By Mani F. Gella
Tito Pepillo, my friend's venerable father, holds the distinction of being
the most senior among the elderly in his community where everybody deferentially calls him abuelo.
Much as he basks in this appellation, he refuses to feel old. To him, his age is just a number, a
whopping number maybe, but still a number. He argues that age is a state of mind. And that one is
only as old as he perceives himself to be. These homespun philosophies of Tito Pepillo's became his
guiding principles in life.
Weakened now by the burden of years, he still brims over with grandiose plans for
the future; his future. He dreams of putting up a small business because “boredom is finally setting in”,
he complains. He threatens to run for mayor in his hometown come election time. When reminded that
he is “highly disqualified”, he vehemently protested that if a priest can be elected governor in his home
province why in heaven's name cannot a centenarian like him be a town mayor?
To many, he may sound a bit odd and strange and perhaps rightly so. But Mang
Valentin, his barber for life, says without fear of contradiction, that Tito Pepillo has earned the just
claim to his occasional lapses. After all, not everybody gets to be his age, the barber points out quite
When asked what is the secret of his longevity, Tito Pepillo succinctly replied;
“Everything in moderation.” A nugget of wisdom indeed from someone who has been around
for a while.
When he hit the century mark, his grandchildren gifted him with made-to-order
T-shirts, two of which he particularly treasured and which had the following captions printed on
them—“21st CENTURY FOX” and “GREAT TO BE 100 - NO PEER PRESSURE.”
His birthday falls on the eve of hallowe'en. He was born when the clock eerily
struck 12; the time for the captive souls in purgatory to roam the deserted streets of the town
begging for prayers, as one old wives' tale goes.
When his kids were growing up, hallowe'en was always a big to do in the family
but with a difference. Instead of the usual trick-or-treat, Tito Pepillo, like his dramatist father,
wrote short plays and staged them on the eve of hallowe'en to the delight of his children and
their cousins. But his plays were nothing like the spooky Freddie Kruger-Friday the 13th stuff. They
touched more on things that were close to his heart, like family.
Inspired by his family's rich history, he depicted situations replete with the time-
honored values of paying homage to their dear departed, preserving family traditions and
perpetuating filial love; values that were forever etched in the young minds of his profusely
Although a strict disciplinarian, he has his light moments too. For this reason, his
grandchildren, when they were small, looked forward with great anticipation to their weekend visits
with him. A raconteur of the first order, he tirelessly regaled them with hallowe'en stories and his
military exploits during the war. To the impressionable kids, he was their war hero and role model,
second to none.
There is this one favorite hallowe'en story that Tito Pepillo relishes to tell over and
over again. And every time he did, it grew in the telling. So much so that each time it was told, his
grandchildren, with bated breath, hung on to his every word lest they miss the “new twists” to the
The story goes something like this. A small community of a coastal town in the
middle of nowhere woke up one morning , after a hallowe'en night of revelry, to rows upon rows of
empty chicken houses. The chicken coops were systematically and methodically wiped out by
hallowe'en pranksters of their white-leg horn and rhode island chicken, the town's lifeline to
progress. This cruel hallowe'en trick signaled the untimely demise of a promising poultry industry
of the town. Henceforth, the inconsolable townsfolk vowed never to raise much more eat chicken
again till their dying day.
Later on, this fowl story evolved from the two-bit chicken marauders to pirates
who sailed from the depths of the sea who did not only steal chickens but pillaged the town. Only
this time, the town put up a valiant fight and drove away the pirates, never to return again. The
kids simply lapped up every twist and turn of this rehashed story like it was some kind of fairy tale.
On the other hand, each time he talked of the adversities that he was faced with
as a prisoner of war, his children could not hide their dismay over the unfulfilled promises made to
war veterans like their father (now all aging and fast dwindling in number) who selflessly put their
lives on the line fighting a war that was not of their own making.
Getting on in years has its downside too. Tito Pepillo realized this when he went
through three major surgeries followed by a slew of hospital confinements. But each time he did,
he looked none the worse for it. Enviably a survivor of life's vicissitudes , this Tito Pepillo.
Once in a great while, he is overcome by pangs of nostalgia. He yearns for the
day when he can go back in time and relive that part of his youth when he did not have a care in the
world; when life was simpler and less complexed.
An only son in a brood of seven, he got separated from his parents and sisters at
an early age when he was sent to study in an exclusive school for boys far away from home.
There he learned to speak Spanish like a native. This fluency in the language, he owed to Father
Jorge, his mentor and spiritual adviser, who spoke to him only in Spanish and nothing else through
out his schooling. Every now and then, Tito Pepillo recounts this episode with unabashed pride
to anybody who cared to listen.
With a tinge of sadness, he misses the weekly tete-a-tete he used to have
with his widowed mother (who lived to be 99) when she shared with him in whispers (fearful that
someone was listening) the family's well-guarded secrets over a bottle of beer. This bonding with
his beloved Mama was his way of making up for all the precious moments that were lost in time.
Now at 101, Tito Pepillo still has his dreams. He still tells the chicken story. And
yes, he still waits for hallowe'en to stage another play.