Minding the orphan-age (aka an Undas reverie): Our new abnormal (XX)

Published October 31, 2020, 8:40 PM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


Philip Cu Unjieng

I’ve been an orphan since September 2013, the year my father passed away. My mother left us in July of 1996. My Dad was 83 when he succumbed to various old age ailments; but especially painful to this day, is that my Mom was only 62 when cancer struck her down. So you’ll have to cut me some slack when I see posts of friends celebrating the 90+ birthdays of any one of their parents. It’s never too soon to be an orphan, and I’ll always feel a twinge of envy and regret.

With the COVID Community Quarantine still in place, this year’s Undas will definitely be very different for most of us. So I guess today’s column is written as an homage (back-handed though it may be) to my parents, to help my three sons know a little bit more about them – and to commit to writing what’s often been relayed to them verbally, during our family dinners. Both my parents characters in their own right, ripe with individual idiosyncrasies and traits that you either loved or cringed at, but you never forgot them. It’s also a reflection on how they would have coped with this most unusual pandemic year.

Remembering my father and my mom this weekend; Ricardo & Helen Cu-Unjieng.

My mother Helen was a hoarder! She was the original “I buy in BULK,” and my exposure to this kind of behavior from an early age, made me believe it was very normal. After she passed away, up in the bodega, we found big cartons of Ivory, Irish Spring, Pears, and Aveeno-Bar soaps. She was one of those “ready for a rainy day” shopper, loving to haggle with supermarket managers for a wholesale price based on her bulk buys. She’d even get chest freezers for the house, as she had the same attitude when purchasing food provisions.

When my Mom would join my father and play a round of golf, she would tape up her whole face with white surgical tape, wear the biggest pair of sunglasses, and play with a wide-brim hat. She was a believer in protecting one’s skin, and scared to death of sun damage and freckles. We would call her The Mummy as she’d leave the house with golf clubs in tow. Even a day at the beach would find her staying under the shade until her “healthy sun” hour of 4:30 p.m.

When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, she was the first wearing a face mask, anticipating the ash fall that reached Metro Manila. So yes, strange as it may seem to say it, she was “wired” for this pandemic, and would have been in her element. The household would have been fully stocked, face mask and shields would have been her just thinking she was out to play golf, and given her propensity to self-medicate, she’d even have concocted some regimen of pills and homeopathic cures to keep the virus at bay.

My father Ricardo loved his golf, playing up to four times in week. But funny enough (and the people who played with him, will attest to this), he also loved playing like he didn’t want to be playing. It was like he was playing his own version of Speed Golf, even when in a foursome. He’d hit his ball and zoom off in his golf cart, more than ready to tee off from the next hole, while we would still be putting on the previous hole. Privately, I nicknamed him Road Runner, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if I heard a “Beep Beep,” as he’d leave the wind behind him. And if there was a slow foursome ahead of us, he’d fume and complain, and skip holes to the chagrin of whoever were playing with him. And it’s not like he had anything to rush home for.

After my Mom passed away, he would maintain a relationship with my sons by periodically inviting them out for dinner. But even they had to laugh and rue the days they’d say yes, as if he’d call to say dinner was say, 6:30 p.m. (he liked to eat early, and be home by 8); by 5:45, he’d be outside the gate, having the driver impatiently blow the car horn. I’d remember back to the days when my brother and sisters were still single, and we’d head to Sunday Mass, and if anyone was late when my father was ready, he’d just drive off, and my Mom and I would have to follow in a separate car. Looking back, we all agreed his restlessness, being incapable of waiting his turn, could have been a mild, undiagnosed case of AD/HD (Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder).

And then there was Ricardo’s unique Christmas season. First off, he would mail Christmas greeting cards to his friends abroad in July. I kid you not! I can’t begin to count how many of these friends would reminisce about him by saying how every year, without fail, he would always be the first greeting them a Merry Christmas. I don’t know if he had some deep mistrust of the global Postal Service, or would just get antsy sitting at home.

Plus he couldn’t wait for the season of weekend community fairs and markets to commence – this was where he’d buy most of his Christmas gifts. And you can say “how cute,” and how he would have been supporting the ArteFino and MaArte’s of today. But if these weekend events would open at 10 a.m., he’d be there by 9:20 and insist on making his purchases, and leaving, by 9:50. Friends of mine who had booths would comment about how they appreciated my father buying their wares, but how he’d disturb their setting up, or insist on his change being handed to him before the event even officially opened. If he were still alive today, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d be the very first “Banned from ArteFino,” with his photo pasted by the gate so the security guards would know he wasn’t a vendor, and not to let him in before 10.

So this is my 7th year as an orphan; and in most orphanages, that could still be categorized as a “possible candidate for adoption.” On the long end of the stick, but not as bad as those orphan adolescents who linger beyond their shelf life, and end up in the orphanage “freezer.” I’ll even don a wig of red curls, respond to the name Annie, and belt out the lyrics of Tomorrow, if you’ll adopt me. Hmmm, that should have been my Halloween costume last night – and I’d have surely won any “Most Frightful and Inappropriate” competition.

Hope the above brought a little smile to your faces. Have a reflective and hopeful Undas.