It’s Christmas season again, and due to nostalgia, I remember my Christmastime experiences in the Philippines. All were happy, joyous experiences except one, and this always makes me chuckle whenever I remember it. It was an unbelievable one, as it involved cunning, stealth moves on my part. I call the story about it, “The Great Escape.”
I have many godsons and goddaughters in the Philippines. By my estimate they number at least 60. Most of them were children of my friends who had difficulty meeting ends me. I stood as their godfather or “ninong” at their baptismal or nuptial rites. There was one exception: I was not present at the baptismal rites of one goddaughter because her father, my friend (the late top Manila journalist Tony Nieva), never informed me about it and just wrote my name in the baptismal certificate.
So every Christmas Day, almost all my godchildren would visit me in my house in Cavite and do the traditional “mano po, ninong.” As a good, dutiful “ninong,” I would serve them sumptuous meals. Before they go home, I would give them money and “keso de bola” or a bottle of whiskey or brandy.
With some 50 of my 60 godchildren descending on my house on Christmas Day, you could just imagine how big is the amount I had to spend. I did not mind the big expense because I truly believe in the saying, “it is better to give than to receive.”
There was one Christmas Day, though, that I was running low in my finances. I did not have the money for gifts for my many “inaanak.” The problem was that I could not directly tell my poor godchildren to excuse me for not giving them any gift. If I said so, it would mean I was tight-wad and heartless, and not heeding the spirit of the season.
I had to devise a scheme. I could not go to the Ilocos and hide there because that would be a disaster. I have at least hundred relatives there who would certainly nag me to give them gifts. That would be like jumping “from the frying pan to the fire.”
After several nights of cerebral activities, I came out with the “Great Escape” scheme. It was a simple plot, not as complicated as what Steve McQueen hatched in the 1963 movie of the same title. It required me to go away on Christmas Day so I could avoid my visiting “inaanak.” I had to go away without using my car as my getaway vehicle. Using my car would mean that I purposely went away.
With the car in the garage, the presumption was that I was in the house. I told my wife if people are looking for me, she would say I go somewhere near and would be back soon. My wife was a willing conspirator in my Great Escape.
I flagged a taxicab and told the driver that I am hiring him for six to seven hours. I told him to just keep driving as I did not have any destination. I figured that the money I had would be just enough for the taxicab fare. And it would be just one-fifth of the amount I used to spend for gifts and meals for my “inaanak.”
It seemed like a perfect scheme. At an intersection where traffic was at a standstill, I heard someone shouting, “Ninong, Ninong.” The girl knocking on the cab’s window was one of my “inaanak.” My instinct was to get out and run, but I surmised that if I run away, she would certainly chase me. There was no escape. I opened the cab’s window, and gave her the only money, P300, in my wallet. Luckily, the traffic started moving again.
My well considered scheme was not 100 percent fool-proof, but it confirms what John Steinbeck had said, “Even the best laid plan of mice and men can go awry.”