By Michael Berino
December 13, 2010
For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Michael Berino and I am the eldest grandson of my Lolo, Jose de Leon Sr. As most of you know, I’m currently a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, a small country in the heart of West Africa since June of 2009. On September of this year, I came back home for a visit for many reasons, but one of the most important was to see my grandparents, the ones whom I firmly consider my second parents, having raised my younger brother David and me since we were babies. The unfortunate news of my grandfather getting seriously ill these past few weeks hit me really hard. This is the first time I’ve lost someone very close to me; the same for most people in my immediate family as well. Knowing that he was nearing the end of his time here on Earth conjured many memories of my Lolo throughout his long life.
He was a man of few words who spoke greatly with his actions. If he was with us right now, he’d want to divert the attention away from him and focus it on someone else. Even if you came to any of the de Leon family parties, Lolo wouldn’t be the first person you’d notice in the room. But he possessed a strong and wise presence that held our family together.
The way I see my family is much like how a tree is composed: the leaves, branches and fruit are plentiful but the tree would be nothing – absolutely nothing – without its roots. My family is blessed to be grounded by two intelligent, hard working and loving grandparents – the roots of our family. Heck, they are so intelligent that Lolo was salutatorian of his high school class while Grandma was the valedictorian! More importantly, Grandma and Lolo balance each other out – Grandma being more of the disciplinarian and Lolo being more of the relaxed head of the household. As a result, we are very blessed to have had both grandparents live for so long and still be together during a time when divorce is all too familiar; have daughters and sons who emigrated to the US and created better lives for themselves; and have had grandchildren that are going on to do significant things in life – a nurse at Stanford, a future dentist, a future engineer and so forth.
Personally speaking, the impact that Lolo has had on my life is indescribable. But I’m going to attempt to sum up a few of the lessons he’s taught me during his 83 years of living…
Lesson #1: Family and God first. Always.
· Lolo may not have been the most “religious” man but he believed in God even if he didn’t go to church as often. In terms of family, even before my Mom and Dad divorced, Lolo was like my second father. I’ll never forget when I had to dress up as a shepherd for the Christmas play when I was in 2nd grade…I refused to leave the house and was embarrassed with my outfit but Lolo drove me and waited at the church the whole time, encouraging me to go up even if I felt embarrassed.
Lesson #2: If family and God are first, then fashion is definitely second.
· Members Only jackets, name-brand cologne, Ray-Ban style sunglasses, argyle sweaters – he was the epitome of a cool and trendy grandpa. Which probably explains my family’s indulgence in all things clothes, shoes and shopping. Seriously! …Except probably Tita Talin. Also when David and I were younger, Lolo used to drive us to school and pick us up with his oh-so-cool Toyota Celica. He was a true trendsetter!
Lesson #3: When a situation gets dry or uncomfortable, use humor.
· One time when the whole family was in Boracay in 2003 for a huge family vacation, I remember we were all getting ready to leave to go snorkeling in the ocean. Out of the blue, Lolo turns to me and blurts, “my God, Michael. Your legs look like a girl’s.” A comment that completely took me by surprised but made everyone laugh hysterically. That was my Lolo – a man of few words but when he does speak, especially when it’s hilarious and random, you remember what he says!
· There was another time when I was around 10 and I brought back sand from the beach in San Francisco. I don’t remember what exactly happened but I poured sand in David’s hair because I was mad at David and Lolo told me to wash out the sand from his hair or else he would pour sand in my hair too.
· Before I left to go back to Burkina Faso in September of this year, David sent me a text right after they dropped me off, which read: “So we’re leaving the airport and Grandma is holding on to Lolo’s arm while we’re getting on the moving platform…and Lolo’s complaining about how heavy his bags are…so unknowingly, he let’s go of Grandma’s hand.”
· Even back in the Philippines, my Lolo was a riot. When Tito Vic was little, Lolo caught him picking up a cigarette butt on the ground and smoking it. When Tito Vic caught Lolo’s glaring at him, he immediately dropped it and walked away. Lolo called Tito Vic over, made him sit on the bench and threw him a whole packet of cigarettes…and made him smoke all of them in one sitting. Lesson learned and he never did it again.
Lesson #4: Keep up with current events.
· I can’t recollect a single day when Lolo wasn’t reading the newspaper. I remember David and I trying to teach Lolo how to use the Internet and leaving the laptop downstairs, only to find him an hour later reading the newspaper because it was easier that way.
Lesson #5: If you have the means, be generous.
· One of the best things Lolo is known for was his generosity. His willingness to give, give and give and expect nothing in return. He gave his grandchildren money all the time during Christmas and even when I was home in September, Lolo gave me $500 because he knew I was a poor Peace Corps Volunteer that couldn’t afford anything! Even my Mom and her brothers and Tita Talin can attest to Lolo being generous with money when they were kids in the Philippines.
· “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.” Psalm 37: 25-26
Lesson #6: Take risks.
· Reno, Las Vegas, Cache Creek…you know it, he probably gambled there. But I take his gambling as a metaphor for life: take risks. Take a chance.
This is no doubt a sad and difficult time for my family. I cried many times at my house in Burkina Faso just thinking about how much suffering Lolo must have been going through, or how difficult it was for the rest of my family to carry the burden of his pain. But I’m a firm believer in the saying that God doesn’t give us humans anything that we cannot handle. More than anything, this should be a celebration of Lolo’s long life. Of the legacy he left for his children and grandchildren to pass on.
Lolo, I know that Thanksgiving and Christmas family get-togethers won’t be the same without you. That it won’t be the same at home without you, reading your newspaper in the kitchen while drinking coffee. Or feeding Benji at the dinner table even though Mom and I have told you many, many times that it only encourages Benji to develop a habit of eating at the dinner table and asking for food. The point is: you will always be loved and will always be missed. What comforts me most is knowing that you’re up there in Heaven with Lolo Ben, watching over your family and wishing nothing but the best for us.
One of my most favorite quotes is from Mother Teresa where she says, “Each of us is a pencil in the hand of God, who is writing a love letter to the world.” Imagine that – each of us being a pencil of God, writing a love letter to the world. I’m certain Lolo was probably one of those high-tech, fancy-schmancy, sleek black mechanical pencils that you can get for $50 at Staples in the nice casing…whose love letter is manifest in those he loved most – his wife – my grandmother Dulce, his six children and his grandchildren. If anything, we’re all here to carry on his legacy.
I love you, Lolo…until we meet again.