Do you remember the very first time that you felt like you were cared for?
For me, the memory stems from when I was 5 years old, living in the Philippines with my grandparents. At that time, I was the youngest of 9 grandchildren and was very much the baby. One day, all my older male cousins were making slingshots and the four of us were sitting behind the farmhouse, while surrounded by branches, pieces of leather and random tools. Being the eldest, Kuya Charles led the way and was showing Kuya Chito and Kuya Cocoy what to do. I was a pretty sharp kid and when I noticed that there were four of us and only three slingshots being made, I said to them:
“Hey, make me one too!”
“No, TJ. You’re too small and your mom won’t allow you to play with a slingshot.”
Hit me with your best shot!
Everyone, including me, was a little bit scared of my mom, so I sat there quietly and watched them take Y-shaped branches, carve them down, and attach them to square pieces of leather with rubber straps. I watched enviously, as they tested out the slingshots and laughed with them when the small toy actually worked. Once they each had one, they ran ran off to a nearby field to shoot cans, or bottles, or whatever it is that boys do with slingshots. They left me in the backyard, surrounded with residual pieces of the materials they were using just a few minutes before.
Not one to feel sorry for myself, I decided to make my own toy. I did my best to remember what my older cousins were doing, and of course, my slingshot was turning out to be very, very crappy.
It was a few minutes into my little project when my grandfather walked out of the house and asked me what I was doing.
“Making a slingshot,” I said.
“Why do you want a slingshot?”
“Because everyone else has one”.
I don’t remember this part too clearly, but I like to remember that he chuckled under his breath at my matter-of-fact attitude, as he walked back into the house. He re-appeared a few minutes later, holding a machete and a small knife.
“Come on. Let’s go and make you a slingshot”.
Yes! I smiled, dusted off my little hands and followed him into the backyard. At that point in time, the backyard was a large expanse of farmland, full of banana and guava trees. A small cement house, which served as the pigpen, stood nearby and I can distinctly remember the squealing of the pigs as my grandfather explained what we were doing.
“We need to find a strong branch, shaped like the letter Y. It can’t be too big. You need to be able to hold it properly”.
This was all the explanation I would get for a while as we walked from tree to tree, with my grandfather carefully examining each potential branch. A few times, he took the machete and chopped one down and it was quickly discarded because he didn’t deem it right for me.
After what felt like hours, I started to feel bad that my grandfather was wasting so much of his time on me. I was raised by a Tiger Mom, and efficient use of your time was something she instilled in me while I was still an embryo. I began to feel very anxious. I was afraid that I would somehow get into trouble for this. So I told him:
“Tatang, we can do this later. Let’s go back to the house.”
“But we’re here now. We can finish this now”
“But it’s taking so long..” I said as I looked back to the house worriedly.
“You need to learn to be patient, anak”.
Soon after, he found a branch that he liked and he started carving it down to a comfortable size for me. The shrill voice of my grandmother was carried through the trees:
“Villano! What are you doing out there?! Come back to the house!”
I tugged at my grandpa’s shorts, “Let’s go”.
He winked at me, “Your grandma needs to learn patience too”.
So I waited, as he kept carving the branch, and soon he was attaching rubber straps and a piece of leather to it. I thought that we were finished and he insisted on testing out the slingshot first.
“We have to be sure that you can take the perfect shot”.
So he picked up a pebble, placed it in the slingshot and aimed it at one of the pigs, and we listened to that little pig bitch squeal in pain with each stone.
No, I’m totally kidding. He aimed it a banana tree and I laughed with joy with each pebble that got imbedded into the trunk. My slingshot worked! My grandpa tried it five or six more times, just to be sure that it was working properly, and I got more and more excited with each round. Then he gave it to me and showed me how to use it. After a few clumsy attempts, I finally fired off a good one and I howled with laughter when my pebble hit the trunk.
Those banana trees had no idea. No idea!
My grandfather looked down at me:
“See? The perfect shot”.
Years later, as my immediate family moved to Canada, the distance between my grandfather and I increased. Even when he too, immigrated to Canada, the barriers between us remained. I was busy being a spoiled, bratty North American and he was busy trying to understand subways, and coffee makers, and snowstorms, and everything else that came with his new life.
He passed away in 2006.
And to this day, when my cousins and I get together, we talk about him. We share stories about his patience, his kindness, and the amazing way he managed to stay steadfast and strong within a family full of completely ridiculous and insane people. I get a little sad when I think about those final years and I hope he knows I always loved him.
I have a healthy respect for the spirit world. And whenever my dog barks at nothing in particular, whenever my kitchen door opens without anyone on the other side, or whenever I narrowly miss running over a pedestrian with my terrible driving, I know that it’s my grandfather. Wherever he is – call it the heavens, call it the ether, call it the Land of the White Buffalo – I know he’s still watching me. And he’s sitting silently, waiting patiently, for me to take the perfect shot.
Servillano Borile, with Susana Borile. Hottie with the body. Cutie with the booty.