Saturday, September 25, 2010
Kuya Freddie with Ate Chi and his sisters Jeric and Jojo in his favorite part of his house, the kitchen
Today, I was supposed to be preparing my running shorts, shoes, socks, shirt, Garmin 305, hydration belt, gatorade/water and containers, bib number, timing chip, gels for tomorrow morning's Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront half marathon race. I entered this race about 2 months in advance and did my homework, I mean did enough training runs, rest. I was ready for it and was actually tapering from 10 days ago. Instead, I am home resting with a cough, runny nose, , too sick even to do anything physical, much less run. I am also very sad and grieving because of the untimely death of my brother-in-law and friend Kuya Freddie. His funeral service was held this morning at the St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Markham.
Before my family left the home country for Canada, I was a struggling young lawyer with a low paying government job. Previous to that,I had the chance to practice. I remember my first client was a poor bus driver who brought me a live but very thin and sickly looking chicken in my father-in-law's house. My father-in-law, also a lawyer who is a succesful practitioner in his own right, let the man in and with a grin in his face called me from inside his house to meet my client. Another time, another poor client handed me an old,dirty, crumpled 50 pesos bill during his trial, but come court recess, I asked him to join me for lunch, but he wouldn't because he didn't have money. I ended up giving back to him the 50 pesos and also paying for his lunch. After similar episodes where instead of earning a living I was giving charity, I knew my career as a practicing lawyer was over. I joined the Department of Justice but the pay was not much. So, Jojo and I agreed to give it a try in Canada.
I first met Kuya Freddie when my family arrived in Canada in the late 80s. He and his family immigrated to Canada in the early seventies. He was a tall, handsome, meztizo looking guy who looked physically strong and fit with well toned arms and upper body. He was into basketball , fishing, camping, and golf. He was also a handy man who did most home repairs, plumbing, electrical, carpentry work himself. I found him genuinely friendly, hospitable, cheerful and helpful with us. He was a happy fellow with a good sense of humor. He was fairly succesful professionally, working then as a junior manager in a bank. He went to work always looking sharp in a business suit. He was also an outdoors type of guy who owned a trailer and a boat.
He went out of his way to help Jojo and I find jobs. He enrolled my kids to a nearby Catholic school. When we finally found jobs, after staying for free for a month in his Markham home ,we decided to move out and rent a cheap apartment in Toronto. We ended up inheriting his old sofa and love seat. When one of his friends bought a new living room set, he asked for the sofa (which was to be thrown away) and delivered it to us.
Nevertheless, after one year of working odd, low paying jobs , I was ready to call it quits here in Canada and go back to the home country where my old job was still waiting for me ( I only took a leave of absence for a year). He convinced me to wait another year before making a final decision of going back home. A few months after, I luckily got a government job, which I still hold up to the present.
Kuya Freddie's helping me to adapt here never stopped there. He included me to join his basketball team, recruited and sponsored me to be accepted in his religious/service organization. He taught me how to play golf. He made sure Jojo and I joined him and Ate Chi in social gatherings where we were introduced to his friends who then became our friends. In golf tournaments where his golf buddies became mine .
His house became the center of all family gatherings, where he would tirelessly man the barbecue, cook Chinese cuisine and made sure everybody took home left over food. Made us all laugh to tears with his jokes. He would embrace and carry on his lap grandnephews and nieces, affectionately called his adult daughters, my nieces, as his babies. He would terrorize the younger children with pranks, jokes. He would discipline (with words of wisdom)his children, nephews and nieces including my children when they needed to be. He'd answer our calls jokingly with "Pizza, pizza, how can I help you." He arbitrated and settled fights, misunderstandings between and among his siblings (3 sisters and 1 brother), Jojo included. He installed new light fixtures and did needed repairs in our house. He fixed my screen door. Helped me put up new kitchen cabinets . Gave us an electric drill. Put up flower pots holders and planted plants in our front porch with Ate Chi.
He liked telling stories , funny, inspirational and amusing about his struggles, like selling bras for a living to support his family early into his marriage. About his love for and being protective of younger brother Art, who when they were teenagers went home crying after getting bullied by bigger guys. Freddie took his father's gun in the storage place, went back with Art to confront the bullies, who seeing Freddie with the weapon all scampered away scared. About standing up to and challenging a group of bullies to a fight in a Toronto bar when the latter made fun of his Pinoy group.
Last Sunday, September 19, Kuya Freddie and Ate Chi came to visit us at home. He brought Jojo a gift of a kitchen knife set for no reason or occasion. He just said he saw it on sale so he bought it for Jojo. We shared a hearty lunch of Peking duck (which Kuya Freddie cooked and prepared with lettuce and hoisin sauce), sinigang, fried plapla, fried shrimp. We then had a scoop each of Selecta queso ice cream and then just relaxed in the family room and watched ASAP on the Filipino Channel. He joked and laughed with his niece Tin, my daughter. He told us of his excitement to see the new condo they bought in the home country which will be completed and be ready for occupancy in December this year.
As I watched Kuya Freddie walking to his car as they were leaving our home , I saw him smile and greet my neighbor who was tending her garden in her front yard. She smiled back at him.
Later that same afternoon Kuya Freddie had a heart attack in his home. He passed away at a young age of 57.