I am sad to report that Sotero Nieves, aka Tatay, died last night at the age of 107 and 10 months. He was two years and two months shy of his goal. While I am sad, I am also happy. Happy that I knew him, happy that I learned from him and happy to be a part of his large, loud, funny, multi-generational family. I am an honorary Philippino (yes, I have actually eaten bagoong, the traditional fish paste). I will share more snippets of memories in the next post. For now, allow me to tell you a story.
(FYI, Tatay was married to Nanay for over 70 years. For a while she lived with one of their sons very close to where we lived.)
The day was a stressful one from the moment I woke up. I was super worried about a family member, had several errands to run including a dentist appointment, and then had to be in downtown Baltimore for a meeting in the afternoon. I was driving home from the dentist, and needed to stop at the food store for a couple of things. As I approached the entrance to the market, I came up behind the local county bus dropping off some passengers. I waited patiently until it was finished, then realized that two of the passengers were Tatay and Nanay. I honked my horn and waved, then prepared to continue driving to the store. The next thing I knew, Tatay was walking over to the car and getting into the front seat. I hastily moved stuff out of his way (I have a tendency to live in my car). Nanay, paused outside the car, not quite knowing what to do at this point. I turned and moved stuff off of the back seat so she could have a place to sit as well.
All this while, there was a running commentary going through my head…”Damn, I didn’t mean that I would give him a ride, I have so much to do. I can’t tell him to get out though, he’s 90 for God’s sake, how rude would that be? Will I go to hell if I just drive away really quickly before he gets into the car?”
Needless to say, I acted with grace and poise.
“Tatay, I need to stop at the store before I take you guys home.”
Yes, I was hoping he would say that he couldn’t wait…no luck…
“Oh good,” he said, “I have a prescription that I need filled.”
It seems that I had been trumped. But I tried again.
“I can’t sit around and wait for it, I don’t have time”.
Nope…that didn’t work either.
“It’s okay, you can just give it to the pharmacy, I will have my son pick it up later.”
I was truly defeated. I went into the market, leaving them in my car, then drove them to their respective homes.
I learned two things that day. One is that the culture in the Philippines is a much more welcoming one. Families are connected to each other like a spider’s web. If you aren’t related, you are friends with the relations. People give each other rides without thinking twice. Tatay had no idea that it was considered rude to just get into someone’s car without being invited, in his mind it was an unstated invitation the minute that I honked and waved.
The other thing I learned was that Tatay could be extremely manipulative to get what he needed. And what he needed most was wheels. He needed to get out of the house, to feel a part of society. All his family worked during the day and for a few years he relied on taxis, public transportation and the goodwill of friends to get him around to his various commitments. After his granddaughters got old enough to drive, they became his personal taxi to doctor’s appointments and errands. He was never shy about asking for a ride.
Epilogue to Part 2.
This story has prompted gales of laughter from his family for many years. I have told the story many times, and each time it has been as funny as the first. So, when I saw him a couple of days ago, I asked if he wanted to go for a ride to the store and, despite having one foot firmly across the threshold between life and death, he nodded. His family members who were present, erupted into laughter. It was a fitting way to say good bye to him.
Here is a picture of Tatay at my open studio in 2006, just after I finished the lion sculpture. He was 97. He was one of my biggest fans.