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tec sanchez-tolosa
tec sanchez-tolosa HI DAD, birthday mu na.

The 29th of June has always been a special day. Piyesta opisyal keng pamilya, when the kids go denasok (our own contraction for dehins-na-pasok), opting to miss out class in favor of bonding with the family. You were never one to tolerate such lackadaisical behavior. But to us kids– raised with our mother's reverence for birthdays– it was much more meaningful to spend with you every waking hour of your birthday than to listen to some teacher's soporific rendition of the allegories in Cervantes's Don Quixote.

Last year was exceptional. It was your 65th, and Mommy would not let it pass without a hearty festivity. Reluctantly you agreed, and we started work on invitations, guests, the AVP. Soon enough you realized she was right: that truly there was so much to be thankful for, and you aptly called the event a Celebration of Life.

I still have on my cellphone your message the morning after, where you thanked me for all the work and effort I placed into it and how happy you were with the outcome. Reading it today still makes me smile.

I've always loved birthdays. There is something truly remarkable about them: The day looks brighter, the sky bluer; even the birds seem to be singing. Any other day would pale in comparison. Birthdays gave us "immunity" from the routine worries of our young lives. There was moratorium on all the bad things: alang mababarug, alang makakamwanan. Bukas na mu. To a child that meant a lot. Really. Because by the time "tomorrow" came, akalingwan da na ring matwa nung nanung kakamwa ra. Nice escape.

You made every birthday unique. Its meaning went beyond guests and presents, delicious food and parties. You taught me early on to regale in the gift of life, to be thankful even for its curveballs and oddities, to find significance in every day we spend on this earth. It was a lesson I carried beyond birthdays; later in life I learned to face each day armed with the challenge of these beliefs.

Growing up with you was a delight. It was a colorful life, the one we shared. Not easy, but enjoyably extraordinary. Your foray into public service and elective office made you a household name with a face loved by many. I was merely three years old when you became mayor of your beloved San Fernando. To a young girl, it was exhilarating to know na sikat ya i Daddy mu. But times were not always sunny: the passing years took us through rough turns and tumbles, taken in stride by our growing family, cohesive in a bond forged by many years of love and sacrifice.

You were my role model for practically everything. I know you noticed, yes, I wanted to be like you: to be gentle even in a position of power, to be strong in the midst of turbulence, to be steadfast in the face of adverse influence and to be honest, most of all, even when temptation battered you from all over. It was a daughter's love combined with hero worship; you were the one on whom my ideals were based.

I know I wasn't the only one you inspired and encouraged. Until this time I meet people who knew you at some point, who comfort me with stories of how you motivated positive changes in them. There are those whom you met as young people, and in whose lives your mark has indelibly been placed.

I tell my children your stories the way you narrated them to me: how you grew up as the fourth child of a poor couple— Lolo Pentong a government employee at the provincial capitol, Lola Pasing magtinda ampong pautang ketang palengke. They particularly love the tidtad account: magdala kang boteng Nescafe a maragul, sali kang kinseng tidtad, kaibat pakatmu meng sabo para mirasnan kayu ngan potang mangan. Growing up in difficulty teaches one many things, you told me. It makes him strive harder, it makes him savor the little victories and the joy they carry, it gives him the chance to think how he can take others out of their difficult plight. At tinimid mung ustu ing ulaga ning pamagaral at edukasyun: na sumangid ning nanu mang dumalan, ena kalupa ning kwalta at materyal a bage, pamagaral mu ampong kabiasnan ing era malyaring samsaman keng metung a tau.

I remember and cherish well the years you were an ordinary citizen, working as the lawyer of an insurance company. It was a time we had you all to ourselves. Many summer-vacation afternoons were spent waiting for you to come home from work, when you honked the horn of our canary-yellow eight-cylinder Dodge (kotse nang Batman, we used to call it), waiting for us kids to open the gate. On Saturday afternoons you took us to Colonial Steak House in San Agustin (perhaps one of the first F & B outlets in the town); on Sundays you brought us back to Manila in preparation for classes the week ahead. You were the one who woke us up daily, when our warm baths were ready. You were even the one who prepared our pandesal sandwiches and wrapped them in crisp onion-skin paper. Life was at its simplest and poignantly, at its best.

It wasn't too long before we shared you with the people again.

Now I realize that your whole life was precisely about that. You were not meant to be ours alone. It was your calling to share yourself and to give to others in whatever way possible. In and out of public office, you made every effort to make lives better and more significant. The years didn't change that or take it away from you; neither did trying times. Even as we aged, the nobility of your purpose withstood the so-called tests of time.

As long as you were around, deep inside I remained young, no matter how many birthdays passed: one part of me remained a little girl walking hand in hand with her Dad. No one, nothing, could harm me provided you were there. But now it is finally time to grow up, to stand alone and be brave. To go for it on my own, armed with all that you left me and the name you bestowed.

It is a name I will always be proud of, wherever life takes me. It is something I will always be grateful to you for. And I will strive constantly to live up to it, in celebration of your legacy.

It is probably going to be a simple day, this year's 29th of June. Nothing like last year's. I hope to wake up early, then run to visit you, bring you some flowers. I want to be the first to greet you Happy Birthday. It's going to be an easy quiet morning. We'll have nothing of the urgency and the stress of last year's merriment . No invitations, no guest list to follow up the last minute, no audiovisual presentation to edit for the nth time. Of course there won't be the usual guests.

But then there won't even be you.

Oh Daddy, I still miss you so much.

For Virgilio "Baby" Sanchez
29 June 1941 -- 06 September 2006


The Grass Grows

The grass grows longer everyday, Father.

Yesterday at dusk tiny tendrils
of plants whose names I don't know
clung to my legs. They stung me, I think,
and now there are red welts on my ankles.
I sat beside the marble thing that spelled
your name and marvelled at how good
the letters appear in gold. I traced them
with my finger and the quiet dust found home
on my ridges.

Even now no one sits at the head of the table.
It is left empty for you: empty like the glass
that watches, blank like an untouched plate
of muted stares and waiting questions.
The girls cry when they come home,
when they pass your picture
on the way to their room. They remember
the night you came, when you kissed them
goodbye as they slept. I remember
you in your red shirt that dangled out
of your trousers, as we embraced
at the foot of the stairs. Shouldn't we,
you said to me, jack up the insulin?
And I said, no, no, let's wait till you get back.

I wait, and the grass grows longer.
I wait, Father, even as I know there is nothing,
there is no one coming.
Is there grass where you have gone? Tell me.
I need answers. I have no answers.

All I know is that I have to cut these blades before they cut me.
Sometime, maybe, but not today.
Today I want to feel them bite my skin and sting my leg,
as I look down on gold letters
that spell your name.

(For VLS, 29 June 1941-- 06 September 2006)

[About the author. Tec Sanchez-Tolosa, MD is a full-blooded Kapampangan and a mother of three. A member of Pinoypoets since 2006, she is the author of the Kapampangan poetry collection "Ing Bie Kung Delanan, Ing Bie Kung Balikan (2006)." Some of her poems have been published in emanilapoetry and the online poetry journal Makata. While enrolled in her M.A. Creative Writing program, she was included in the anthology Sleepless in Manila. Tec is also a seasoned medical writer, with printed works in health publications and major dailies. She worked briefly with the ABS-CBN Foundation as a scriptwriter/researcher in the early stages of Sine'skwela. Raised in Manila and educated in St. Theresa's College during her formative years, she is a product of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, where she graduated with a B.S. in Biology. She later became a Doctor of Medicine and trained in diseases of the skin, hair and nails. She is now a Philippine Dermatological Society (PDS) Board-certified Dermatology specialist with an active practice in San Fernando, Pampanga and Quezon City.]

-Posted: 1:22 AM 3/18/07 | More of this author on eK!