Grandpa Jose died three days ago.
They said that it was due to a lung complication contributed by his age. But when my Mom heard it, she only scoffed "Tell that to his cigarettes."
You see, nobody liked Grandpa that even his own children harbored some resentments towards him, especially Mom.
According to her, Grandpa was a very domineering parent. He had raised his children in a Spartan-like environment that a simple disobedience on his imposed rules was like a capital punishment as if they could be jailed for life. To what extent the severity I have no idea, but there was an instance wherein Mom went to school without any allowances because she failed to pass her math quiz.
Despite those grudges, Mom decided to attend his funeral today.
I immediately spotted Aunt Ruth as I parked our vehicle in the driveway.
"The prodigal daughter has arrived!", she greeted Mom as she went out from the passenger seat.
"Hey, is this your way of welcoming a person who traveled hours just to arrive here?"
"I'm not going to do any effort of meeting someone personally if it's just a mere person."
Mom only rolled her eyes upon hearing her jeers.
Sometimes I find it weird how these two sisters interact with each other as if they were enemies. But in reality, they were the closest among the siblings.
"Oh my, you've grown taller!" Aunt Ruth exclaimed as she approached me. "I believe we're almost the same height the last time we've met."
"I'm on my senior high that time, Auntie." was my humble reply.
She smiled brightly then cupped my face with her palms. "You're getting more like our dead father."
"Blame it on that old man's strong genes.", Mom scoffed indignantly.
I couldn't tell if that was a compliment or not.
The wake was held at Grandpa's house. The two-story bungalow was made of bricks and wood, and as far as my memory serves right, some parts were renovated and torn down in order to preserve its durability.
Before I could enter the house, Uncle Matthew waved his hand to catch my attention. He was sitting on the porch together with his daughter, Mary.
"I'm glad you made it," he said. "I never thought the Academy would allow you to file a leave."
"I'm also here as their proxy, Uncle."
"How many days are you going to stay here?", Mary asked. "There's a new resort here and I bet you'll like it."
"I'm sorry but I have to decline that offer. I only got a one-day leave. Maybe I'll take your offer on my next visit."
"Urgh, aren't they supposed to give you a credit?"
I chuckled on her sullen face. "You mean preferential treatment? Haha, it's the other way around."
Before we engrossed ourselves into discussions, I excused myself to pay my respects to Grandpa.
His casket was placed in the receiving area with a flag draped on its top. Several flowers and condolence messages were placed around the room, as well as the medals of his valor.
It's been a while since I last saw his face. Too bad our reunion this time was with his lifeless body.
My initial impression of Grandpa was him being a straight-laced person - scary but not a bad one. His prominent features when I was little was his white crew-cut hair, deep voice and intuitive eyes that could pierce straight through your soul.
Come to think of it, when was the first time I went here?
I wasn't aware that I said it audibly until my Mom answered: "You're six that time."
A faint memory bugged me for some reason.
"I think Grandpa told me something back then, but I can't seem to remember it anymore."
She shrugged her shoulders. "It must be something insignificant for you to forget it."
I was about to retort something when Aunt Ruth called us for some snacks.
Before I followed Mom, I glanced at Grandpa's solemn face and made my salute as a brother in arms.
The aroma of a freshly baked bread swamped my senses as I entered the back garden. Two long tables were set there filled with trays of sandwiches and bowls of macaroni soup served just enough for the guests.
Someone tapped my shoulder. "Hey dude, long time no see!"
"Hi, Peter. What's up?"
"Same as usual. You."
Peter was one of my cousins who almost the same age as mine. He was currently a teacher trainee at a local elementary school.
"How's your life as a cadet?" he asked.
"Nothing that's worth mentioning, I guess."
"Who would've thought that someone in the family will follow Grandpa's legacy?" he snickered. "No wonder you're his favorite grandchild."
"Really? That's the first time I've heard it."
"You're always the main topic of discussion." my cousin said. "He might have a tight-ass attitude yet he always brags you to other people."
Grandpa might not be vocal and showy on his emotions but I never felt any special treatment during those times I stayed with him. Communication aside, I could count the visits I made with my fingers.
After getting our food, we joined Mom, Uncle Samuel and Aunt Rebecca who were eating together with an elderly couple on the patio.
They were in a middle of a conversation when Mom noticed something.
"Hey, isn't it one of Mum's silverware?"
Aunt Rebecca frowned when she raised the spoon. "I don't see any problems here since Mum always use these whenever we had visitors." then added, "Besides, they're not plated - if that's your concern."
"As if I never knew that.", Mom muttered as she twirled the spoon with her fingers. "I'm just surprised how expendable these antiques are despite being stockpiled for several years."
"Well, it goes to show how your mother Judith values her things.", the elderly lady inserted.
"I thought these were real back then because our old man was using them as a symbol during his sermon."
"Born with a silver spoon in the mouth, huh.", Uncle Samuel reminisced. "These must have been sold or stolen long time ago if they're real."
"Utensils were precious for minting bullets and some weaponry during war.", the elderly man commented. "And for silvers, it has an antimicrobial property that self-sanitizes itself."
"You're a medic during the world war, right Gramps?"
The elderly man nodded as he began to share some of his war experiences and times when he was involved with Grandpa's troops.
Aunt Rebecca interrupted the conversation. "This might be unrelated, but do all military men have neat table manners?"
She was eyeing how I held my bowl and sandwich so I reacted "It's just a forced habit I adapted unconsciously, but not all of us got stuck with it."
"You know, he had the worst table manners when he was a kid. He was also very nitpicky with food. A nosy and noisy brat." Mom gave me a wink. "If only I knew that he'll be straightened out like this, I should've sent him to the military service a long time ago."
I couldn't help but rolled my eyes at her ridiculous words.
I stared at the utensil on my hand then redirected the subject. "I've heard that silver spoons were traditional gifts for the christening and believed to bring luck and prosperity to the child. But silvers were expensive during the old times, so receiving one from a well-off godparent is lucky enough. But if the child was born into a rich household then there's no need to bother since the family can get it easily. That's how the quote 'every man was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth' started."
Everybody went silent.
"Erm, did I say something wrong?"
I looked at Mom for an answer but she only shook her head.
I, later on, learned from Peter that the reference I quoted from Don Quixote was the infamous words Grandpa often used for his scoldings.
After we finished eating, I was given a task to fetch something from Grandpa's study room.
It looked smaller than before, but some things remained the same like the shelved books, the pinball that was covered with light dust, and the huge painting of a couple in their wedding clothes that greets you at the entrance.
The youthful beauty of Grandma Judith was captured well, with a glint of happiness visible in her eyes. Grandpa, on the other hand, has the same stoic feature yet his facial expression seems alive.
"You can't help but be envious of them." a feminine voice echoed behind me, and when I looked back, I saw a middle-aged woman in mourning clothes.
"We all share that same sentiment," I replied.
The jealousy of seeing my grandparent's painting was nothing compared to those who had witnessed their romance that was strengthened through time.
Everybody said that it was true love.
Grandma Judith came from a well-endowed family while Grandpa grew up in an orphanage. The two first met during a town festival's ball organized by one of Grandma's family friends.
It was a love at first sight.
The courtship was not easy from the beginning.
When Grandma's father discovered their relationship, they were separated by forcing Grandma to be engaged with a tycoon. To make the matters worse, Grandpa was enlisted to be deployed overseas for the war.
The two promised to wait for each other, which I find impossible on that kind of bloody era, but they remained true to their words.
Grandpa returned years later not only as an unscathed person but also as a dignified hero. His performance and near-death experiences during the war earned him rank promotions, which became a credit to win Grandma over.
A few months later, the two got married.
And the rest was history.
"They told me you were looking for your grandfather's hat.", the woman said as she went to Grandpa's tall cabinet.
She produced a key from her dress pocket, opened the cabinet door and pulled a blue-colored military cap. Its design matched well to the uniform Grandpa was wearing as his burial garment.
"If only he can wear this cap inside the casket.", I snickered which earned a nostalgic smile.
"You really took your grandfather's semblance."
"As they told me." I shrugged my shoulders. "By the way, I've heard that you'll be moving out to live with your son."
"I have to focus my remaining energy for my grandchildren now that I'm retired as a caretaker here.", she answered then gave a heavy sigh as she glanced at the portrait again. "I bet your grandfather will never be lonely anymore."
I nodded silently then headed downstairs.
Several years have passed but I could still remember Grandma Judith and her baked cinnamon muffins. Her smile was as warm as her delicious meals, and even though we rarely see each other, she would always treat me with fondness.
It was unfortunate that she died before I was able to get to know her more.
Unlike Grandpa, her wake lasted for two weeks since they have to wait for Uncle Samuel's return from his medical mission. It was my school break that time so I was able to stay overnight in the house with my cousins after the burial, though we were not allowed to play much or we might face Grandpa's wrath.
If I didn't go out for a toilet alone and peeped inside the study room that night, I might've not witnessed Grandpa's other side.
He was sitting in the dark, and the moonlight that shone from the windows was enough to illuminate his solemn figure. With his fragile hands on his face, he shuddered and wept for his wife.
Such display of weakness was the reason why he withdraws himself from everyone, but for a six-year-old me, I saw an image of bravery.
"What took you so long?", Mom complained much to my chagrin.
She was busy helping Aunt Ruth in organizing the memorial service, especially after the casket was loaded into the funeral car.
"You didn't tell me it was inside the locked cabinet," I grimaced as I handed her the military cap. I was tempted to try it on just to know if Grandpa and I shared the same head size, but decided not to out of consideration.
"Too bad he can't wear it."
"Well, we can bury it with him so that he can wear this in the afterlife."
I looked at the clear blue sky as I recalled the caretaker's words. "I bet Grandpa will never be lonely anymore."
Mom only patted my shoulder as a reply.
Mom may not admit it but her jealousy towards her parent's love story drove her to elope with my Dad. Of course, it wasn't my grandparents' fault why my mother was preposterous, but it was them that made her seek true love.
The sight of Mom's crouched back as she walked towards the cemetery answered all the possible reasons why she didn't want to visit this town, and why Grandpa shed a tear back then.
It was a very humble funeral service with few but important guests. Most of them were veteran soldiers who worked with Grandpa before, and if it wasn't a short notice, there might be some high-ranking officials and media attendees.
The draped flag was folded by the uniformed men and ceremonially passed to Aunt Rebecca. A solemn sound of the trumpet played by our youngest cousin Miriam, who was a brass member, reverberated as the casket was lowered to the ground. Volley shots of rifles filled the air as everyone stood up, and as expected, I was the only person in the family who gave the final salute.
Uncle Matthew called my attention when the crowd started to disperse.
"I know you'll be leaving after this, but can I ask a bit of your time?"
I glanced Mom who was still staring blankly at Grandpa's tomb.
Sensing my worries, he squeezed my shoulder. "Don't worry. Your aunts are there to accompany her."
"Then I don't see it as a problem."
We could see the vastness of the cemetery as we reached the higher ground, and under the big willow tree, we sheltered ourselves from the afternoon heat.
I spotted the area where the funeral took place. I didn't see Mom there anymore, as well as the mourners.
"Grandpa was buried beside Grandma, huh."
"It goes without saying," Uncle Matthew replied. "Besides, Dad might haunt us if we buried him somewhere else."
Before I could say something, he pulled a small box from his breast pocket. "We had a discussion among siblings, and we all agreed to let you have this."
Inside was a dented silver spoon chained like a dog tag. It has an antique feel with its scribbles on the spoon's handle and some ornamental decors on its head's base.
"Wait, isn't this Grandpa's necklace?!", I exclaimed as I closed the lid and handed the box back to him. "I'm sorry, but I can't accept such important memento!"
"Didn't I tell you that we all agreed - which means everyone - that you take this?", he chuckled as he pushed the box back into my hands. "This is not from Dad's technically, but from Mum's. You know about the history behind the silver spoons, right?"
Silvers were like IDs during the old ages to determine your social status, and since people would always carry utensils, having a silver spoon means that you came from an elite class.
"That pendant was actually Mum's heirloom."
All the blood drained out from my face when I heard his words. "That's more the reason why I can't accept it!"
"You're one of Mum's descendants too, you know."
There was a melancholy in his eyes as the cool wind blew his grayish bangs, so I decided not to press my concerns further. He continued.
"Mum gave that spoon to Dad as a charm so that her ancestors would protect him on her behalf." Uncle Matthew went on. "Dad turned it into a necklace for convenience. And ever since then, Dad would always wear it on a daily basis, even until his last breath."
"But why me?"
He could sense my hesitance, so he personally took out the necklace from its box then put it on me.
It wasn't heavy as I originally thought.
"The reason behind why no one went to any law enforcement careers was because of Mum.", he smiled fondly. "'Don't be like your father', she would always tell us. But even without her discouragements, we have no intentions to follow Dad's path. Not only because we didn't feel like it but because we didn't want to end up like Dad. We didn't want our Mum to know that every night her child was being disturbed by horrible nightmares such as tortures and deaths, or that one day she might receive a phone call telling her that one of us died fighting for our country. She had enough trauma dealing with Dad's. We didn't want to break her more."
"Grandma wasn't here anymore." I reminded him.
"I know." he ruffled my head much to my dislike. "If she was here, she might faint knowing that one of her grandsons followed her husband's path."
I clasped the spoon with my hand as I remembered the day I told Mom about my career path.
"We don't know what the future might bring. Maybe in a few years time, we'll be facing a war and you'll be sent in a battle zone fighting between life and death. You might experience the same horrors as Dad's, or probably worse God forbid." he said as he stood up. "I'm not a superstitious believer, and so are you, but I don't see any problems if you'll wear it for us."
The words that Grandpa uttered back when I was six began to resurface as I walked towards the car.
Mom was waiting for me inside the passenger's seat. Despite the thick make-up, I could still see the traces of her red, puffy eyes.
"Got some dust." she reasoned before I could even ask.
I slipped into the driver's seat and grumbled, "You're always telling me I'm like Grandpa even though it's actually you who took after him."
"Want me to dishonor you as my son?"
Her vicious glare reflected on the mirror had me laughed hard. I was expecting her banters but the sight of the spoon necklace on me dampened her mood.
"So you accepted it.", she said as she reached out to touch the pendant. "Looks good on you."
Several emotions were swirling in her eyes she barely noticed the tears falling on her cheeks. Trying to brush it again as a dust allergy, she turned her head to the windows.
"Mom?", I asked. "Did you hate your dad?"
"Don't make me point out the obvious."
"I just want to confirm." I murmured as I turned the engine on. "Because I hate my dad too."
She shot me a glance. "This is unrelated -"
"I know, Mom. But I couldn't help it." I blurted out calmly before she could finish her sentence. "I just remembered that Grandpa shed a tear on a moment like this before."
She focused her attention again on the windows. "Of course it's a given. His wife died back then."
"I'm not talking about Grandma's funeral. I'm talking about what happened years ago back when I was six."
She gave me a flabberghasted look.
Her reaction wasn't a surprise to me because I haven't told her anything about it. Not because I forgot all about it but because it was painful to see her struggles since it was connected to the reason why I was first brought to this town.
It was also the reason why I joined the military.
My parents decided to live far away from Grandpa's influence in order to avoid his wrath.
It was a happy union at first, until such time my father became a gambler. Mom, who was head over heels in love with my Dad, was tolerable on his misgivings.
Everything went downfall when she received her first beatings.
No divorce was filed in the court since they weren't married before they had me. After several debacles, Mom won my custody.
This angered Dad most, so he decided to take me by force.
I couldn't remember how many nights I've cried for Mom and the beatings I received for being a 'bad boy' until one day, the police showed up and took Dad out of the house.
Mom was there to the rescue.
A few days later, we traveled to this town to meet my grandparents for the first time.
It didn't take me that long to know the courage Mom had mustered to save me from my father's clutches and the self-preservation she had crushed to ask Grandpa for some legal assistance.
"When I was six," I told her. "Grandpa cried because he couldn't protect his family."
Mom remained silent as I recalled the night Grandpa called me alone in his room as he asked for my forgiveness. I'm not sure if Grandma was there, and if she did then she must've kept it all by herself.
That her strong-willed husband knelt down and sobbed in front of a toddler.
I hated my Dad - no, I despised him. But the emotion I had with my father was way different to Mom's hatred towards hers. Her Dad never raised a hand to his wife and cherished his children more than his life.
"It's not his fault that I ended up this way, or have regrets on my ill-fated youth.", she answered matter-of-factly then squeezed my shoulder. "Besides, I am more than happy with what I have right now.",
"Mom?" I asked without tearing my gaze off the road. "If you were given a chance to travel back to the past and talk to Grandpa, what would you tell him?"
She was silent for a moment.
At first, I thought she was thinking about her answers but when I saw her face in the rear mirror, I realized that I poked an internal wound that she tried to hide from anybody.
It was a very Grandpa-like attitude.
"I'm going to blame his bossy attitude and his awkwardness that earned him the 'Most Un-cute Dad in the World' award.", she replied bitterly. "That thanks to him, my son was inspired to follow his tracks. That one day, he will be as loyal as him that he'll leave his mother once he's married -"
"C'mon, Mom. That's so -"
"Will you shut up for a minute? I'm not done talking."
I pursed a grin as I listened to her epitaph.
"Where am I now? Ah, yeah. I'm going to blame his ridiculous by-the-book philosophy that gave him few enemies yet more supporters. That he would gamble even though the odds were against him. That his ethics was so ridiculous he didn't blame her runaway daughter for lashing his words every now and then. That he was willing to accept her despite everything. And now that he's dead, her prodigal daughter couldn't say any words against him. And that's the reason why I hate him."
"Because he accepted you?"
"That, and the fact that he couldn't fulfill his promise anymore."
The family is all that matters - I remembered how Grandpa quoted that line to me when I was six. A philosophy that was all he lived for.
As we passed the long concrete road that stretched outside the town, I noticed the round shape of the sun that was blazing on my side as if bidding us farewell.
"You know, I finally remembered the words that Grandpa told me in his study room years ago.", I told her with a smile. "He said that there's no way for him to hate his hard-headed, temperamental yet compassionate daughter, and even though he didn't express it, he was actually proud of her every single day."
For the first time since his death three days ago, Mom finally mourned the loss of her father.
The clanking sound of the silver spoon as it bounced on my shirt's buttons was like a tap from Grandpa, a tell-tale sign that he was looking over us, and would definitely taunt us if we go astray.
And I don't think I will ever hate him for that.