I am thinking back on the soundtrack of my childhood and perhaps I can sum up so many of my happy memories in four little words: The Sound of Music. There is something very gratifying and peaceful about how the first bars of any of the songs can immediately make me go back in time. In a flash, I smile as I remember the times I played under sun and rain, what I collected (stickers and stationery), who my playmates were (most of the time the children of our favorite driver Manoy Delfin: Dayday, Boyboy, Jerry, Jessie, Yani), the games we played (waring-waring, marbles, rubber bands, Monopoly, Chinese garter). When I was little, I knew what I liked and did not like, for sure. The former included, among many other things: red hotdog, meringue, pastillas de leche, party spaghetti eaten with bread, dresses with full skirts, Barbie dolls, hula hoops, Reader’s Digest and Nancy Drew books. What I did not like: burgers, vegetables, French fries, fighting, horror movies, chicken drumstick, ketchup. As I grew up, there were more things I did not like: the color red (except when it was a lipstick), animal prints, perfume, yellow gold, sad endings in any movie, Danielle Steele (I would have loved her except for the fact that she always liked killing off characters in her stories — too tragic for me, way too much sadness in an already often-sad real world).
Now I do not know what shifted, or how and when it did, but I woke up one day last year wanting so much to eat a burger. Nothing strange about this, except for the fact that I spent the better part of my life not even eating anything that involved ground meat — nothing against it, it just never appealed to me. A burger would be the last thing I would order anywhere, ever. The only trigger I can think of was that I had watched a cooking show on one of the food channels, unremarkable for the most part except for how the cook revered his burger, as if he were preparing some food for a god. He waxed poetic about it, and it was a love affair between man and burger. Perhaps I got sucked into the story, so much that the next day I was willing to give a burger a chance. I remember thinking that maybe, just maybe, I was missing out on something.
The one I tried did not disappoint (in case you are wondering, I went to Lusso because Gaita Fores knows her food and she always gets it right) and thankfully, neither did the next, nor the many that followed after as the weeks went by. I became obsessed with burgers. A quick round-up of the ones I have tried in Manila: Burger and Brewskies, the sliders at Las Flores, the Peninsula Burger, the one my husband makes at home, the Quarter Pounder with Cheese at McDonald’s. It has not even been a year yet, and I have yet to be disappointed by any burger I’ve met. Yes, as you can see, I am majorly making up for lost time.
On a trip to New York late last year, I ate Shake Shack’s Shack Stack more than four times during our week-long stay there. I would line up (first with Juliana and Thea, who took us there), and then with Richard and Matt, all bundled up in the cold, in their branch at the Grand Central Station, in happy anticipation of a juicy burger topped with a deep-fried plump Portobello mushroom layered with cheese). It was madness. The thought of it now makes me giddy and hungry all at once. You open your mouth as wide as you can just so you get a good bite of everything stacked together and it is a beautiful burst of flavors — gorgeously soft bread, plump sweet tomatoes, cheese-squirting Portobello mushroom, juicy burger with ketchup and mustard dancing somewhere, joining the fray. You down it guiltlessly with a thick milkshake that pretends to be harmless and innocent, and as if that was not enough you order their frozen custard as well. When you get a meal so perfect you close your eyes as you enjoy it and gaze upward to give thanks. You just know the day is a gift and is very much part of God’s way of making life beautiful.
Moving on from burgers, I now have an even deeper appreciation for old things. They are very pretty. I like lola linens — you know, the beautifully embroidered ones we would see in our grandmother’s home, silver coasters, delicate china, carved wood, fine glass. I now like perfume, for their scent as much as their beautiful packaging, and I take pleasure spraying them on. At night, before I sleep, when I am already in my pajamas I use one very subtly scented with lavender. It makes going to bed and ending the day feel elegant and nice. I still do not like animal prints (at the most, maybe just a little of it on shoes or a belt) but I have started to incorporate a little red in my closet. I still do not like sad endings in movies and books. The Fault in Our Stars was the last sad film I watched and it felt like I had gone to 10 wakes. I remember I had to make pagpag in Army Navy after and down my sorrow with two servings of fried chicken.
I am at that stage in my life when I look at life and people with tenderness and sensitivity I always knew I had but somehow have even more of now. I think of all the people I love and tears well up in my eyes because I am just so grateful to be in a position to feel that deeply about them, grateful to love and be loved by them. And whereas before I would just keep quiet in the name of peace, I find myself speaking my mind, gently still but firmly enough to get my point across. At times, frustrated, I sigh and just take on something I had first delegated to someone else (except that he/she did not follow through with it) and also there is peace in that — there is peace in not pointing out mistakes and getting blue in the face trying to prove I am right. There is peace in not having to insist I am correct. Time will tell, anyway. It is a gentle ally. And oftentimes, just by just keeping quiet or walking away you have already won. In the past I was always rushing, through meals and most everything else, because I had so many things to do. I now relish long meals, reunions, and I make an effort to keep in touch with family and friends. In the winter of life, I will know for sure they are the real treasures, so why wait to connect with them then, when I can do it now?
I was talking to a good friend about it, about all this somewhat sudden weepiness and nostalgia and the awakening to things I never even knew I liked or had in me, as if I were discovering a part of myself I never knew existed, and she looked at me said simply but thoughtfully and said, “We have just grown up, that’s all. Maybe now we have become our mothers, our titas, our grandmothers. Life has changed us here and there. We have just grown up.” That makes perfect sense to me.
So here’s to life, and burgers, the color red, the gift of family and friends and all the ups and lows in between. Cheers! I know the best is yet to come.