To Grandmother's House We Go - My Family Travels

Buko (young coconut) pie for breakfast.
Ama tried to send us home with all these banana chips!

“Crossing the ocean inside a huge plane, to grandmother’s house we go…”

My grandparents live in the Philippines, a sixteen-hour flight across the Pacific. Sure, we may navigate over more than just rivers and woods, but my grandmother’s (and grandfather’s) scarlet-tiled, yellow-walled house is as homey and familiar as anybody’s. We arrive in Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport at about midnight. The minute I step off the plane, I feel as though I’ve been rammed into a dense wall of sultry, humid air. The drive to Lucena City takes about three more hours, but at least it’s cool inside the van. I curl up in the backseat, surrounded by all the dusty luggage. I know I should try to sleep to adjust to the time zone, but I’m too excited listening to my dad and grandparents happily chattering away in their native tongue of Tagalog. Their polysyllabic words swoop and dance over me like iridescent tropical birds.

The moment I open the front door of Ama’s house, her two cocker spaniels, Chester and Pachuchay, begin howling and yelping. They scamper over to our stacks of boxes and suitcases, invigorated by the sudden inflood of people and animated jabbering. I want to play with them, but the drowsy waves of jet lag find me slowly trudging upstairs to bed. Maybe tomorrow!

A universal fact about grandparents is that they always think you should eat more. I think it’s their own special way of expressing their unceasing love for their grandchildren. For breakfast, we have fortified white bread with longaniza, a sweet, oily sausage with a savory garlic aroma. There’s fruit, too: green mangoes with chili sauce, tinned peaches, and langka from my great-uncle’s garden next door. I was astounded the first time I saw those massive, green-spiked jackfruit hanging precariously from their spindly branches. Now, I readily help him pluck the sticky yellow pods from the inedible surrounding fiber and toss them in plastic containers.

After breakfast, I seek respite in the west bedroom, the only air-conditioned room in the entire house. My grandparents, uncles, and aunts are all accustomed to the muggy, equatorial heat, but I, being from four-season Ohio, still need to catch my breath every few hours or so. There, I practice a wooden flute that my grandmother gifted me and scroll through my iPod and look through all the pictures I’d taken of the dogs (What do you mean too many? They’re so cute!).

“Lunchtime!” Ama calls up the stairs.
“But we just had breakfast!” I reply, laughing.
“Still too skinny. Come, come eat.”

She scoops heaping ladlefuls of rice onto a glass platter. My mother gasps with delight at all the fresh seafood: an entire steamed fish, tiny clams in a clear ginger broth, even bright red crabs gleaming with coconut milk. After we eat, Ama grabs her flowing, sequin-patterned scarf and wide-brimmed hat and announces that we are going to the wet market. “And after that,” she says, “we will go to the bakery to order a buko pie.” “Buko pie?” I wonder. Turns out, it’s a delicious layering of sweet custard and tender young coconut in a thick, buttery crust. Paired with a cup of hot chocolate, it’s an excellent breakfast the following day. Because, you know, you can never eat quite enough at grandmother’s house. She loves you way too much.

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