Grandpa Miguel Cecilio (reboot)


I met Grandpa for the first time in a photo: Bushy eyebrows, full lips, wavy hair cropped close to the head. Dressed in a wool suit jacket worn over a white dress shirt, bow tie with a crosshatched design.

Full-frontal profile in the color of sepia crookedly cropped and set in a 12 x 18 inch frame. Indiscriminately written on the back of the photo in blue ink cursive, Miguel Cecilio and the year 1938.

From a purely historical standpoint, Miguel Cecilio’s moustache resembles that of Hitler. Yet, he looks more like a Romantic poet pleading for you to see into the complexity behind those soulful eyes.

Mama said she was born in 1941, though her birth certificate states 1940. That mean that this photo of Grandpa labeled 1938 must have been taken only two or three years before Mama was born. Mama said he died when she was three. He looks no more than 30 in the photo, which means he both became a father and died at a relatively young age.

Papa says that Filipinos tend to date their photos arbitrarily, meaning no one knows for sure if this photo was really taken in 1938. Maybe Grandma (assuming she’s the one most likely to have labeled the photo) decided to date it on the day Grandpa gave it to her, rather than writing down the year it was actually taken. Or, if Grandpa didn’t give it to her, perhaps the photo slipped out of the pages of a magazine, cookbook, or out of Grandpa’s private diary only to be discovered accidentally. Perhaps Grandma found it stuck between the cushions of Grandpa’s favorite armchair, or underneath the kitchen sink. No one knows for sure, but what this does mean is that there’s the possibility this photo was taken years before 1938 – say as early as 1930 or even 1928. If this is the case, then this man who would become my grandfather became father to my mother at an older age than imagined previously, which would mean that he didn’t die all that young after all.

Whatever the case, what is known for certain is that the man in the photo, Miguel Cecilio, left behind a family in Spain (a wife and son) and some time later married a woman in the Philippines, the young woman who became my grandmother, who was a mere teenager at the time. He and she had two daughters together.

This one photo remains of Grandpa Miguel Cecilio, an up-close profile of his face with a moustache and brown eyes. He appears young in the photo, and by any standard, a handsome man.

1944 (or 43)

Grandma told her two daughters – the woman who became my mother and the woman who became my aunt – that their father had been killed by a wild boar while hunting, that he bled to death after being gored by said boar.

Adult male wild boars develop tusks that serve as tools and weapons. Adult female boars also have sharp canines but not protruding like the male.

Wild boars forage in the early morning hours or late afternoon. The male lowers its head, charges, and then slashes upward with his tusks. The female, whose tusks are not visible, charges with her head up, mouth wide, and bites. Such attacks are not often fatal to humans, but may result in severe trauma, dismemberment, or blood loss.

Miguel Cecilio did not lose a limb. A female boar – in an effort to protect her young – might have charged him. He did not stop to observe whether the boar attacked from a solitary position or from a sounder.

It isn’t of vital importance to know whether the boar that gored Miguel Cecilio was male or female. Either way, an attack could lead to blood loss, which could lead to one bleeding to death. The story goes that Miguel Cecilio bled to death from a fatal wound, whether a bite or a slash. Such attacks are not usually fatal to humans.

Grandpa only knew his daughter – the woman who became my mother – until the age of three. He never knew that she would die of a rare cancer at the age of 58. Only five percent of women who get uterine cancer get this most deadly kind.


She placed his photo – a kind of oracle of a tragedy yet to come – on the table at the entrance of the hallway, between two fancy candelabras so she could look at it inconspicuously on the way out the door each day.

This habit of photo worship began when Josephine was very young.


Lourdes, Miguel Cecilio’s wife, built a shrine. Lourdes kept the shrine for years after Miguel’s death, dusting and polishing the crosses and frames each week, one at a time. At the time there were plenty of other photos of her husband. None of them were in color. Some were sepia, others black and white. Josephine, the older of the two daughters, happened to grab the photo that would become the only surviving one, rescuing it from the fire that burned not only the entire shrine, but all the other photos when she was nine (or ten). The fire was put out in time to save the home and their lives.

All of this occurred a short time before Lourdes, the mother of Josephine and Patricia, sent them away to a Catholic orphanage.

There the nuns in charge of Josephine and Patricia stole their valuables – jewelry, money, hairpieces and stationary for writing letters home. That is why Lourdes never received any letters from her daughters while they grew into young ladies. The nuns left the photo of the young girls’ father, Miguel Cecilio, alone because it did not appear valuable – neither the photo nor the plastic frame in which it was held.

Josephine slept with the photo under her pillow. She often snuck it out at night after the nuns made their rounds and under the sheet with a small flashlight, she admired the smooth skin and beckoning eyes. She tried to match any memories of her father with the man in the photo and came up empty. She tried to picture the shrine photos before they burned, but the flames always got in the way. In time, the only memory she had was the figure in this one photo.

The sisters’ beds sat side by side, and often, after the nuns made their ritual rounds, they would scoot their beds together into one. Patricia asked for her turn to sleep with the photo under her pillow, not because it was of any real importance to her. As the younger of the two, she wanted only to emulate the older. In fact, being the younger, she felt no kinship with the handsome man in the photo who happened to be her father. But in order to be the good big sister that she knew she should be, Josephine acquiesced and hesitantly handed the valued photo to her sister every other night.


At last, in the bloom of their youth, their mother Lourdes removed Josephine and Patricia from the orphanage and brought them back home. Josephine, now a teen, lacked the same fervor she had had for the photo of her father and gave it back to her mother, who set it inside a drawer (she couldn’t keep it on display as she was now married to another man). The photo survived the passing years of forgetfulness, and somehow ended up once again in Josephine’s possession.


One day, on her way out the door, Josephine forgot to look at the photo. At mid-day, she tried to see her father as a living, moving being in color, holding her three-year-old self on his knee. She failed. Rather, she saw a large rifle mounted on the wall. When she blinked, the rifle was gone. In its place was an overcoat, which when she approached it in her daydream smelled like medicine and Lysol.


By the time Josephine reached midlife, she had had several children. I, the youngest of four girls, one day inquired about Grandfather Miguel Cecilio. I used to tell my classmates the story you told me, I said to Mama, in the fifth grade. My friends would giggle and ask me to tell the story again and again. Had Grandpa really been killed by a wild boar? At last, Mama told me, rumor has it he really died of a fatal illness, most likely cancer, one of the real leading causes of death.

I look at this one surviving photo of Grandpa Miguel Cecilio again and again: The same bushy eyebrows. Full lips. Wavy hair cropped close to the head. Brown soulful eyes. I try to see passed them. All I see is this one thing. This one thing only.

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