(Taking time off from her duties as assistant to the RCC president, her father, Bienvenido “Donnie” Tantoco III, Nicole, now 30, wrote this heartfelt tribute to her Lolo, Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco, Sr., the father of Philippine luxury retail who passed away July 6, 2021. She shares it with TheDiarist.ph—Editor)
I have a beautiful, handwritten note from my Lolo Benny. He gave it to me when I was 12 years old. In his elegant script, he encouraged me to write. He told me that he wanted me to write a book about him. At 12, I couldn’t wrap my head around the monumentality of this task. How could the words of a little girl do this larger-than-life man justice? But that was Lolo. He believed in the promise in each one of us.
My Lolo loved books. On the shelves of his library, he collected leather-bound volumes of the classics. He spoke fondly of his memories of school, of being taught by his American teacher to appreciate poetry, some lines of which he never forgot. ‘I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree,’ my Lolo Benny recited.
Lolo had lost his father and became the breadwinner of his family at a young age. He had lived through the Second World War. He knew that there were more tragedies than comedies in the world outside the page. Trees by Joyce Kilmer is poignant in its simplicity, in its gentle recognition that even in the darkest moments, there is still so much beauty and hope to be found on this earth.
To Lolo, it held an even deeper truth. Watching the sunlight trickling through the leaves and hearing the cheerful chirping of the birds in his garden he’d wonder aloud, ‘How can anyone doubt there is a God?’ Throughout his lifetime, this faith remained shatterproof.
Lolo recognized that life was a blessing, one that we only had a single shot at, and he wanted to live it well. Even in his late 90s, when he was beginning to feel weak and less energetic, he tried his best to be as present as he could with everyone. He was always the first guest to arrive at all of the family’s births, baptisms, weddings, graduations, school programs, recitals, etc. He had a ready smile and funny story for everyone, and went out of his way to greet even the youngest grandchild as though they were his most honored guest.
There was nothing that filled his heart more than making us laugh. He’d often say the only gift he wanted was ‘To be surrounded by family, nothing else’.
A few years ago, I got to spend more time with my Lolo than usual. Afternoons were usually when my Tita Tess (Tantoco-Enriquez) would be with him. At the time, she was taking care of her childhood yaya, so she asked some of the family members to help make sure Lolo was never alone. I was one of them.
‘You don’t have to be here if you don’t want to. I am ok’
What are you doing here?’ he asked, the first time I arrived at his house. ‘I’m here to spend time with you,’ I said. ‘You don’t have to be here if you don’t want to. I am ok,’ he said, shooing me away with his hand. I held him and said, ‘No Lolo, I like spending time with you. I want to be here.’ He said, ‘Ok’.
We sat together in his living room searching for common ground. We both loved talking about old movies: Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and anything that starred Audrey Hepburn. I went there thinking that I would be the one to take care of him, but the opposite occurred.
It was my Lolo Benny who entertained and made me laugh. He had lived such a rich life and had so many stories to tell. He had traveled to almost every country in the world. When I asked him if he had ever been to Cuba, he exclaimed, ‘Yes!’ before pausing and making a quip that ‘There is no arroz a la cubana there. That is a Filipino invention!’
After a while, he admitted he was feeling tired. He asked if it was ok if he rested. He told me I could use one of the rooms to rest also. I asked if it was ok if I still stayed next to him. We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting quietly together.
One of the last stories we shared was about Lola Glecy. ‘Your Lola was brilliant! Smarter than any person with a college degree!’ he said. Again, he asked if it was ok if he could rest. As he leaned back in his leather chair, I watched him retreat into the silence of his own thoughts, preparing himself for the moment he’d get to be with her again.