On Christmas Eve of 2008, as a tradition, my whole family gathered in the veranda of our humble home in Gulod for my annual gift-giving. There was a celebration in the air. The branches of our narra tree danced to the tune of the humming breeze. The yellow capiz lights that festooned the tree shone brighter.
From the kitchen emanated the flavors of what we were supposed to partake of during the Noche Buena – hamonado, embutido and morcon. My mother labored the whole day just to make sure we would be full on Christmas Eve. It was the season of plenty. The season when we most realized our prayers had been answered. We barely had nothing before – but each other.
By the terrace of our home, I wore my imaginary red suit and white beard. I was in my Ho-Ho-Ho mood. It was Christmastime, the most wonderful time of the year. At the center of our celebration was a big brown box. All gifts in. Except for one.
Cheers and laughter peppered our merrymaking. I handed Nanay her gift, and she returned her gratitude with a hug. My four brothers were next to receive theirs. Then their wives. My nephew and nieces all excitedly formed a line. They sang and danced as the six of them got their loot bags until none was left in the box.
“How about lolo?” the young ones chorused.
“His gift is there in the box,” I said. They scampered to search the box but found nothing. They carried the empty box to their grandfather and made him search if any was left in the box. He found none.
I pretended to be looking inside the box and voilà, I raised my right arm and did some mumbo-jumbo.
“Magic!” I told my father as I slowly opened my right palm. “Here’s for you. Merry Christmas, ‘Tay!”
All eyes were directed toward my hand raised in mid-air. My father, like a kid, anticipated what my hand would reveal. His eyes glistened. I could almost feel my father’s heart leaping out of his chest. Then I slipped the car key onto his hand.
“There’s your Starex van, ‘Tay. All yours. Merry Christmas. I love you,” I told him as I pointed to the garden, where the van was parked.
The pure joy and sheer bliss on my father’s face was the best Christmas gift he gave me. Everybody in my family was ecstatic. The kids were shrieking in glee. My mother was speechless. My father cried as he held my hand. That scene was priceless. Finally, we had our own family car.
My family never suspected that the van parked at the garden was my gift to my father because they were so used to seeing me being dropped home by the driver of my best friend in Makati. They suspected the Starex van was one of the cars of my best friend who was always kind enough to lend me her driver and vehicle. The driver who brought me home with the van pretended to be elsewhere in the neighborhood, when in fact he had already gone home with another get-away car. (To this day, I still don’t know how to drive.)
“Thank you,” my father said as he wiped his tears while he shared the car key with my mother. Nothing could be more beautiful than the joy written on the face of my father. His happiness was so palpable it was enough to insulate me from whatever challenges the world would offer me.
“Para sa ating lahat yan (That car is for everybody),” my father said. That’s the story of our first-ever family car.
The day my father got his car, he really cried. It came as a gift – a blessing he did not expect on Christmas Eve. He only got to enjoy his Starex van for another Christmas. In January of 2010, he passed away a happy man. The Starex van is still with us, a memento of love. We will never part with it.
It was a secondhand car, but the feeling of joy it brought us was brand-new. Its body was not without little scratches but its engine, according to a trusted mechanic who looked at the van before I bought it, was solid – just like our relationship in the family.
It took me more than a year to save to get my father a car. I wanted to surprise him with that car in November of 2007, in time for my birthday. I sincerely wanted the best give I could give myself on my birthday was a car for my father. But time was not on my side, so I had to wait for the right time.
I knew too well that my father couldn’t drive anymore because of old age – he survived a massive heart attack in 2006 – but I was still determined on getting him a car. It was his dream when he was young to drive his own vehicle. But instead of a car, he would “drive” a carabao in the middle of the rice field. He did not have the chance to save up for his own dream because he was concerned more about his sons future.
So, I made a master plan – no matter what, I would get him his car. In my mind, that would be his prize for all the hardship he and my mother underwent to see us through.
When he was still alive, he would call on a relative to drive for him. Armed with a cane, he would hop onto the front seat. His eyes wide open with excitement. His stance powered by his bravado. He would whistle or hum along the radio. He was happy. He was very happy. He would smile from ear to ear. The joy on his face is the joy I keep in my heart long after he is gone.
My relationship with my family is the fertile soil where the seeds of advancement in my own life grow. The seeds germinate to become beautiful moments that we share together. I’m so in love with my family that for them, being the breadwinner, I’ll climb the highest mountain or cross the deepest sea.
His car will always remind me that my life is not all about me. His car is a testament that my life really matters when my loved ones are genuinely happy. My father’s car is proof that love prevails when all else is gone. He must be going around heaven in his Starex van. That thought makes me vroom-vroom high. – Bum D. Tenorio Jr.
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