3am Oct 23, 1990. The words he shouted that early morning of his last birthday awakened us all in the house. “I have 17 children and I remember all their birthdays but not one of them remembers mine anymore.” My mother, his sixth wife, ran to his bedside and told him in a reassuring voice that none of us have forgotten but its just three in the morning. We’re supposed to surprise him in the morning but we’re the one surprised.
That’s when my sister Jacqueline, who arrived the night before, started singing the birthday song and we all barged inside his room and crowded his bed while saying our greetings. “Buenos dias Pa, Feliz Cumpleanos”. He looked around, probably checking the attendance and said “Gracias, where is…..” and made the roll call of those who are absent that day.
Its one of my fondest memory of my father, the pretty boy of Negros, Alfonso Azcona ‘Ytoy’ Ballesteros. Born on Oct 23 1914. He was the 13th son of Don Joaquin Perez Ballesteros Sr. from Cartagena, Spain but migrated to the Philippines in the late 1800’s.
They say, the eldest son is made out of love while the youngest is made out of habit, I have to disagree because I have seen how our father pampered us all, raised and cared for all of us equally, the 17 of us, without favoritism. Although lately I have realized (don’t tell any of my siblings) that none of my brothers and sisters is spectacular enough, for him to stop siring another. He only stopped when I was born.
Being the youngest is never easy, believe me. There was one occasion in grade school when we were told to draw our ‘family tree’ on a piece of paper. My classmates finished in no time, with the typical drawing of a tree with 4 or 5 branches. Mine cannot fit on a large bond-paper.
My father spent his life moving from one gold mine to another. That was his passion aside from being a flirt all his life. But who can blame him, with his looks and humor, the girls won’t notice what hit them until they get pregnant. Even at 70 years old, in a hospital bed, no nurse can force him to take his medicine without a ‘complimentary kiss’.
He died peacefully in his sleep at 76 years old. I was only 14 then and as much as I would have wanted him to live forever, he was already tired and sickly, he actually prayed his death would come the way it did, and was granted. I just content myself now to listening tales of his adventure from the elders. Stories from the glorious days when he was young and loving all the girls who came his way.
We will never forget you Pa, happy 101st birthday! Your dreams live on! Viva la raza!
Until we meet again Pa, together with brothers Vicente, Lorenzo, Alfonso Jr, Arthur and sister Caridad who are all with you now. Viva vechuelas, Vivala raza!