Things I wonder about

Today I wonder what I will end up writing about.

I’ll be totally honest with you. I am in bed, watching a replay of American Idol, a deadline looming over my head, and I have not a clue about what to put down on paper. That is a reality that flits in and out of any given week: deadlines loom but ideas aren’t always there.

There are times when an article just writes itself because I either feel strongly about the topic or the thought that goes into it has been processed in my subconscious for so long the pages are not enough and it is easy to just go on and on and on. Sometimes I feel like I am caught in a dry spell. Today is definitely one of those times. What do you know: I’m blocked.

I’m toying with the idea of sharing with you the things I wonder about — like why young women never use hankies anymore; why we close our eyes when we kiss; why of all the animals I’ve met, the dog has the kindest face? I also wonder what it is about ice cream that makes me happy or why an old man or woman’s sense of humor is always right on the money. Does that come with wisdom and with age?

What do babies wonder about?

What do I worry about? A handful of stuff, but thankfully never for long periods of time anymore. Prayer has taught me that. When I am anxious about anything, I make a conscious effort to let it go.  Things have a way of falling into place anyway; they always do. The process is just painful sometimes, even sad, but it all trickles into some semblance of order, in due time. True, I cannot control everything but I can rely fully on The One who is in perfect control of everything. I refuse to wonder what a life without faith and prayer will be like.

I wonder what it is about time that heals, what it is about pain that makes us grow?

Memories… What do I remember? It has happened too often for it to be just a mere coincidence but when I am just lounging around, not trying to consciously recall anything I get flashes of the happiest times of my childhood. When I was barely 10, I remember going with my sister to the tennis court in Ormoc to watch Daddy and Mommy play tennis. Being small and young, I would wonder secretly why Mommy’s legs looked so nice and toned in her white tennis shorts when she was old already. Of course, now I know she wasn’t old after all; in fact, she was just my age now. No wonder she looked so young: she was. But of course when you’re just 10, 30 already seems so old.

We would hang out at the canteen right beside the tennis court, the Boy Scout Canteen it was called, and I remember how my sister Caren and I would eat many, many white squares of the toasted chicken sandwich that the canteen was so famous for. It was not a fancy chicken sandwich, but it ranks high on the list of the best chicken sandwiches I ever had. I wonder why no one makes them that way anymore? They did a most wonderful roast beef, too, with mashed potatoes on the side.

The Boy Scout Canteen was owned and operated by Tita Glenda who also happened to be the mother of Jimmy, one of the nicest classmates I ever had, and I remember her always looking so neat, and always with a ready smile on her lips. Why did they close down The Boy Scout Canteen when it was so wonderful to begin with?

When Daddy played tennis by himself without mommy, he would often come home with a balut vendor in tow and it was so much fun to hold the warm eggs, to gingerly break the shell, sprinkle rock salt right where the hole was and drink the warm broth all in one go, like a tequila shot. I remember how the balut vendor’s basket would be lined with layers and layers of cloth to keep the eggs warm.

We would play with sticks and stones, rubber bands and marbles, collect stickers and stamps, barter stationery and coins and paper money from places far away. Why was everything so much simpler then? Why do we fuss over the big things when it is the small things that really matter in the long run? We don’t always remember details of the grand gift, but we never forget the person behind it, we don’t remember the big parties, we remember the people who made it meaningful. It’s never things, but always people at the heart of it all. Why do people so easily forget this?

I wonder… do happy memories take up a bigger space in whatever box they rest in, in our brain? And where do the sad ones go? Do they even mingle with the happy ones, do they communicate, are they friends?

I wonder why dreams change as we grow older and why, like the first kiss, you also never forget your first dream. Mommy had a manicurista for the longest time, Belen was her name and she lived just down the street, very near our house in Bonifacio Street. She was always so neat, she wore glasses and I often asked my yaya why Belen was not a teacher when she could very well pass as one. She was pleasant and very proper but had a quietness about her that seemed to automatically make everyone talk in hushed tones, too.  Next to her, Yaya Juling seemed so noisy. Belen had a little bag that seemed magical to me then, as it still does now, each time I remember it: in it were little bottles of manicure fluid in different shades of red and maybe one or two whites; she had cotton balls and orange sticks, little brushes, and shiny nippers and pushers; a couple of nail cutters, too. I would watch her carefully as she cleaned Mommy’s toenails and fingernails. I wanted a bag and tools and effects just like hers, and I wanted to be just like her.

So, yes, my first dream ever as a little girl was not to become a princess or a doctor or a librarian; it was to become a manicurista. I told myself then: “When I grow up I will be just like Manang Belen.” I never did become a manicurista but I fulfilled a part of that dream in that I now have a little box of tools that sits on a shelf in my dressing room closet. I hardly use it because I can never do a pedicure or manicure as well as Jean or Novi does but I like that the little tin box is just there, waiting for me, and when Juliana wants to pretend we are in the parlor, we take it out and play together. I clean; she buffs, paints and polishes.

I wonder why adults almost never have time to take a siesta when as kids it was part of the deal. Siestas only happen again when you are either semi-retired or retired. Then you are allowed to smell the roses once again, you are expected even to slow down and take it easy and just guiltlessly watch life go by without having to grapple and wrestle with your own too much anymore.

I wonder why I love perfume now when I never cared much for it in the past.

I wonder what it is about Chippy that is so good.

I wonder why we fret so much about things that, 10 years from now, will not matter at all.

I wonder why every sunset is just as beautiful as the next.

I wonder what God’s favorite food is, if angels like popsicles, or if Mama Mary crochets in heaven.

I wonder why I still can’t cook as well as I eat.

I wonder what has happened to my some of my classmates in high school whom I’ve lost touch with.

Will we ever have the chance to know or thank all those who looked kindly upon us while we were struggling with something? I remember when I was just learning to eat with chopsticks and my cousins and I were vacationing in Manila. We ate at Kamameshi and the food just kept slipping through the sticks — I could barely manage. I looked up to find a very handsome young man (he was handsome, I remember that) laughing gleefully at me, telling everyone else in his table to watch me struggle, like I was the entertainment God sent him for the night. I should have been bothered but I wasn’t, because behind him a couple of tables away was an old lady, white-haired and dignified, who smiled at me encouragingly and from a distance showed me how to make friends with my chopsticks. That went on the whole dinnertime: she would look out for me from a distance, from time to time, even if she was with her own group of amigas (they all looked like they were doñas).  I did not learn everything that night but I was off to a good start.

Throughout my life, there have been many people, like the old lady of that night in Kamameshi, encouraging me just when I needed it most. I wonder why God is so smart to make the world in such a way that for every person that pulls you down, there will always be someone out there to catch and push you up again. No, I don’t want to wonder about that; I simply want to thank Him for that.

I wonder who blew out the candles on my cousin’s birthday cake? I was a little girl, easily under 10,  and we were gathered around the table for the day’s highlight, to sing my cousin her birthday song.  But before she could blow the candles, the flames flickered out. Two of the adults there looked at me accusingly and said kindly but firmly, “Don’t blow out the birthday girl’s candles.” It happened a second time and they looked at me again, like I was the only other person within distance capable of doing that. I wonder what made them decide I was the culprit; and more than that I wonder why I was too timid to stand up for myself and say I did not do it. Never again.

It is easy to forgive, but is it really possible to forget, completely? (I don’t mean my cousin’s birthday cake incident here.)

I wonder why they no longer give away, during weddings, those pretty little boxes that contain cake? I used to excitedly wait up for mommy and daddy to come home from the weddings and receptions they attended just for that.

I wonder why red kiamoy tastes best with water.

I wonder why my daughter loves erasers so much (she says for her 18th birthday she only wants 18 erasers!). Maybe because when I was her age I so loved pencils? Is there a connection there somewhere? Indeed, maybe we are two peas in a pod.

I wonder when I will stop being so shy that I can really, really dance the way I do when no one is watching, or when I will be brave enough, thick-skinned enough, to solicit from friends and strangers the money needed to buy the machines we dearly need at the Blood Program of the Philippine National Red Cross.

I wonder why, when driving, I can only do abante but not atras.

When asked about being blocked, an artist (I’m sorry, but I forget who; I only remember she is a songwriter) had this to say: “The piece you are writing today does not have to be your greatest masterpiece, it just has to be the one you are writing today.”

So I guess that is just what I am doing today: sharing at random all of the above, as quickly as the first thread of “wondering” thought rambles through my mind. Sometimes you just have to buckle down and do it, and simply go where the wind blows.

I wonder when I will be disciplined enough to really write every day whether I want to or not, like real writers do.

I wonder what you will be wondering about yourself after reading this.

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P.S. In my column last week, I ended up giving you the wrong number for the source of the Spicy Pork Alamang I said was so good.  I apologize for that, I only realized my boo-boo when I called to order more for myself and the number was not working! Anyway, this is the right number for sure: 536-3079.

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