“Nene, someday, you will be a teacher… I can see that. You have the brains… you will be the first teacher in our family. Everyone would be very proud of you.”
I was in Grade 2 then…and he spoke those words while we were on the elevated area of our 8-hectare farm back in Columbio, Cotabato (Philippines). Down there, we could see the golden rice grains, ready to be harvested. I could also see the long river, almost covered with tall trees and thick shrubs, where we would swim and go fishing on weekends. It was a heavenly sight.
Tatay (my father) was a typical farmer… hard-working, and devoted to his family. His life revolved around us, and his farm. He would wake up before 4am, cook breakfast for his family, then he would proceed to the farm. Before 7am, he would be back home, and we would have breakfast together. I remember him packing lunch for us, kids who were already in school. How I loved the lunch packed in banana leaf… the aroma it brought to my nose once I opened it. And before we leave for school, Tatay would hand in to us kids a few pieces of fresh eggs… our “baon”. (We would sell the fresh eggs to the nearby store, and the money proceeds we would use to buy snacks… or whatever school supply we needed).
Due to peace and order situation in Columbio, we had to leave our house farm and settle down in Tulunan, another town in North Cotabato. Tatay had to look for a land to till, as tenant. It was a big adjustment on his part, as he was used to be his own boss, tilling the land he owns. With a growing family, I saw how harder he tried to fulfil our needs.
The farm he tilled were rather far from our house, thus, he would sometimes stay in the make-shift nipa house in the farm and would only go home every three or two days. And always, he would be bringing us food, chickens and vegetables…
One day, Tatay got sick, complaining of stomach pain. The pain was too much that we had to bring him to the hospital. The doctor said it was an ulcer. We did not know that while in the farm, he sometimes forgot to eat, or perhaps he was too tired to cook for himself.
When we brought him home from the hospital, he was not the same Tatay that I used to know him. He was always angry, irritated. He was bedridden, thus, sometimes pillows would be flying inside the house just for simple reason. We children found it hard to understand him, but I have observed that Nanay was more patient, understanding.
One night, Tatay called me to his bedside.
“Nene, I don’t know when my time would come. I may die anytime. Please promise me… pursue your dreams… be a teacher, no matter what. You are the only hope of this family. You have the brains, and the ambition. Promise me you will be a teacher someday, and I will die happy…”
I did not say anything… I just hugged Tatay, very tight…and with tears flowing, I nodded my head, squeezing his skinny hands, kissing them. He smiled. I saw tears in his eyes.
The next morning, Tatay died… I was in Grade V then…
“Class, please pass your papers…”
The mention of the word ‘CLASS” suddenly brought me back to yesteryears… I saw Tatay in his bedside, his words ringing in my ears.
Through the years, I tried to pursue my dreams… forgot about what Tatay wanted me to be. I took a course in Mass Communication. All I wanted then was to join the professional world, earn an income, and send my siblings to schools, too.
But as Tatay wanted me to be, his desire led me to another profession… a teaching job. It was a sideline teaching, but I am a teacher, nevertheless….and how I enjoy it, too!!!
Tatay has been in the other world for about 40 years now, but never a day that I don’t remember him. He is alive… I feel his presence. I see his chinky smile…
I am sure he is very happy for what has become of me… very proud of me, just as I am very proud of him, as my father.
Tatay, thank you very much for what you have done to me. You continue to be my guiding star, my inspiration. The happy memories I have of our bonding time while you were still alive are enough for me to cherish my childhood. Someday, when I get the opportunity to go back to Columbio, Cotabato, I want to visit that area where we once seated one Saturday morning, when you told me those encouraging words… and then I would blurt out, “Yes, Tatay, I am now a teacher… I have fulfilled your wish….” # (Tess Superioridad Baluyos)