It must be more than three-generations old, almost as ancient as our family compound. I am definitely sure of it. During the growing years we were still busy with school and being constantly out with our friends, we would always go home in the late evening, to see its area teeming with activity, surrounded by old folks; my parents, our aunts and uncles, cousins, and even neighbors until the wee hours. Situated at the lanai overlooking our garden, you could hear the clicking of mahjong tiles from the gate as you entered. That only meant that the old folks were still up, well past their bedtime.
My brothers and sisters, we all grew up to a household that had once been madly-smitten by the old game, developed in China during the Qing dynasty centuries ago. For one who grew up in Ponciano Reyes Street in the 60s, that familiar sound of tiles being mixed on a table by four players, was the unmistakable soundtrack of our siesta afternoons. So widely-popular was it at the time, that the players, those versions of today’s gamers, could give out gambling chips to the children who by chance, disturbed them, to buy goodies at the local Chinese sari-sari store, thus leaving them in peace. The store owner who knew everybody, could then come after the sessions that lasted till evening and exchange the chips for their cash equivalent . A really cool incentive for us, especially from our grandfather-slash-player, as our papa and mama were still at the office during those times.
Later on, when our family had moved to Bajada, the game had moved in with us, that table included. Everyday till the weekends, it had become the usual place where my late grandfather would play his mahjong solitaire, and often with us kids.
Eventually, this was also that time when he taught us how to play so he could have a ready quorum of “playmates”, when his usual co-players, my parents and uncles were not available. A clever motive perhaps, but he had taught some neighbors as well so they followed suit in our wake. In other words, it was safe to say that my Lolo Ute had introduced Mahjong to our hood. Thereafter, my brothers and I would play whenever we could. There was even a time when a brother who had come home to visit one weekend from studies in Los Banos, practically never left the table until his flight back Sunday. Until the time my grandfather passed away, our mahjong table had become a silent witness to the steady parade of player-relatives, more neighbors and our family’s fated second-liners, some nieces and nephews who followed after us. Plus some friends.
That family pastime had long gone. When my mom, my aunt and elder sister passed away, we relegated the table to a corner of the lanai and put away the mahjong tiles a last time. We fondly said that their quorum was complete in heaven anyway, and that was it.
The new batch of family rugrats that had been born were not interested anymore, with the advent of present-day things and digital toys attracting their fancy. All for the good perhaps, mahjong was actually old school, and who plays it anymore these days? As for our beloved mahjong table, it has become adjunct table whenever we had reunions and such. A place for meals, purses, umbrellas and small talk.
Last weekend, our nieces, nephews and grandchildren had gathered again at the old house for a late birthday bash, and after lunch, we had naturally gravitated toward that old table again.
A fond reminiscing of its history had followed, flowing with happy old tales of loved ones long gone, who once sat before it. For me, it had become a reunion of sorts for old and new, the living and the spirits of family. As we sat, laughed and sang at that ex-mahjong table, my only wish had been: If only it could talk.