Friday, February 13, 2009

One, two, three - Smile!

Today I read on my classmate Joey's blog that his grandfather passed away yesterday. Joey is my childhood friend and classmate in grade school. Along with a handful of children, now fully growed up (I hope) and scattered around the Philippines, and even around the globe (wherever their talents may have brought them), we grew up in that small sleepy town which was nestled in the once-virgin forests of Surigao del Sur in Mindanao.

As I continued reading Joey's entry, I started to be teary-eyed when I came to that short part wherein he recounted how his grandfather started to make him dream of big things in life. Perhaps that's what grandparents do best and I am saying that out of experience. After that sentimental part, it was admirable that Joey still managed to inject a little humor into the article and so my tears almost instantly jumped back into my lacrimal glands.

But the passing of Nong Tony, Joey's Lolo, struck a lot of chords in my heart, if you allow me to modify the famous adage. Joey's grandfather is more than just a friend's grandfather to me and he may even be more than a classmate's or a schoolmate's grandfather to all those who knew Joey and went to school with him in that little heaven we called Mangagoy.

For those who don't know yet, the late Nong Tony owned the famous (maybe even the first, I am not sure) photo studio in our place. As a young child, I was always excited when Nong Tony would go to our classrooms and talk to our teachers for a few moments. Then our teachers would tell us that it was time for us to have our class picture taken for that year's yearbook. Oh, that was the perfect excuse from class! One that you wouldn't need to have an excuse letter to submit to your teacher for.

As a class we would go out and choose a spot in the school campus where we want our pictures taken. Our teachers would then "arrange" us little rascals, and Nong Tony would help with that too - this vertically-challenged kid should be on the front, that tall kid there should be at the back. Then when every kid is "in place", Nong Tony, would position himself in front of that little crowd, and while looking through the lenses of his camera and bending his knees a little (lest he would only take a picture of the sky and not us, if he does not do that), he would then say, "One, two, three, smile!" Then the flash lights would go off. And our pictures, with our silly smiles, and bad hairdos would be forever etched in history.

That was how I learned the art of association when I saw Nong Tony inside and outside the campus. Tony's Studio. Camera. Class Picture. One, Two, Three, Smile. And as far as I could remember it was Nong Tony who took our class pictures even when we were already in high school. Practically every kid in school grew up in his eyes through his pictures. Among those shutter moments with him, I could not forget that time when he took my picture for the Grade 6 Yearbook. I guess that moment was unforgettable because that was the time we had our pictures taken individually and not as a class this time. I am sure he also took my Kindergarten picture but I only have a vague memory of that now, unlike that time when I was Grade 6 and posed for his camera and smiled as widely as I could, revealing my big two front teeth. I could even picture the set-up now. Two big studio lights, if I may call them, glaring madly on a stool placed at the center. Some loose powder were on the side table and so I placed some of those (the powder, not the table) on my face. Then I took a seat on the stool and Nong Tony blurted out his famous line again, "One, Two, Three, Smile!" Then the flash light went off and my big two front teeth got there place in history.

Now that I am growed up (I hope), I still haven't recovered from the thrill of having my picture taken. Whether it is for memoir purposes, or to feed my narcissism, or for no reason at all, there is always that certain indescribable bliss that I feel when I smile for the camera. And I realize that Nong Tony was one of those that introduced this little joy, this, which can be, for me one of the best things in life - though not necessarily free.

Joey wrote that his grandfather died in his sleep. I thought what a peaceful way to die. (That is how I want to die when my time comes, if I had the chance to choose.) But anyway, now, that he has left all of us here behind, I bet in his sleep, something went on while he was on that dark tunnel while he was walking towards the light. That dark tunnel may have not been dark at all. A lot of kiddie and growed-up smiles might have brightened his path towards the light, and in chorus echo out to him this time, "You're coming home, Nong Tony, one, two, three, smile!"

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