Recently, a childhood friend invited us to bend an ear while he and his maternal cousin, Florencio Blanco, who turned 98 only last January 16 would be on a video call.
An invitation we could not refuse, though hesitant were we to monitor their conversations. After all, it is never in our character to tune in on discussions where we are well-nigh not essential participants.
But his bulletin board his maternal cousin shares some denominators with us – a strong family man, a musician, and a teacher – were immediate marbles we did not want to skip.
We learned he had just gone on a “sentimental journey” to the north of his province, buoyed up by the sights of the coastal Patapat viaduct and the Bangui windmills before returning home to Paoay, sight of the UN Heritage Lister San Agustin Catholic church, whose construction began in 1694 with architecture blending baroque, gothic, Chinese, and Javanese..
At that point, we had just read a report on the oldest known living woman, American-born Maria Branyas of Spain, aged 115 years, while the oldest living man is Juan Vicente Perez of Venezuela, aged 113 years.
We had the certitude we could pick up major life lessons from the man we learned later spent much of his prime years as a public school teacher, molding adolescent minds in Nueva Vizcaya.
That was after earning his elementary teacher’s certificate from the Far Eastern University in Manila, and later in his home province of Ilocos Norte where he retired as a district schools supervisor in Badoc, hometown of the Luna brothers.
He had in between doing lesson plans and administrative functions earned a master’s degree in education at the Northwestern College in Laoag to help him clamber up competitive the education ladder.
We watched our playmate’s cousin on the video call, and tried to collect every syllable he lobbed at his younger cousin – of the 51 cousins on their mother’s side, nine are left, with the biologically youngest, who would have been the 10th had he not been clawed by the coronavirus while being a frontliner in the US of A.
Beyond doubt, 98-year-old Florencio, who still does some carpentry work after taking in his maintenance medicines and vitamins, may have his hearing somehow impaired.
But he is still sharp-minded as perhaps in his younger years while preparing lesson plans for his different classes in Paoay and Batac before he got assigned in Badoc, also in the second district of Ilocos Norte.
The younger cousin walked him through the mountains of Dupax in Nueva Vizcaya and the unforgiving terrain of Pinili town, where warriors walked during the Philippine-American war and the Second World War.
It was in Pinili where he was caught as a guerrilla against Japan’s occupation troops, fear beyond his demeanor, the same town where he was saved by maternal cousins in the bolomen regiment in the forested hill town, 457 kilometers north of Manila.
Verily, the elderly can be chests for words of wisdom.
The way they talked with each other, we felt in the older cousin his sense of pride for family, how life had been all these summers and how life must be enjoyed, the kind of courage in face of adversity as in the Second World War.
The man, who relishes soup as an indispensable part of his daily menu, has five children—two girls and three boys—all professionals, some retired and now enjoying their passion in life, the youngest still working as a clinical laboratory scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Regional Laboratories near Simi Valley in California.
The younger cousin, who obviously holds every leaf and branch of their family tree that has extended careers beyond the Philippine shores, appeared as much touched as the older as they talked about their roots and their family members.
Fortunately for the older cousin, who still receives his GSIS pension, he is not in the home for the aged, although he has two caregivers alternating to look after him, almost two years after his wife of nearly 77 years died in 2022, a month before she was to reach the century mark.
During the 70-minute video call, we learned a lot on how both cousins gave value to family roots.
If the conversations had run through the alphabet, three letters gleamed and gave us an impression: he stands beside the letters H, B, and C—for honesty, benevolence, and considerateness.
And he could laugh at jokes—never mind that some lateral incisors are not there anymore —dished out by the younger cousin, whose sense of humor appears a beaming notice board among the cousins, gone and still on the go.
We saw in his laughter his ability to sight read syncopated notes as when he played 1st clarinet with the FEU Band before the second world war, the kind of competence the younger cousin had when he was with The Mendiola Brass years later with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass beats.
While listening to the 98-year-old, we remembered Apoorva K S Hebbar, the environmental engineer from Karnataka, India, who wrote: “We should listen to our elders, not because they are always right, but because they have more experience in being wrong.”
Listen and learn from seniors. And why not?
Just living for so many years gives them the advantage of seeing the world longer and understanding people better.
They offer priceless wisdom that can sustain the younger generation willing to listen to the long run – if they are keenly listening.
(HBC, an honor student in his college years, is a musician and used to teach literature, Asian Civilization and journalism in undergraduate and graduate levels before the pandemic. He was coach of the San Beda College of Arts and Sciences Debate Team and the FEU Oratorical and Debate Club)