The Brothers Ilagan


A few years ago, my brother and I forged the unlikely start of what I hope will be a holiday tradition. I had stopped by his home during a visit to Amsterdam, and he served us an impromptu dinner of fettuccine and shrimp in a sherry cream sauce. I must say this about my brother – the man knows how to cook, and he can do it without a recipe. After finishing the meal, he suggested that we head over to a childhood haunt – Samuel Fariello’s – an old-style candy shop that serves ice cream and sundaes. We used to ride our bikes there when we were kids, bringing a pocketful of change and buying gum and candy sticks and baseball cards.

All these years later, it was still open, with a different set of owners, but the space was exactly the same. It was just a few days before Christmas, and the shop was decked out for the holiday. Baskets of chocolate confections and nuts filled the shelves, and a few treasured jars of turkey joints (one of the best bits of candy mankind has ever created) stood on the counter. We sat at a booth and ordered a couple of sundaes.

Suddenly I was a kid again, and it was summer, and my brother and I were passing the day away in Sammy’s.

From the simplest of actions and the plainest of places, a magical moment can sometimes be created through the power of memory and the pull of family. It was a night I’d remember fondly, a quick unplanned evening of brotherly bonding with the only boy in the world who knew exactly what I went through as a kid because he went through the exact same thing – a childhood in the Ilagan family, with all its privileges and difficulties, and the normal ups and downs of any family.

It sounds like such a simple thing, but I always cherish any time with my brother, as odd as that may sound to those who know us. We are two very different people – about as completely different as two brothers could possibly be, yet we come from the same place, and that’s something that can never be changed. On that cold candy shop night, we came back to where we once were…

This year I called my brother up and asked if we could do it again, so I met up with him at Fariello’s. He brought his son Noah with him, the next generation of Ilagans being indoctrinated to the candy store.

(We’d bring a sundae home to his wife and their daughter Emi – well, I would bring one home, my brother forgetting that it was on his car as he peeled away, leaving me to pick it up on the street behind him as I followed in my car.)

As I sat there feeding Noah bits of my sundae, I wondered if I’d be the Uncle I always wanted my Uncle to be. It was an impossible wish, really, and I would always demand too much. I watched my nephew, feeling the tug of my Uncle on my heart, and the tenderness for a child who may or may not know what to do with my love.

Later on, I stopped by their home to say hello to Erin and Emi, who was already in her pajamas. She showed me some of the ornaments on the tree, and I was once again touched by the wonder of a child at Christmas.

As we get older, more traditions seem to fall by the wayside. People leave, things change, and as much as I embrace the new, part of me still clings desperately to what little can be preserved, what can stay the same, and in our own way this is a little chance to hang on. It’s too soon to see if our sundae holiday tradition sticks, and maybe we’ll only do it every few years, but you have to start somewhere.

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