I saw him many times in church before I actually met him. Tito Vinci was one of those who easily belonged to the old world, and not because he was well-advanced in years but because he had the ways of the gentlemen of old — the kind you only see in movies and read from books, nowadays. In short, he was a rarity. He had a fluff of white hair, his shirt, which was always tucked in, was as crisp as his perfect English. He always brought an umbrella with him and, rain or shine, his shoes were always clean. Also, he had this calm about him that was reassuring, even when we talked about earthquakes and super typhoons and other sad things like that. Nothing about him seemed frazzled or alarmed, ever.
I was a very new bride then, trying to navigate and find my footing in a world and place quite different from where and what I grew up in. Richard was working almost every day, and the day stretched out before me endlessly. I did all the things new housewives did — take cooking lessons, write “thank you” notes for wedding presents we received, pitter-patter around the house as I tried to put this and that in place. I barely knew anyone, save for Richard’s own set of friends who eventually became my first friends, too. Somewhere along the way I found myself enrolling in a gym and it was on a Friday, I remember, that I rushed from the gym to catch the 6:15 Mass. I was in a blue tank top, pants, and sneakers, my hair wet from the shower. I did not have time to go home and change so I snuck into the sacristy because I was not appropriately dressed. Mass was just about to start and this man that I always saw in church and knew only as Mr. Vinci Torres approached me, a missal in hand, and asked me if I could read the First Reading and Responsorial Psalm. The lector apparently had not arrived.
The first thing that came to my mind was that I was in a sleeveless top. “Never mind,” he said. “You have long hair, just put most of your hair in front.” And that was that. I covered as much of my bare arms as I could by fanning my hair in front and I read. He asked if I could come back the following Friday. I told him I would because I always heard Mass on Wednesdays and Fridays anyway. Soon I was reading regularly during the 6:15 Friday Mass with Tita Marian as my partner. I was Lector, she was Commentator. Tito Vinci was our mentor. He knew characters in the Bible like they were personal friends, he knew their history and significance to the day’s reading. Anything we were unsure of in terms of pronunciation he would teach us.
I called them my Fridates with Tito Vinci. For about 13 years, every Friday almost (unless either one of us would be absent), we would sit side by side at the Sacristy, first to go over the day’s readings, and then as we waited for mass to start we would chat. About random things. What the world was like when he was a child. How he was a very sickly child but how he regained enough strength to actually take up boxing as a sport. How he met Tita Nita, his wife, who was also very dear to me. She was an animated lady, who made things happen. Both were very active in church. Tita Nita passed suddenly, sometime in 2006 or 2007, I cannot remember the exact date. But it came as a shock because she was one of those that never got sick. There was a sadness about Tito Vinci then that made him seem so fragile. But he was strong and he went on with life, man of faith that he was.
Tito Vinci was very well read, the type who could quote Shakespeare at will. One Friday he asked me what my favorite work of Shakespeare was. “I’ve never read Shakespeare Tito Vinci,” I said. He looked at me incredulously. “You must read Shakespeare! At least once a year!” Which was what he did. Then he broke into a hearty laugh. Other times, he would sing a song in the middle of a story he was telling me. Tito Vinci was endearing as he had all these little quirks about him — even at home if the National Anthem played on the radio, he would stand up, hand on chest, and sing along. He loved Ulcing’s lechon and Lapid’s chicharon. During my birthday he would always be my first caller, I would answer my phone and he would sing the Happy Birthday Song.
Tito Vinci died in his sleep a few weeks back. It was a homecoming to God as peaceful as the man he was and the life he lived. His health had deteriorated over the past couple of years and one regret I have is that I saw less and less of him because he hardly ventured out of the house. By then, we had also moved to another part of town. After cremation, his family said they were giving me the Mama Mary that was in their room and his gold-leafed copy of Shakespeare’s work. That brought me to tears. I will treasure them so, in memory of him.
Here was a man who, through many Fridays of my life, gave me insight into many things. Through what he shared with me about his life I came face to face with such virtues as charity, simplicity, purpose. There was nothing silly about Tito Vinci even as he had a good sense of humor. I thank him for opening the doors for me to serve as a Lector for quite some time — it kept me rooted to the things that should matter most. I especially learned from him how to look at the bright side of life. He was no stranger to heartache, having lost a daughter who was just in her 20’s. But instead of saying they had her for just a short while he would always say that he was thankful God lent her to them for all of those years. With him, life was a matter of perspective. I never forgot that.
In my closet is a shirt that I have carefully folded. It is a shirt that Tito Vinci and Tita Nita painted for me when they went on their last cruise together. It is precious to me, and I do not wear it, for fear that the artwork will fade with each washing. I feel blessed to have known them, to have been welcomed like family into their lives, even if for just a while. They are together again now.
Thank you for everything, Tito Vinci. Through all those whose lives you have touched, mine included, your memory lives on tenderly.