A Tribute to My Uncle Totchie, Gangster Hero of the Streets

Death is a thing that no man can escape. Sooner or later, despite all the advances of science and medicine, regardless of stretching out our telomeres to unimaginable lengths, we would all soon expire. We’ll never be certain how, where, when, what or why should we give up our breath. Should it be feared or should it be accepted? If you ask Mr. Bernabe Galang, he’d probably say that if it’s time, it’s time to accept and embrace it wholeheartedly without fear or remorse.

Two days ago, Bernabe Galang a.k.a. my uncle Totchie died. He was a man that had a rather colorful history that many people may dismiss as nothing worth noting. How he came to be “Totchie” despite being named “Bernabe” is something that his brothers and sisters would only be able to answer properly. In our family, he’s infamous for his character flaws and his vices. In many ways, he could have been stereotyped or pigeonholed as the neighborhood tough guy, a gangster with a bottle or two or Red Horse or Colt 45 malt liquor in each hand. It’s no secret that he mooched off money from my Dad, my Godmother as well as my uncles and aunts. Some may say he may have led a selfish life. However, the opinions of other people may differ.

My Dad describes him as a person with a remarkable sense of honesty and justice. During his stint as a dispatcher in Alabang’s jeepney terminal, the place was safe. Stories have indicated that no pickpocket or mugger left the place unscathed. Such was his reputation as the bane of petty criminals on public transport that you would hear accounts that snatchers would rather give up their stolen goods rather than receive a beating from a 60-year-old former Philippine Constabulary sergeant. Without a doubt he would never hesitate to save your life when you are in trouble.

From an occupational therapist’s perspective, I find his sense of self-discipline remarkable. While he may have his destructive habits, he had enough wit and determination to enable himself to functionally recover from incidences of heart attacks and strokes. Unless you were trained in the rehabilitation or health sciences, you wouldn’t notice he’s had neurological problems in the past. He fared better than the rest of the people I’ve encountered that have had similar medical histories just because he was determined enough to relearn how to do his everyday tasks independently as if he hadn’t had stroke for a number of times (and yes that includes maybe punching a few muggers in the process).

No matter who he was or what sort of legacy he had left, he remains to be loved by the people around him, the family he had left behind. Was he afraid of death? Certainly not. From what I’ve heard yesterday, it seems that at the very least he believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Perhaps he wasn’t afraid of giving up his breath because of that. Struggled he may with his vices, I choose to remember him for his redeeming qualities, the positive things I remember about him as a child, the fascinating stories, the one-time 30-second sparring match when I was a teen (an event where I’m pretty sure he was going easy on me), my Dad’s stories about his love-hate relationship with the man. All of these things have led to forming the image of a fascinating man in my mind.

Did he leave this earth in peace as we all would like to believe? We wouldn’t really know, but it wouldn’t be hard to form that image in your head that he’d smile and laugh about all of this as he watches how everything unfolds. We’d all like to believe that perhaps during the last few seconds of his colorful life, he had felt some form of peace and comfort. Someday, I might write a piece of music or a song about him if the inspiration fuels me enough. It drove me enough to write about this and so I wouldn’t doubt if it does happen eventually. One thing for sure is that such a life was enough for me to honor Mr. Bernabe Galang, the gangster hero of the streets, as a person who acted as the spice of life for the Galang family.

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