My grandfather, being who he was, had his picture on the front page of the Inquirer the day he passed, to the irritation of many a scheming politician whose latest exposes were bumped off to page 2. TV stations sent their crew to where his body lay in state, waiting for the President and other captains of industry to pay their respects.
My grandmother, in her tasteful black dress and understated pearls and my mother by her side, met our friends with polite acknowledgement; while my father, the crown prince to my lolo‘s kingdom, ushered their business and political contacts with dutiful tending.
As I sat in the back pew of the huge chapel, away from the smirking matrons who scoffed at my lit cigarette, two old under-dressed men lingered tentatively in the fringes of the room filled with Manila’s elite.
“Is this it?” one of them whispered, his Batangeño accent undeniable. The other walked to me and asked in strained English. “Is this Alfredo’s wake, hijo?”
“Opo.” I killed my cigarette and extended my hand. “I’m his grandson, Bobby.”
“Our condolences, hijo.” In the old man’s eyes, I saw he needed more consoling that I did. “You don’t know us; but we are your grandfather’s old friends from Lemery. We grew up together.”
The other handed me the flower arrangement with a small ribbon that read: “The Always Gang Forever.”
“The Always Gang?” I was intrigued.
The two winked at each other and chuckled, “Ay naku, hijo, mahabang storya.”
For my benefit, Lolo Caloy and Lolo Gunding relived the adventures of The Always Gang — a name Dodong, the teenage posse leader who was to become my grandfather, christened his group — a spoof of Fernando Poe’s Low Waist Gang of the 1950s. I doubled up at their exploits with women, their street fights and their tested brotherhood that spanned five decades — all made grander in old men’s faded recollections. These kindred beings who had the fortune of knowing my grandfather before fortune found him, triumphantly revealed the gang’s escapades even as seniors, pulled off by telling their meddlesome spouses, children and grandchildren they were somewhere they weren’t.
I wished I spent family reunions talking to my grandfather instead of watching the clock. I wished I took a day off work to go fishing with him when he invited me. I wished I listened to his stories that began with “When I was young…”.
I watched Lolo Caloy and Lolo Gunding leave the chapel, wallowing in the melancholy of knowing what it meant to be too late.