This past week, I attended the funeral of my Uncle Ben, my dad’s brother, in San Diego – Mira Mesa to be exact. I spent half my life there during my summers and weekends, going to the beach, hanging out with my cousins, and generally having the type of fun that any teen-ager and young adult would have. We’re talking about long days of surfing, looking for parties at night, and the occasional jaunt down to Tijuana just for the heck of it. You name it, and we probably did it. Those were my young, joyous, and carefree years, times I look back to ever so fondly. All of which helped me become who I am today.
Wherever and whatever we did back then, we always had to go back “home” somewhere, and for those times in San Diego, it was on Summerdale Road, at my cousin Alex’s house. There he lived with my younger cousin Jennifer (his sister), his mom Auntie Fe, and his dad, Uncle Ben.
We were your typical teen-agers, only thinking about what fun we can have at any given moment; seeing what was going on with our friends, or what the surf was going to be like. Simpler times. But the one person who always kept us in check at Al’s house was Uncle Ben.
Uncle Ben was the spitting image of my own dad, just a tad older and taller. He was always pretty jovial and inviting, just living life in his humble home in suburban San Diego. I always saw him as a traditional, old school, filipino man, a true immigrant who made his way to the USA along with his own siblings, making a life for himself, and doing whatever was needed to make it work. He wasn’t flashy, or outspoken, or the life of the party. He didn’t seem to value expensive things, just whatever he could afford. He was usually reserved, and carried himself with an air of ease and calm, and when he talked he used his deep voice to let you know what was on his mind. He was well liked and loved by many, spending a lot of time with his siblings and friends. I think nothing mattered more to him than family and friends.
For Alex and I, whenever he would call out for either of us, it was in that same deep voice that made you think “Oh $h!t, we better go see what your dad wants!”. And for rambunctious teens, it was usually because we needed to do some house chores we forgot about. Looking back on it, we definitely didn’t want to do any of it, but thank goodness Uncle Ben made sure we did. Because I was technically a “guest”, I never really got in trouble or expected to do the stuff Alex had to, but I always made sure I did my own share so as to not get on his bad side! Besides, like everyone else, if you did something wrong at a relative’s house, the rest of the family heard about it, and you were blackballed or labeled! Lovingly of course
Aside from his occasional tongue lashings (the deserved kind!), Uncle Ben kept to himself. He loved to cook, work on stuff at the house, sit back and relax watching “Nat’l Geographic”, or as mentioned during his funeral mass, hang out in his open garage and watch the world go by. His quiet nature made you respect him and somehow fear him as well, but deep down you knew he was on your side. Anytime he would yell at you, you probably deserved it. I definitely did, albeit, due to guilt by association whenever my cousin Al was in trouble. But that’s how it was on Summerdale Rd.
Uncle Ben was always cool about me staying there. Never made me feel un-welcomed. I could walk in and out, even after a long stints away, I could walk back in and it would feel like “home” again, where time didn’t pass. At one point he garnered the nickname the “Benster”, coined by our other cousin Joe. We laughed our @$$es off that day, and the name stuck, even at his gravesite ceremony.
I’ll miss Uncle Ben. I wasn’t able to see him during the last months of his life, but I’ll always remember him as the jovial giant that he was, and how he kept us in line, and just made growing up in San Diego ever so memorable. He truly was an icon of my youth, as all the important people in my life are, but this one stood tall and strong, like the gentle, quiet giant he was. I’ll always be grateful for his loving sternness, his perpetual hospitality, and for treating me like one of his own kids. He truly was one of the greats.
Take care Uncle Ben, rest in peace, and thanks.
Left to right – Uncle Ben (The “Benster”), Auntie Fe (his wife), my dad, Me, my brother J.J., and my other Uncle Ben.
Taken during my 1993 USC Graduation.