Like sunlight and old shoes

Reflections from my lola’s breakfast patio

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Isn’t one of life’s greatest joys slipping your feet into a pair of good, old walking shoes? Years do something to sturdy footwear, making them softer with age. They aren’t as eye-catching as they once were, but time and use make them feel like cushions on the feet.

There are moments in life like cushy old shoes. Moments like the occasional early Sunday breakfast I have at my Lola’s (grandmother’s) house in Malate. Like lingering strolls in a worn out pair, these visits keep me rooted in what matters most in life.

When I was younger, such visits were more frequent. Some of my fondest memories come from those weekends spent at her house with my brothers, while Lolo (grandfather) was still alive. We would stay over on some weeks my parents were out of town.

On those quick vacations, we would devour Lolo’s VHS collection of old movies, and through them, met some of hollywood’s greats. The list included Gene Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, and Shirley Temple. We might have watched Singing in the Rain at least twenty times, while snacking on bags of kornets, chocolate pretzels, and chocolait tetra-packs. A bottomless supply of these forbidden snacks lived in Lola’s bedroom cabinet and fridge. We knew this was our own Wonka factory to raid.

Those were delightful evenings. I can still recall the coziness of sitting in my grandparents’ library. We’d plop ourselves onto their couch, hugging a pillow for extra softness, and slowly get lost in the music and drama on the TV screen. This bedtime habit usually came after our evening bath and dressing down into clean pajamas.

Many times, Lolo would come and watch the movie with us. He’d even sing along in his soothing low baritone. His favorite was Fiddler on the Roof’s “If I were a rich man”, which he’d croon while mimicking Tevye’s hearty and energetic “bidi-bidi-bum”. Then, on Sunday mornings, we would wake up early to a hearty breakfast laid out in their sunlit, screened patio. The menu was always the same: waffles and sausage. Even so, we never grew tired of the treat, and look forward to it still, some twenty five years later.

Last weekend, as I sat beside Lola to enjoy the Sunday waffle ritual, I noticed the old quiet joy from childhood Sundays return. That’s when I realized that those waffles have become more than just a sweet treat. Now, it carries with it many priceless memories and some of what I most cherish in my grandmother. Their simplicity and constancy remind me of her admirable restraint and impeccable discipline. Their warmth, those moments when her eyes fill with amusement after hearing a joke or a good story. But the moments when her eyes exude the warmest fire is when she talks about Lolo. Even if he left us nearly 20 years ago, she still speaks about him with unwavering devotion. Her stories always reveal how underneath that quiet, rational facade is a heart consumed by love. This is where the waffle metaphor falls short, big time.

As I sat by her last Sunday, enjoying the morning sunlight streaming through the patio’s windows, she once again told stories about Lolo. Sometimes, there are new tales. Other visits, she retells old stories. This time, she took out two photos I had not seen before. Both were of my grandparents as newlyweds in Mindanao. As I looked at the snapshots, I noticed that the glow she exudes when she remembers her husband today was present even then. And that was almost sixty years ago. At that moment, the memory of their aged love seemed to mirror the soft sunlight outside. Both are old beauties, but with age, only strengthen in the warmth and steadiness they give. In their mature strength, both are like sturdy, time-worn shoes.

This recent breakfast suggested to me that perhaps one of her best heirlooms is an invisible one. Something like a pair of invisible shoes. A pair that she has walked in these past eighty-five years, and continues to, even as her routine takes on a more restful pace.

I catch glimpses of them in her memories of my grandfather, her well-stocked cabinet of childhood snacks, and in her Sunday waffles. I see them when she talks about the beggars she feeds, or the priests she supports, without needing recognition. I see them in her modest twin-size bed, even if she could opt for a more luxurious place to sleep. I see them in her unfailing daily routine of attending early morning Mass, and saying a rosary.

These “invisible shoes” symbolize the force that keeps her steady on life’s steepest but most beautiful path. They are icons of constant, faithful, and unassuming love. The kind of love that propels the spirit upward, and lasts longer than the hardest diamond. This is her unseen heirloom, and last Sunday, it was inspiring to catch more than one glimpse of it.