Juan Arriola

March 19, 1920April 29, 2012

To Lolo I grew up as one of three siblings, and despite growing up surrounded by people, living in a relatively large extended family under one roof can indeed make growing up quite enjoyable. I imagine that a lot of you may know how it feels to be a member of a big family. It would be strange to say that despite living in a house that includes several cousins, aunts and uncles, and of course your grandfather and grandmother, that you could claim to have been influenced by everyone equally in the same amounts -- however, I admit now that I have been influenced only by a few. It is my claim that I've had few people influence me the way I am now more than my grandfather.

Despite this claim, it is interesting to note that for the better part of my life, I have not known him as much as I would have liked. Or perhaps for some, it is better for me to have known him without the tarnish of dementia that have clouded his mind. When I was young, I viewed my grandfather as the greatest arbiter of household law -- not even my father was higher than he was. There was a time when I actually believed he could read our minds. Understandably, I was utterly scared of him. Despite trying to avoid his all-seeing eye, we as children do forget he was around except when we made the all-too-usual mischief that children are too often in the habit of doing. Then that would mean scampering for safety when he ultimately finds out about our mischief, no one knows more of this than one of my brownhaired cousin.

I remember my cousins running about away from him, while he, holding some form of stick and chasing them this way and that around the house. Truth be told I have only been chased once, whilst my other cousins have for uncountable reasons have had plenty of those. Maybe it is because I understood him and knew right from wrong as much as he did, or maybe being eponymously named after your grandfather gives you some sort of protection, sadly, I am no longer in the position to ask him.

Over the years as I was growing up, he was a constant that I thought would always be there. Admittedly, I say this because I never had a longer-lasting relationship with a father-figure than I had with him. My father in contrast, was constantly out of the country as he worked in Saudi Arabia. Grandfather was always there, despite the deep-rooted fear of him that I still had, by then I still somehow that his wisdom was such that he could read my mind, a quality that seems to me now, was something that bordered on the mystical.

I avoided him in my childhood and during pre adolescence, that deep-rooted fear made me unconsciously avoid him. It was during that time when he ran for barangay captain, that gave a great opportunity to know 1010 a bit better. And yet, I still knew so little about him. I wanted to know more about him, to ask him about the past -- his past. What he did, where he came from. I started to learn bits and pieces of him; he was a veteran of World War II; he was the president of President of Veterans' Association of the Philippines in our area. He spoke really decent English, which to me was a great deal when I heard him do it with another fellow World War II veteran who visited one day.

His room backed up as an office with that dark-colored table and a simple divider that separated his sleeping quarter from his office. We still have that colossal antique table of his. Grandfather was always receiving visitors in his office, I still remember the hanging sign that said "Philippine Veterans Association," out front hanging above the gate. He gave me one advice one day, "A smart person will never become a porter." His -- our home, was located near the port and he tried to impart to me that without a brain, you only have your strength to rely on.

One day, without realizing it, he was gone. He went to America, and there I thought was where we would meet again one day ... I would be wrong in this, twice. He came back to the Philippines for reasons I no longer remember. We lived again with him like he never went away. He would cook for us vegetables which he took around the house, it tasted vile, but I managed to swallow those things he cooked. A lot of my cousins would concur on his overriding rule of us eating our vegetables. We were to eat them or suffer his wrath. We used to chuckle about these vegetables he made us eat. This is one memory I will hold and cherish. My love for eating vegetables as a man is because of lolo Juan. I'm sure my other cousins would agree to this.

My belief in right and wrong, I take from my grandmother and mother, and yet my ability to empathize to determine right from wrong has a lot of my grandfather in it. This comes from a lunch taken with him, about around the time he came back briefly to the Philippines from New York. We ate the regular course of rice and viand, when I noticed he kept pushing the plate of rice back at me, I asked him why he kept doing that and he replied "you may not have noticed before, but you kept pulling the rice and not returning it in the center of the table." It may not have the same significance to you as I did -- but that lunch with him when it was just the two of us was the greatest pedagogical experience I've ever had. It was like a switch being turned on for the first time in my young mind that the things you may do now, has an indirect effect on others without you even realizing it. That was the day that the ability to empathize became rooted into my psyche.

He gave me a gift one day, a really large Thesaurus. I thank him for that book, it served me well. He really emphasized developing the intellect. He believed in it.

However, later on during his brief stay, I would see little signs of what we would later come to see as dementia ... signs like, giving me viand that was already way past gone to the other side of where cooked food go to retire -- food heaven, if there's a thing.

Later when he was already back to America, I was surprised to learn that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Despite the signs I saw, I could not have realized he had it. He was to me, someone so strong that I believed that his sheer will could defeat any illness he had. That he was invincible. As his illness progressed so did his strength ebb away in little pieces like the memories he lost from Alzheimer's.

Despite this, during a call I promised to see him when I graduated from college -- even though I knew he wouldn't remember, I would. A promise I have now failed to keep.

His deteriorating health and prognosis over the years were always grim, despite this, his spirit and will to live kept him alive longer than what all those who told us so often that I personally have taken their prognoses with a grain of salt and a dash of prayer. He always came through, he lived, and he was loved. He defied them all until the end, we were told he was going to live just a few days more -- he lived more than a month. And now, I truly believe that despite his passing this world he is still giving us strength and inspiration from heaven.

With his recent passing, the plans I made to ask him about himself, his past, his achievements have not fallen upon fellow loved ones. We each keep his memory alive in our hearts and I've resolved to collect these memories and to cherish them.

I've asked lola Fallon, about lolo and what she had to say swelled my heart. I learned that he was someone who was good person, someone who despite being someone brave was someone who was afraid of his wife -- a man who loved my grandmother, his wife very much.

I've asked one of the few people he was close to before he went to America about him, and what he said was that lolo Juan was the best man he knew. He was good and considered every friend and relative like they were immediate family. Sincerely religious and good. He was a devout Catholic.

Lolo Juan, was the last of his generation. And he will be remembered dearly. He was and is a person I admire and look up to. He survived war, he survived longer than doctors ever thought he would, and now he survives, he lives, in our hearts.

Lolo Juan is unlike any I've met, strong-willed by conviction and just, full of character but nevertheless moral in every way, He was devoutly religious, never failing to remind us to go to church every Sunday. A loving, caring person who truly believed in love. He personified wisdom and strength. Not once have I imagined him as a frail old man, but a man who stood straight, with dignity and fire in his heart. This is a memory of him that I've committed in my head. A man I only until recently realized that I secretly wanted to become -- whose qualities I valued most above all.


  • Visitation Saturday, May 19, 2012

Juan Arriola

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