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“ I Remember LOLO ANDOY…”
By: Amado A. San Mateo, his grandson
My memories of Lolo Andoy (Alejandro San Mateo(1888-1960)) are few, yet they are still as vivid as though they just happened yesterday. In our high-tech media of today, one might say they are just a few disconnected, yet clear and undiminished as though digitized, sound bites and video clips, floating around in my head. Perhaps this is because I never really knew Lolo Andoy that well, except for a few days, weeks perhaps or even months of short vacations interspersed in long periods of absence during which I attended to the business of growing up.
For Lolo Andoy lived in Sampiro – the land of the San Mateos and our relatives from the big city which we got to visit only on such special occasions as school holidays, fiestas and the like. There, you get to hear of such exotic places as Pandacan (which conjured images of “pandaks’ or dwarfs in a boy’s mind) where some of my tall, fair-skinned cousins lived, Sta. Ana (which somehow unfortunately got stuck with the word “cabaret”, as if our uncles and their families who lived there actually lived there!), and Paco (which not surprisingly never failed to evoke thought about nails, or “pako” of all kinds and sizes, even “pakong bakya”). Even Makati evoked questions – is it really “makati” or itchy there?
We, on the other hand, meaning the nuclear family of Marciano (or “Ciano”) San Mateo and Cresenciana(or “Sencia”)Almoro (our parents) lived in the boondocks – can you get any farther away from civilization than Canlubang, Laguna, whose backdoor opens to the mountains of Silang, Cavite, notorious for the cattle-rustlers and “tulisanes” of the times! Yet Canlubang was also the land of milk and honey(call it sugar) during its better days, a company town engaged in the very lucrative sugar industry. It was precisely this steady, predictable lifestyle that seemed to have attracted the young, ambitious and hardworking Ciano to settle and get married here, after spending a short time working for the coconut transnational Peter & Paul Company of San Pablo, Laguna.(and the U.S.A.). It was also for the very same reasons that theAlmoro family (the family of Sencia, our mother) came to settle here from Binan, Laguna; the ancestors of Lola Gonday (Raymunda Suagao, Sencia’s mother) however came all the way from the Ilocos. To make the long story short, I found myself growing up in the land of the Almoros (for this is a huge clan!); the San Mateos were just starting, as it were, out here far from the home base of Makati. In fact, the only San Mateos nearby that I knew of were the family of “Tio Oreng”(Jorge San Mateo) who lived in Calamba, Laguna, almost an hour away by horse-drawn “carretela”. And although at that time, everyone would call him “Tio Oreng” or Uncle Oreng, relative or not, it was not really clear to me how we were related, if at all.
But let us get back to the real hero in this story – our Lolo Andoy. I only got to meet my Lolo Andoy on those rather rare occasions when Itay (Ciano) would take us (only Ate Nene and myself, for Ruben was not born until I was five years old) to visit his relatives in Sampiro. I often wondered why our mother Sencia seldom joined us in these trips; it was only later that I learned that she could not stand the “long” trip due to motion sickness!!- something the Almoros, especially the girls suffered from. Perhaps she did not want to have to meet her in-laws after a “messy” journey, especially since these would be the rare occasions they would meet! And these trips were really few and far between, for Itay could not get away from his work at the “office” where he took care of the “books” of the Canlubang Sugar Estate as “tenedor de libros” or accountant. So, to me, these visits were very special and much awaited with eagerness and anticipation for they afforded new experiences for a child, from his first train ride to his first taste of “balut” at the train station. Such “firsts” no doubt left their imprints in my young memory and I am sure played a large part in the formation of my impressionable psyche.
Lolo Andoy was part of this mystique – the exotic, distant, rather unattainable. To my young mind, Lolo Andoy, by virtue of his age and bearing, was truly one among Emilio Aguinaldo and that venerable generation of heroes in their “rayadillo” uniforms with the “cerrado” collars, sporting their “chato” haircuts. Indeed I had heard stories from Itay that Lolo Andoy told him about his encounters with Jose Rizal (b. 1861) when Lolo was a boy living in Pasig. Not entirely surprising when one observes that Rizal’s nephew Trinitario Quintero, son of his youngest sister, Soledad Rizal married Lolo Andoy’s daughter Maria San Mateo, Itay’s older sister.
Although Lolo Andoy was of the delicate build and physical stature of Jose Rizal, his bearing was that of a tall, stately “Bombay”—those inscrutable early migrants from India that children from those days were so scared of because mothers would tell them the “Bombay” will go after them if they misbehave. For some reason, this reputation stuck long after the mothers stopped scaring their kids, because they usually got employed as guards of business establishments due to their huge physique and their seeming ability to endure sleeplessness for long periods of time. So, to a young child, a Bombay would really be scary! And again, this is part of Lolo’s mystique, not that he was scary to me, but that he represented things that I did not know and far away places that I had not seen, much like those Bombay’s. Who knows what strange and superhuman things he could do that were beyond the ordinary mortal, for I had seen him play the virtuoso ! Come to think of it, his stately bearing may have had to do with his marching about while playing in the marching band. In any case, Lolo Andoy always filled me with admiration, awe, respect and sometimes, even envy for I was never any good with musical instruments.
The more I think about him, the more reasons I see for being envious. He was the personification of the “strong, silent type”, so appealing to the opposite gender. His facial features were really “Bombay”-with the deep-set eyes, bushy eyebrows, thick eyelashes, complete with the “balbas cerrado” over his entire cheeks and chin, and the dusky skin that had the windswept look of the sailor of the world. (I heard that he was also a traveler to parts in Asia at least.)
His demeanor was no less mysterious-always quiet and reserved, never raising his voice. If he ever got excited at all, he never showed it! Come to think of it, he would rather whistle than talk. Was he perhaps more comfortable in the language of music than that of the spoken word? Or would he rather speak the language of the soul?
Yet even his whistle was not the usual kind. He had a unique way of making a hissing sound between his two upper front teeth, which protruded somewhat like those of a rabbit. As he played his lively marches this way, he never really tried to produce an honest-to-goodness whistle, but rather a hissing sound more like that which we would make when coaxing a child to “go pee”. He would do this, especially when he was all by himself—as if rehearsing a musical score in his head—and he would go on endlessly, often driving me to sleep.
But what I could never forget was the way he would look at me straight in the eye with those soulful deep-set eyes and quietly smile as if amused and waiting for me to say something, or do something that would surprise him. It was as if he was saying “Show me what you can do”. As if he was waiting for me to tell him a story or show him what I could do for all of my five years. But if he was ever disappointed he never showed it. He was always the patient, reserved, elderly gentleman.
About the only time I would see him get excited was when he would take out his musical instruments from their cases (and he had ALL of them so it seemed to my child’s eyes)- the “kornetin”, the “klarinete”, the trombone, even the “bajo” which I loved to follow all around town when the marching band came to play for the fiesta. To my surprise, all it could play was “oompah-pah”! About the only ones I could play were the snare drum and the “pompyang”, both of which really produced noise rather than music. Yet Lolo could play everything like a virtuoso. In him I saw the musical talent which would later surface in his descendants even up to the present generations (with or without professional musical training). And everytime our daughter Lani would play the piano, or our second son Renato would “play” the computer virtuoso I would remember Lolo Andoy. No wonder I am a frustrated musician.
During the “Japanese time” (WWII, when the Japanese occupied the Philippines, 1942-44), I got to know more of the relatives of Itay for they were forced to leave the big city and live with their relatives in the provinces. Lolo Andoy was then in his 50s, but he still carried a few of his precious musical instruments wherever he would go. However the mood of the time was not conducive to making music and his rehearsals were rare. He would rather take long walks around Canlubang for he seemed to enjoy the rural ambience more than big city life. He was ever the reserved one, and whenever he stared into the distance I could feel the rush of his memories from his long and adventurous past reaching back to the Spanish times, the Revolution, the American Occupation, and then the Japanese time- memories just waiting to be told. Could it be that there is so much to tell that he wouldn’t know where to start?
My final memories of Lolo Andoy were those of his funeral. I was already 25 years old by then, having returned from the United States after my studies, having married upon my return and just then waiting for our firstborn due in November. I was also by then beginning to settle down to what would turn out to be my lifelong career in the University of the Philippines. But somehow, my connections with Lolo Andoy were even stronger than before—for Itay entrusted to me an amethyst ring, Lolo’s birthstone which I still remember seeing him wear on his “pinky” during his musical rehearsals. Lolo Andoy, gave this heirloom to his eldest son Marciano, my father, who then passed it on to me as his eldest son.
When Itay gave Lolo Andoy’s ring to me upon my graduation at the University of the Philippines in 1956, it did not mean as much to me as it did later on when I realized the significance of Lolo Andoy’s legacy to my father.
I have since kept that ring so carefully tucked away that I will have to search for it soon—so I can pass it on to my eldest son Jesus Amado!
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