Monday, October 16, 2006

My father's casa

MI CASA, su casa. When a Filipino tells his guest that “my house is your house,” he's not trying to scare you that he's unloading the topsy-turvy household he lives with day by day.

Time-honored laws of hospitality require the Pinoy to give his guest the best room, the tastiest morsel, everything short of his wife, daughters and the car he just started amortizations for.

These days, expecting our Asean visitors, we're laying new coats of asphalt, offering a special prayer at the end of the mass, and grinding our teeth over the international convention center we all dream of being finished on time, without really believing.

This fever of anticipation would have amused my late father.

His personal philosophy was for “no maintenance” hospitality. He held that the practice in his hometown in Camiguin to sew new curtains or take out from hiding the best set of plates was “faking it” for the guests.

He said the effort to “put your best foot forward” came from laboring under the illusion that one had a favorite among the three or more extremities implied by the superlative “best.”

In which case, Papang contended, the matter does not legitimately concern a host but a podiatrist or an alien expert.

So while we served our visitors with the day's fresh catch, the best we could afford from the nearby market, my father insisted we left on the table the bowl of ginamos (salted fish) that frequent family dipping turned as murky and dubious as water stagnating in canals.

As my parents were separated by then, it fell on my yaya, raised according to the south's strict precepts on hospitality, to salvage a little of the family honor.

Shooing me out of the dirty kitchen, she would thrust a rag, expecting me to dust the assortment of ashtrays and chairs that inhabited our living room. Until she did this, we once had a guest who stood up from one of our chairs with a telltale circle of dust.

As she was not related to us by blood, dusting off that part of her that had been seated would have done irreparable damage to her honor, not to mention ours. The predicament was solved by remembering that staring was always impolite.

Years of dusting duties in my father's house should have made me into the opposite of what I am today, an indifferent housekeeper. Although I saw my yaya's point that dust could bury my family in ignominy, I never seriously attacked our chairs with my rag because our furniture was idiosyncratic, hardly conforming to the essence of chairness.

My father took care of the health of a friend and his family, among others. He would not charge a friend but he could not also refuse when his friend delivered from time to time the specimens cobbled together in his furniture shop.

Once it was an orange chair whose rollers refused to do just that. And then there was a bar chair whose too-short leg made it tipsy and deserving of its name. Assorted shapes I and my sister pretended were elephosaurs (leatherette-clad ancestors of elephants). A jade-green chair that lounged like the sticky-hued lizards sunning themselves on the trunks of coconut trees.

My cats favored this chair. I noticed that guests wearing wool or polyester avoided seating here. In summer, it indeed became a hot seat (or our guests could have been persuaded by the fur balls and the bared fangs of our feline companions, quirky in their hospitality from years of living with us).

Chairs that defied sitting, my three-packs-a-day father's ashtrays that thrived like a subculture, the living room wall of glass that broke and then got patched up with Playboy pin-ups my father and I taped together one whole afternoon--if our home wasn't exactly Better Homes and Gardens material, my father solved it by eventually inviting just guests that enjoyed Marlboro, San Mig, political dissection and the sight of well-upholstered anatomies requiring no immediate surgery. Mi casa, su casa.

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