FROM THE DESK OF: Nina
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been conditioned to believe that the way my family does gatherings was completely, one hundred percent, normal.
By Filipino standards, perhaps it is just that. If you’ve ever grown up in a Filipino family (or at least been exposed to one), you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s an all-day, grueling (but fun) process that usually looks something like this: you wake up, take care of your assigned party prep duties, maybe change before everyone comes, greet every single relative that walks through the door, eat, socialize with a few of your fifty or so relatives present at house, eat, make your way to the living room for some music time (and avoid being called on by Lola to play the piano you haven’t played in years, or, God forbid, bust out that tap routine you did at that one party when you were six), eat, gradually send off relatives as they go home, pack up (or – you guessed it – eat) whatever food wasn’t taken for baon, then wash a mountain of dishes and put everything back to normal before going to sleep.
(… Okay, so maybe not so normal, now that I reread the tap dance thing. #personalproblem?)
Needless to say, prepping parties on that kind of scale can be quite a daunting task, and could be perceived as a bit of a deviation from the norm. But, all duties and social idiosyncrasies aside, there is a certain something special present at these parties that marks these moments as my fondest memories in my mind. It’s what one of my beloved aunts always called “QT”, or quality time: this incredible, overwhelmingly warm sense of joy our family feels when we see each other.
What makes this phenomenon special, I think, is the tendency for QT to transcend generations: at our gatherings, it’s not an uncommon sight to see an uncle-in-law strike up a conversation about technology with a nephew, a lolo team up with a youngster to poke fun at an auntie, or a niece play guitar as an auntie sings along. Sure, there’s still this unspoken standard of honoring the chain of command and respecting your elders; but when it comes to spending quality time, the concept of age and rank seems to disappear.
One of the best times to witness this is during music time. Music time is that moment during family parties when someone magically pulls out a guitar or sheet music for the piano (because there is always a piano) they just so happen to have on hand, and a group of relatives of all ages gather in the living room to sing. Music time is inevitable, and more often than not you are dragged into it at some point, to some capacity.
This past weekend’s Easter celebration at my house was no exception. When bird-like Bisaya among my lola and aunties soon turned into reminiscing about life in the Philippines, and reminiscing soon translated into singing old songs from my aunties’ and lola’s childhoods, I knew that music time was well among us. My lola and aunties took turns playing the guitar as others sang, and soon after my little sister joined in on the music with her ukulele. Even my Mexican grandmother from my dad’s side rose from her seat and started dancing along to the music! How is it that these three generations of women, from different backgrounds (and even in different languages), managed to pull together a family band so quickly?! To me, it could only be due to the magical properties of music time and QT.
So is my idea of the dynamic of a family gathering normal? Probably not.
Is it dizzying, perplexing, and overwhelming at times? Definitely.
But, nevertheless, it’s what I grew up with, and I’ll always remember these moments as some of the best times of my life.
I wouldn’t change that for the world.