Growing up as I did in our little barrio of Kauswagan, I only knew of Uncle Gaspar through the balikbayan box of chocolates, cigarettes, wine, and small appliances he sent every Christmas. Uncle Gaspar worked as a truck driver in Saudi, you see, together with his brother, my Uncle Diosdado. In the five years he was away, he sent money to Lola Estella to build a house and to buy a farm lot.
I always suspected that Uncle Gaspar was a mama’s boy. Mama said that even if he was naughty, Lola had always given him special attention. With Uncle Gaspar far away, Lola Estella would sometimes take out the photo album she kept in the aparador of their house. She showed us pictures of Uncle Gaspar together with Arabs in long, white gowns and equally long headscarves. Sometimes, the pictures were of Uncle Gaspar playing cards with other Filipino workers.
When I was ten, Lola Estella had a heart attack. After a few days in the hospital, she passed away, neither of her sons by her side. We sent a telegram to Saudi and Uncle Gaspar came home right away. Uncle Diosdado did not come home as his employer would not allow him to go on leave.
At the funeral, Uncle Gaspar did not speak much. He remained aloof all throughout, hiding instead behind large sunglasses. Not once did I see him cry.
Uncle Gaspar decided not to return to Saudi. He spent most of his time playing billiards and going to the cockpit. Since Lola’s house was located a few steps away from our house, I would often see him staggering home drunk late in the night. I asked mother why, and she said that maybe my uncle was just grieving over Lola’s passing. Maybe he also felt guilty for his absence as Lola lay on her deathbed.
Uncle Gaspar lingered for months in our little barrio, living the life of a layabout. It seemed that he had no direction or plan whatsoever. His relatives, mother included, wondered how Uncle Gaspar had become so lost.
It was Manong Osting who had the brilliant idea to lift Uncle Gaspar out of his rut. Though an old bachelor himself, thought marriage would give my uncle some direction and friends readily picked up on the idea. It turned out that Manong Osting had already someone in mind to match for my uncle. That was how Uncle Gaspar met Auntie Soledad.
Miss Soledad Tolod came from Dipolog City where she finished her degree in Elementary Education. She came to Kauswagan first as a substitute to Mrs. Carpio whose health condition was in decline. She became a regular teacher when Mrs. Carpio died.
I heard from the Grade 3 pupils that Miss Tolod was very strict. She would not allow students out for recess if they misbehaved in class. Gossip around our barangay said that Miss Tolod was a typical Bol-anon. They said that women from Bohol were maldita.
I witnessed the beginning of their courtship firsthand. Manong Osting and Uncle Gaspar were sitting and talking at the porch of Lola Estella’s house. I was playing nearby. Now and then, they looked in the direction of the elementary school.
“So what should I do first?” Uncle Gaspar asked.
“Just smile at her,” Manong Osting replied. He sounded very excited.
“Will that do?”
“That’s already a good start.”
“What if she won’t look in our direction?”
“Oh, she will. I’ll whistle,” Manong Osting cackled.
A few minutes later, I saw three women walking in our direction: Miss Tolod, with Miss Reyes and Miss Tabasa. I could hear Uncle Gaspar and Manong Osting whispering to each other. Manong Osting kept on giggling.
Uncle Gaspar looked very nervous as the women neared the house. I could hear him gulp. He looked at the women intently.
It was Miss Tabasa who first noticed my Uncle. Miss Tabasa nudged Miss Tolod with her elbow when she noticed that my Uncle staring at Miss Tolod. Miss Tolod didn’t quite know what Miss Tabasa was about, and so Miss Reyes pointed to Uncle Gaspar using her lips. Then Miss Reyes and Miss Tabasa giggled as Miss Soledad finally looked to the porch of the house.
When the three teachers finally passed by, Mang Osting and Uncle spanked each other on the shoulders and the arms as they chortled like little children. Manong Osting gave Uncle Gaspar a thumbs up sign.
Early morning the following day, I woke to a noise outside our house. I got up, and went out to see what the commotion was about. Some neighbors had gathered at the house of Lola Estella. Some sat on the ledge of the porch while others sat lolled on a bench. In the middle was Uncle Gaspar, looking tired. Despite his unshaved beard and unkempt hair, he looked like Phillip Salvador, his favorite action star. I could hear them talking about Miss Tolod and him.
“Oh, you should have seen how she looked at Kap!” Manong Osting said, referring to my uncle using his pet name. “I think she is already in love with him,”
“Should we prepare the long table then?” asked Bansin, the neighborhood bum.
“Wait, I thought going back to Saudi, Kap?” someone else said.
“The way things are going, I think, I will stay a little longer before I leave,” Uncle Gaspar answered. He winked at the men, and they all nodded in secret understanding.
The wedding happened three months after that. But to the dismay of many, it was not as grand as they expected. Uncle Gaspar and Miss Tolod settled for a civil wedding. The couple exchanged their vows in front of Mayor Lopez. Mama said that during the ceremony, Uncle Gaspar appeared very pale, and when Mayor Lopez told them to exchange their marital vows, it seemed that Uncle Gaspar’s mind had
drifted away, and Miss Tolod (now Auntie Soling to me) had to nudge him by the elbow to get him to pledge his side of the marital bargain.
Jayson teaches literature at the English Department of Capitol University, Cagayan de Oro City. He was a fellow at last summer’s Davao Writers Workshop.