Paking climbed the mango tree with an agility of a monkey. His two sisters squinted as they gazed up at him from the foot of the tree, waiting for a treat.
“Paking, there’s one in front of you, go grab it!” Busing, the oldest of the two girls instructed.
Sure enough, the green fruit was dangling on his face. He held onto a branch overhead with his right hand and picked the fruit with his left. His eyes then rested upon a large branch, which he figured could hold his weight. Slowly, he stepped onto the branch, lowered himself to a sitting position and then stretched his back.
The girls, upon observing the boy had no plans of descending any time soon called out in frustration, “Hey Paking! Get your ass down here! We want those mangoes!”
Paking looked down at his sisters and snickered, “Come and get it!” he taunted.
“Argh!” cried her Aleja, “I’m going to tell Nanay!”
But Paking was no longer listening. He stared at the green mango, which based on the color, could use more ripening. His assessment was soon confirmed when he bit down on the fruit. A strong sour taste exploded in his mouth that he almost cringed, but for show, held it down.
Paking would remember this one happy moment for the rest of his life. Many times he would repeat it to his grandchildren, each time, in a way like he was telling it for the first time. And one of those grandchildren is me.
Francisco Diloy Retanal was born to a farmer, Jervacio and his wife, Juliana in Barugo, Southern Leyte on the 23rd of December 1932. The family’s real name is Puentañelez, which they had to change to “Retanal” during the Japanese occupation. Back then it is said that people with Spanish names were being hunted down and killed by the Japanese soldiers.
“Paking,” as he was fondly called by his family had six siblings; Basiling, Fermin, Lauriano, Ambrosia (Busing), Aleja, and Eufracio. Paking was a mischievous and cheerful boy who liked to pull pranks on his siblings, particularly on his sisters. Despite his playful nature, Paking was a bright boy who had a thirst for learning and loved going to school. He claimed he was among the brightest students in his primary school and one of the firsts in the class who learned how to read. Not only was he smart, he was also a good singer and had no qualms showing his musical chops every chance he got.
“Paking, come to the front and sing us a song,” his teacher would request.
Paking would immediately do as he asked and belt Visayan and Tagalog kundiman with so much passion, you’d wonder if a boy his age had already felt the joys and the miseries of being in love.
Paking imagined himself finishing school and maybe become an engineer. But luck in this department wasn’t turned in his favor. When most of his older siblings went to Manila to work as household help, Paking was left to help tend the farm with his brother, Fermin. His brother’s drinking problem and careless attitude forced Paking to extend extra work in the farm that ate up his time. This inevitably compelled him to quit school. Paking would spend days on end plowing the field, bathing the carabaos, cutting woods, and making copra.
As if physical labor and quitting school were not enough of a torture, Paking also suffered from the mindless beatings of Fermin who always went home liquored-up. Paking endured both the beating and the feeling of hopelessness that was already budding in his heart. Until one day, a ray of hope broke through the dark clouds in his life when his mother decided to send him to Manila.
In the city he lived with his now married sister, Basiling. Before long, he moved in with his brother, Nano (Lauriano) in Batangas where the grunt work that would define his life, continued. Every day, he would wake up before the rooster sang to fetch water up on the hill. When he returned he would spend the better part of the day roaming around the neighborhood to sell the dirty ice cream that his brother made.
Eventually, he returned to Manila and rented a small room on Moret Street in Sampaloc with his two sisters, Busing and Aleja. Paking moved from one odd job to another to help ends meet. He worked as a sewer cleaner, a construction worker, a house painter, and a vendor. The one job that he would do for a long time was as a clothes presser in several laundry shops. Later on, he would blame his life-long battle with arthritis to this job, claiming that he got “pasma“, a physical illness unique to the Filipino culture, from pressing clothes all day and then going home soaking wet from the rain.
When he was 23, he met a 19-year old brown-skinned lass with hooded-chinky eyes. Her name is Leticia Severino, whom everyone calls, “Letty”. With amusement, Letty would share with her grandchildren that Paking pursued her relentlessly. It was not too long when Letty finally gave Paking her “yes” and in 1958, they moved in together to start a family. The two were blessed to have eight children; Ricardo, Mario, Brenda, Luis, Caroline, Pepito, Blanca, and Neil. When asked how many children he had, Paking would always answer, nine, including his first child that they lost due to a miscarriage.
Just like most men, Paking had two vices: women and alcohol. At one time he was enamored by a woman who worked in a train station and would take the train just to see her. In one of his affairs, Paking is said to have fathered a son whom he never had a chance to meet. All he ever knew of this boy is his name, Danilo, the fruit of his affair with the wife of a cousin.
Life might have been hard for Paking, but he never had difficulty pursuing women. But for all his philandering ways, Letty was not given to drama. She was not the jealous type and has always believed confronting or trying to stop her husband from chasing other women was a waste of time and energy. Instead of causing a scene, Letty remained calm and let Paking do as he pleased.
Paking’s addiction to alcohol started early and would go on up to his 60s. When hammered, he acted as another individual. He would go home and beat the life out of his wife and kids. Some of his kids would hide in terror in the closet whenever he came home from a drinking rendezvous. This would incur the resentment of his oldest daughter, Brenda, a feeling she nurtured for years to come.
The lack of college diploma and probably, the will to turn his life around, made it impossible for Paking to keep his jobs and rise from poverty. The cycle would repeat to his children, none of which were able to escape the impoverished state of their family. Out of the eight, Neil was the only one who graduated from high school and had plans to pursue college. Through Neil, Paking began to start hoping that somebody in his family could finally take them out of their miserable situation. But the only person who showed determination to make it died at a young age. On when Paking decided to stop trying to better the lives of his family, I cannot tell. It is safe to assume that when Neil died, he took the last hope in his father’s heart to the grave with him.
Despite the many hardships in Paking’s life, he had been known as a person with a sense of humor. He had a good hearty laugh, liked to share his stories, and was quite friendly and sociable. He was musically inclined, and even in his old age, could reach the high notes of the kundiman songs he was so fond of singing. He knew how to cook delicious dishes, especially his pancit, which was a staple in every birthday celebration in the family.
Even with no proper education, Paking was smart and even liked playing games that challenge the mind like the crossword puzzle. As a father, he was strict and disciplined his children through corporal punishment. As a grandfather, he was sweet and generous, and always imparted good advice especially when it comes to getting an education.
The longest and possibly, the biggest battle that Paking went against half of his life was with rheumatoid arthritis. The onset of the disease began as early as in his 30s and worsened as the years progressed, making him as good as a cripple. It eventually led to his dependency on Voltarin, an anti-inflammatory drug prescribed to reduce the swelling of his joints. When the disease attacked, Paking would almost weep from pain and screamed expletives to anyone who made a mistake of being in the same room with him. His wife would advise him to exercise and walk to strengthen his legs, and from time to time refused to give him medicine to discourage drug dependency. He took none of these suggestions and would beg for Voltarin to help ease his suffering.
In October of 2014, the lively grandfather that I knew had been reduced to skin and bones. His eyes were sunken, skin all wrinkled and pallid, legs seemingly bent permanently. The boy who used to climb tall trees could no longer leave his bed.
On the night of 7th October, his son, Mario, after feeding him, bade him goodnight. In the dark of night, Mario woke up with a start upon the cling and clatter of plates and pots. He got up and went to his father’s bed and realized the goodnight he said to his father was his last.