It’s four days till Christmas and I am back home. Right here in my home town where I grew up. Everything appears to be the same, but not quite. The house seems smaller. Or maybe I have just grown bigger and older.
I haven’t been home for a long time, except for occasional visits that were really quick. The last time I was here and stayed for weeks was when my parents came home for a short vacation. They have long since migrated to America. It’s just me and my brother, but soon he will be joining them too.
That would leave this house empty.
It is early morning and I sit here in the living room with a cup of coffee. With nothing else to do and with so many mementos around, my thoughts drifted back to my childhood and of Christmases past that seemed not too long ago. I see my Mommy busy in the kitchen, my brother playing outside with our neighbors and myself reading or drawing inside my bedroom.
It had always been just the three of us ever since my Daddy left to work in the Middle East. I was eight and my brother six when he left. Both of us too young to understand why he had to leave. Both of us too young to understand why he will not come home to us everyday and why he will not be here to celebrate our birthdays and Christmas with us.
But with God’s grace, the three of us made it through every birthday, Christmas, and New Year. And now with only a few days left before Christmas, I suddenly remember every holiday spent without my Dad. There were no family reunions and big parties.
Christmas without Daddy was simple and quiet. If I will be truly honest about it, it was always with a tinge of sadness. But my mom made sure we had enough of what she can give us.
Our Christmas tradition always started with Mommy putting the chicken to cook in our good old turbo broiler. After this she would make the sauce for our spaghetti and me and my brother would set the table. With the chicken and pasta sauce cooked, the three of us would go to church. The spaghetti noodles would be boiled when we got back. Walking to church at night in the cool December air was one of my favorite parts. The other one is when we would buy puto bumbong after the mass and take it home with us. It would be our dessert along with our favorite chocolate roll from Goldilocks.
At twelve midnight, our phone would ring. It would Daddy calling us via long distance. The three of us would take turns talking to him. Each with a hurried greeting. We tried to say as much as we can while keeping it brief. Long distance phone calls cost a lot at that time. To make up for the short conversation, we would send Daddy a greeting card with long letters written on yellow pad. These letters have to be posted a month before to make sure it reaches Daddy on time for Christmas day.
Because the internet was not yet invented, keeping in touch with Daddy made us more creative. In the absence of real time communication, we sent him voice tapes via snail mail. Remember those TDK blank tapes during the '80s and early '90s? We had tons of that. I could practically chronicle a chapter of our family story with all those tapes. There we were, the three of us seated on my bed, and Mommy would start the recording and me and my brother would take turns telling Daddy our stories. Sometimes, my brother and I included a song or a poem. Daddy sent his own voice tapes too and the three of us would huddle together listening to every word so as not to miss anything. We couldn’t see him, couldn’t kiss and hug him, but we could hear him and we were grateful for that.
The real highlight of our Christmas was when Daddy would send us a big balikbayan box just in time for the holidays. That box has been our version of Santa’s big red gift sack. I can still see myself and my brother jumping with glee whenever the cargo truck arrives.
We were the only children in our street whose father was an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) and whenever that truck arrives, our playmates would look over at our house and share in our excitement as well. My brother and I would sniff at every item inside that box. That was how much we missed Daddy. We would take our time pouring over all the contents.
Opening that box and pouring over each item was a sacred ritual to us. It was like having him with us because we knew that he lovingly packed each gift and had worked hard to save every penny that he could just so he can fill that box with all sorts of goodies. To us, that box and everything inside it made up for all the quiet Christmases without Daddy.
Daddy still sends us big boxes. Only now he sends separate boxes to me and my brother. Even now that I am pushing forty, I still feel the urge to jump with glee when the cargo truck arrives. Oh well, I still jump with glee because my children’s excitement is so contagious, it is hard not to.
There it is, that big brown and sometimes-white box. I am actually looking at two of those boxes right now. They are sitting on the floor in front of me beckoning me to open them. They arrived last night. Just in time for Christmas. Just like the way Daddy had always wanted them to arrive. Now, I have to wake up the little ones. There is so much love waiting to be unwrapped in these big boxes