With both parents working and no living grandparents, I was the kid who bounced around from home to home after school. One of those homes was Tita Oding’s. She lived in an attic apartment on 112th and Avenue G, just kitty-corner from Annunciata grade school. She told me she would watch be from her kitchen window during recess. Once the school bell rang, I’d race across the street and up the 13 stairs to her apartment. I was always greeted with a warm smile and hug, and a Filipino cookie (Barquillos were my favorite). I would do my homework, watch some TV and graze on awesome Filipino food. Around 5, depending on the day, I’d say goodbye to Tita Oding and walk a few blocks, either north to the East Side Little League field for a baseball game/practice, or south a few blocks to meet my dad, who would always promptly be home at 5:30.
Manong Jun was like a drop-in member of our household. Although he was technically my cousin, he was significantly older than me, and was more like an uncle. I adored him. He took me to concerts (including the first of a half-dozen Cheap Trick concerts I’ve attended), he taught me a lot about electronics (lessons that I — and many others — have benefitted from whether its setting up surround sound for a relative or managing audio at my church), and “rescued me” from the Chicago Skyway after my first car accident. He was such a good role model. He truly lived his life selfessly, and would sacrifice anything for the people he loved.
I never had the opportunity to thank Tita Oding and Manong Jun for the impact they had on my life. They moved more than a decade ago back to the Phillippines. I became busy, with a family of my own and a growing career. At times I thought I should write them, but Facebook and email seemed so impersonal. I meant to send a card and letter, but never etched out the time to write one. I could’ve called, but I just don’t like long phone conversations.
After my dad died two years ago, my mom and I talked about planning a trip to the Phillippines together. This visit with my mom would be perfect. I would finally be able to express my gratitude to Tita Oding and Manong Jun, in person.
But it’s expensive to fly to the Phillippines. There were too many family and work commitments. It made sense to save up for such a trip rather than charging it. Maybe next year. Or the year after that.
Tita Oding died last March. And Manong Jun died last night. They died not knowing how thankful I am. They died without knowing how much they impacted me. They died without knowing how much I love them.
A character trait they both enforced in me was the importance of family. Friends are great to have, but when it comes down to it, blood is thicker than friendship. I failed to heed this wisdom. I was too busy with my own life to thank them for helping to make me who I am and how much they mean to me. And now they’ll never know.