way I had been in 1999 with my brother, Blogreader markyt during my first “real” visit to the Philippines.  This time I casually showed up only to be playfully teased as the oddball cousin, the one that “has much shorter hair than everyone else,” the one that “doesn’t speak Tagalog” even though “his younger Filipino-American cousin Michael” can “speak it,” the one that “should drink” “bottled water,” the one that “has that weird tuft of hair under his bottom lip.” 

“Hey, Lola, ano ba?” (“what’s up?”) I greeted my grandmother when we arrived. 

“Sino bato?” my Tita Vicky asked her.

“[I don’t know, but whoever he is, he sure is ugly,]” Lola said.

Ladies and gentlemen, from Bulacan, Philippines… my grandmother.

Lola sits in the big rocking chair on the front porch of the big house with her flowing silver hair (picture above), like Queen of the Farm — or prisoner of it, depending on how you look at it, since she hardly ever leaves the gated compound.  She sits there, singing songs to herself to keep her mind stimulated.  To keep her body stimulated, she often sweeps the pathways with an old straw broom and is actually quite resilient for a woman her age. 

Lola and I posed for a photo, although I’m not sure she knew whom it was she was posing with.  “[It’s Erik, from America,]” my Tita would constantly have to remind her.  “[The son of Nata.]”

Lola would just draw blanks and go back to singing.

MY COUSINS WERE A BIT MORE SOCIAL, each one an individual, but still part of a big blood-related clique.  Dong sits in one house playing Counter Strike on his computer, while Malyn sorts her fashionable wardrobe of plaid skirts, Chuck Taylors, and Che Guevarra jackets in another.  A whole group of seven of us piled into a beat-up jeep to go to the only places of interest in such a rural area:  the old hanging bridge, the local dam, and the old abandoned railway bridge.  We bonded and took photos, got some icees at a local corner store and then went back to the farm. 

After a dinner of pancit (noodles) and kare kare stew, the rest of my Christmas Eve was a lazy one of sitting by the kubo (gazebo) and munching on butong pakwan (watermelon seeds), roasted and salted and eaten like sunflower seeds.  More cousins, titas, titos showed up and greeted me.  My cousin Marivic introduced me to her new husband and my new niece, while most of my other cousins were busy texting away on their cell phones.  Later on that night, we made a campfire and had a cookout of pork shish kabobs over bottles of San Miguel beer

“[Erik.  Nata’s son,]” my Tita Vicky was explaining to Lola again, but she went back to singing.  Later on, she wondered who “that English caribou” was.

“She doesn’t remember you,” my cousin Imay told me.  “She doesn’t remember any of us [living here].” 

MEANWHILE ON THE TAGALOG FRONT, I was slowly trying to grasp the language.  I insisted that everyone just talk to me in Tagalog so I could be immersed in it, but every time I couldn’t understand something, they would just get annoyed and revert to English.  For a while my cousins gave me the silent treatment unless I could say a few words in Tagalog, and I surprised them with phrases here and there.  It’s in the back of my mind somewhere.  For the most part, conversations were in English because none of the new vocabulary they were teaching me was sinking in.  Seriously, I’d forget almost immediately after being told.

“I’m like Lola,” I told my cousin Chie.  “I don’t remember anyone.”

“You’re so old,” she said.

“Yeah, I know.”

I suppose my brain might have had the ability to remember names, faces, and new vocabulary if I simply had the room.  So much is jammed in there right now, from useless historical trivia to memories of the past.  Perhaps I might have room for more information if I ditched that memory of Princess Leia in the gold bikini, but as any guy of my generation will tell you, that just ain’t gonna happen.

Next entry: A Lump Of Coal For Christmas

Previous entry: Learning Tagalog

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Comments for “Delusions Of Grandma”

  • it’s true…the family tree hierarchy project in school took up 2 full posterboards taped together!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/28  at  12:41 PM

  • wahahaha. man, if you think you have it tough, wait til the generations further down get the same project. theirs will take up all the posterboards in the store. =P thank god i never had to do that project.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/28  at  04:25 PM

  • MARKYT:  Get Mom and RCW working on those “instructions”... then we can link everyone together on Friendster. 

    (The cousins are all on Friendster.)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/30  at  01:04 AM

  • Your new neice is adorable… Wowza - all the cousins are on friendster? You can have your own community! Nice way to spend Christmas eve, though. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/31  at  05:26 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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A Lump Of Coal For Christmas

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Learning Tagalog


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