This is the first in a three part series, a series of snapshots of a man that has been an influence in my life. A magical man, someone I have been honored to call Tatay. In the Philippines, Tatay means grandfather and is a title of honor, of love. I met him when he came to visit, and later live with, my neighbor Fé, his daughter. He was already in his late eighties when he came here.
“Come with me to the Howard County Arts Guild meeting on Thursday night.”
I inwardly sighed and bowed to the inevitable. It’s not that I didn’t want to spend time with Tatay, it’s just that I was (am) an art snob. I knew that the Guild was filled with retired people who were happily finding their inner artist. I was in my thirties, and working as an artist/craftsperson full time, reaching for the higher echelons of the craft world.
“Okay, Tatay, come over and I will drive us.”
At the time, Tatay hadn’t quite turned 90. He had come from the Philippines to live with his daughter, my neighbor, a couple of years before. He was still painting with oils, still playing the violin in the “Goldenaires”, a band of retired and aging amateur musicians. He was frustrated by not being able to drive, by being alone all day, by being old in a country that despised the old.
Except he wasn’t old. Not really. All I had to do was look at my parents to see old. And they were 10/15 years younger than he was. Tatay’s inner spirit kept him young. I had a lot to learn from this man.
At the appropriate time, Tatay walked over to my house and we got in my car and drove to the Arts Center. My memory of the meeting is a little fuzzy, I think there was a talk given by one of the members, there may have been a show of works and then it was time to sign up for a membership. Quite frankly, I am not a joiner, I don’t often become a member of organizations.
But Tatay had other plans.
“I will pay for your membership for the year”.
I felt humbled and awkward. I couldn’t say no, it would hurt his feelings. And looking back, I realized that Tatay wanted to reach out to me, to him I was a fellow artist, to him I was family. There was no agenda (beyond the fact that he would have a ride to the meetings, but that’s another story), he was merely doing what he would have done for anyone in his family. And I was honored and embarrassed and I accepted.
I honestly don’t remember the details of the meetings we went to. I got very little out of them. But I watched him with the other artists, it was obvious that I was not the only person who admired him, who fell under his spell. Everyone wanted to say hello to him, and he thrived on the attention.
I don’t think about this time very much, but when I do, I see him walking across the divider between the two houses right on time, happy to see me and happy to be going off to be with his friends. And I know that while my driving him to the monthly meetings was a gift, it was by no means a one way street.
Epilogue to Part One.
A year later, Tatay gave me a Christmas present. This was our house during the snow the previous winter. He had gone out and taken a photo one day and painted this from the photo. Normally, his paintings are bright with saturated colors, the colors of the Philippines. But he toned down his palette a bit in order to capture the “gloaming” of the winter evening.