gouache and ink on paper
9" x 13"
My grandfather's a farmer back in my mother's hometown. He'd wake up every single dawn at the same time, walk towards his land, tend to his farm and coconut trees, and a little before mid-day, he'd be back to eat his lunch of ripe tomatoes, dried fish and steaming hot rice sprinkled lightly with some salt. He'd hang around for a few minutes to play around with his grandchildren before he heads back outside to do the rest of his day time chores. This was how my cousins would tell me about his daily routine. Being one of his city-bred grandchildren, I only knew of him from stories my relatives would tell me each time any of them would come for a visit in Manila. I never really had the chance to hang around him except for those few summers my brothers and I were whisked off to the province.
It was during one of those summers that I did get to know a little of my grandfather, and it involved his aversion to bathing. You see, my grandfather only takes a bath once a year - during Good Friday.
"Seriously?" I asked my cousin Ruby when she told me about our Lolo Uto, while I was wiping a glob of spit from my cheek that she let loose when I discovered where she was hiding as we played hide-and-seek.
"Yeah," she muttered, as she climbed down from one of the thick bamboo beams of the bedroom's ceiling. "You want proof? Tomorrow's Good Friday, you'll see. He'll also be wearing his white shirt and shoes."
Come to think of it, the whole time I've been in my grandparents' house that summer, not once have I seen him take a bath. Neither could I imagine him wearing… shoes. I was pretty sure Ruby was passing one on me and I couldn't believe what I just heard.
Our grandfather… wearing shoes… impossible. That would be something short of a miracle. He's got farmer's feet. He has very thick callouses that even a half-inch long thumb tack that got stuck on his sole never even made him wince in pain. He didn't even notice stepping on it until Joy, a younger cousin, pointed it out to him. He merely plucked the tack from his thick, cracked sole, examined it for a few seconds and said, "Good thing it didn't get crooked. You can still use this," and handed it to a wide-eyed me.
The next day, when I walked out yawning from the bedroom, I saw my grandfather was wearing a stiff, ironed white shirt, and a pair of khaki pants. He was standing in front of the hallway mirror combing back the sparse white hair on his freckled, shiny head with some strong-smelling green pomade. He was humming lowly when I greeted him, "Good morning 'Lo." He turned his head around and the faint hint of a grin was on his stoic wrinkled face. I stood there by the doorway of the bedroom and just looked at him - awed. My grandfather, like Ruby said, has indeed taken a bath. It was unmistakable when I caught a whiff of the smell of soap lingering in the air mixing itself with the minty scent of his pomade.
He gingerly placed the comb on the small dresser in front of the hallway mirror, patted me on the head and slowly, with an uneven gait, began to walk towards the living room. I thought there was something odd with his pained gait until I saw what he had on. He was wearing a pair of shiny black shoes… real shoes! Those farmer's feet were squeezed inside a pair of shoes which seemed to be a size bigger than his feet. He wobbled slightly and walked measuredly, perhaps trying to steady himself as he maneuvered himself through the living room and outside of the door.
It was a vision of my grandfather that would stay would stay with me for years to come - an odd vision of him in his Good Friday best and the smell of soap wafting from his body.
"And it is the only time of the year when he'd actually go inside the church too," whispered Ruby in my ear when she crept behind me by the bedroom door.