Of Seniors and Juniors


Manny Ojeda Aureus

WHEN I went home to Naga for a short vacation last year, I invited my old friends for breakfast at the Caceres Hotel. We had a great time. Until something happened.

After a hearty breakfast, I asked the waiter for the bill. Instantly, as soon as the word “bill” was mentioned, everybody, as if on cue, pulled out their wallets.

“No,” I said, “It’s on me. I insist. I invited you, didn’t I.”

They pulled out their wallets nevertheless--to take out their Senior Citizen I. D. cards.

Last Wednesday I went to the local grocery store to buy some fruits and vegetables. When I got to the cashier, the lady looked at me and asked:

“Are you a senior citizen? Senior citizen, Sir?”

“Is that a compliment?”

She gave me three dollars off my groceries. When I got outside, I looked back and saw the sign: Senior Citizens Day Discount Every Wednesday.

One time while in Brunswick, NJ, I visited the Filipino Store owned by my former NPS and Ateneo HS classmate Jess Balanlayos. Jess introduced me to his mother. Before I could introduce my wife, Jess’ mother beams nicely at me:

“Manny, your daughter is very beautiful!”

My wife was all smiles all throughout our one hour drive back to NY.

I called Jess when I got home: “Does your mother have anything against me?”

One time, years ago, I arrived late to pick up my son from school. The guard tells me:

“Sir, your daughter already picked up your son.”

I do not have a daughter.

When I first started working, my former boss Bob Savage who was much older than myself asked for a picture of my wife. We were going to our annual dinner ball, and my wife was the only person he had not met among his team of new managers.

He wanted to know how she looked like so he would recognize her from among the other guests. So I showed him my wife’s picture.

“You dirty old man!” he exclaimed.

Everybody roared in laughter.

Not everybody refuses to grow old, though. Marie, for example, a fellow Nagueno, would tell me she’d kid the cashier at the grocery store by telling her she’s a senior she just forgot her card, and she’d get a discount, after which she’d retract and decline the deduction, then wonder why the joke was taken seriously.

What matter. At this stage in my life, I just smile and say to myself that age does not matter anymore. I remember my Philosophy Professor Fr. Vitaliano Gorospe, SJ who once talked about this issue of age. He was showing us the difference between experiences and life lessons. He gave us the example of a 35 year old former student who was now governor of a province because this person helped a lot of people in that province when he was at a much younger age. Then he compared this former student to a 65 year old he knew who had not done anything in life except watch TV and hang out with his barkadas.

“Tell me,” Fr. Gorospe said, “Who has the more experience: the 65 year old or the 35 year old?

He then followed this up with examples of people he admired. He admired young people, he said, who have given up their lives because of their convictions. Whether they were on the government side or on the rebel’s side did not matter. He admired people who gave up their lives because they believed in what they were doing. It’s not how long you live, he said, but how well you live.

That last sentence imprinted itself in my brain to this day. Many former friends and relatives come to mind. There’s my mom’s elder brother, Tito Toning V. Ojeda who died at 50. He was the proverbial “abogado de campanilla,” yet never charged a single centavo in his short career. And this from a lawyer who was commissioned to draft Naga City’s Charter.

There’s Pedrito Malonda, my fellow cub scout buddy in grade one. We both dreamed of becoming soldiers someday, just like our fathers who were World War II buddies. He died from an ailment he contracted in a world cub scout jamboree. He was a good person. I always took his side each time we played school games.

And I will never forget my bosom classmate Albert Yrastorza, who died a few years after graduating from college. He always had that aura of goodness in him. Just plain goodness. Everyone who knew him mourned his loss. I still miss the aura of his kindly presence.

And then there was Edjop (Edgar Jopson). He became a fast friend in college because I helped him get the Bicol votes when he first ran for the NUSP. I spoke with him by phone before I left for the US to say goodbye. I never knew how involved he was with the rebels. What matter. Whether he joined the rebels or not is inconsequential. He did a lot of good deeds in college and he was a good person. That’s what is essential.

Everywhere I go and everything I have witnessed all these years, it’s all essentially the same. The game changer lies not in the external accidentals but in the character of the person.

These persons I mentioned never became senior citizens. But as my former teacher put it years and years ago: “It’s not how long you live but how well you live it.” moaureus@gmail.com