I grew up not really being close to my mother. As a child, the moment I realized that I was alive, all I knew was that I have a mother and a father. And that I have four siblings. And whether I liked it or not, I have to treat them with love and respect because they are my family.
So I looked at my mother (whom I called “Nanay”) for who she really was to me, a mother. And I looked at my father (whom I call “Tatay”) as only my father. Persons who have power or authority over me because they are my parents. Persons who will tell me what to do and what not to do. Persons that I’d rather keep my distance because they are way older than me.
My Nanay was a graduate from one of the top reputable schools in the Philippines, the University of the Philippines. She took up Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education at UP Baguio then later on she transferred to UP Diliman, the dream school of many high school graduates. She was the eldest among five children. When they all became adults, the rest of her younger siblings went abroad to work and later became American citizens. My mother stayed behind because she already had a young family to take care of.
My Nanay got married fresh out of college. She fell in love with a man who was her opposite. While she was good in academics and had a bright future ahead of her, she fell in love with someone who came from a more simple background and doesn’t have a college degree. Some relatives told me that my parents eloped so they could be together because my mother’s parents were so strict, especially my mother’s mother. My Tatay loved her dearly because as far as I know growing up, there was never this “other woman.” Growing up, I hardly saw them affectionate or sweet with each other, in fact, oftentimes, I would see them fight over money. Over petty issues. And even if my Tatay only reached second year of college and would rather be married to my mother and work, he was very responsible and a good provider. Though we live in a patriarchal society, in our household, it was more “matriarchal.” It was my Nanay who would give orders and instructions to my Tatay. Yes, my Tatay was “under de saya” and I admire him for that. In his own way, that was how he respected my mother. We had a small but decent, comfortable home inside UP Campus. UP became my Tatay’s employer for many years until he retired. It was in UP Campus, in a boarding house of my Tatay’s uncle, where he met Evangeline, my mother. The love letters that my Nanay sent to him when they were still young and married, my Tatay kept it all these years.
As a mother, Nanay was very strict and very hands on. While my Tatay was responsible in bringing more money to the house, taking a second job as a basketball referee, being the “man” of the house, our Nanay still worked as public school teacher to assist with my father’s meager income while attending to us. Though she was strict and can be harsh with words when she was mad, it never dawned upon us to talk back the same way. We just keep quiet. We kept our issues and resentment to ourselves.
Just to prove how strict my Nanay was, when I got burned by a hot stove, I never told her about it. Because she would get mad if she finds out. So I did everything I could to hide the wound so she wouldn’t see it. I was able to find a way to cure it myself as a little girl using Terramycin ointment. When I became partially deaf due to infection, I never told her about it also. Because I was afraid of her getting mad at me. The only person who knew all about it was God. And He knew how I prayed so hard to heal my ear defect. I became partially deaf since I was ten years old until I was 24. So as a student, I had this loud voice when reporting or reciting in class. One teacher even got impressed with my loud voice during a reporting. At present, I am no longer partially deaf. It got cured when eight years ago this new employer, my fifth job, paid for my pre-employment medical checkup. Thank goodness that despite the decade or many years that I never had my ears checked up or told anyone about it, my hearing defect still got cured. I consider it a miracle.
Under our Nanay’s guidance, we all grew up to be well-behaved and homebodies. We’d rather stay at home than go out that believe it or not it was rather our parents who would encourage and sometimes force us to move out of the house, to play in the streets and be with other kids. We also turned out be obedient children so we did what they told us to do, especially if it was an order from our Nanay. So I played “Langit at Lupa,” “Tumbang Preso,” “Patintero,” “Taguan,” “Habulan,” and other street games with other children in our neighborhood. So my older brothers mingled with other boys. So our eldest sibling played volleyball with her “contemporaries” in our street. But by the end of the day, we remained contented just staying at home watching TV, enjoying Voltes V, Daimos, Bioman, and Shaider, our Asian superheroes. There were also “McGyver” and “Transformers,” American shows that molded us into hopefully good individuals. We also watched “Batibot” and “Sesame Street,” the children’s shows that we never outgrew and will never forget now that we are old. Of course, she let us watch “Eat Bulaga,” which is our favorite noontime show through the years. A show that I believe assisted my mother in turning us into well-rounded individuals than paying a visit to the church. This was how our Nanay reared us. She let us watch TV. She was never into censorship. She trusted us. I never heard her “Don’t watch this, it’s sinful to watch.” I felt that she trusted us. And because of that, at least on my part, I don’t feel like I am repressed or something.
When we were young, she and Tatay would bring us to the Church to hear mass. This was how we came to know Jesus Christ, about this invisible higher being looking over us. But she was never the religious type. Unlike our Tatay, she never forced to pray the rosary. She never forced us to go to mass. She just let us be, she never interfered in our faith growing up. But if she knew that we did something bad, that’s the time that she wouldn’t think twice of monstrously reprimanding us. She had this bad temper. Like for example when one of my brothers kept failing his subjects in school, out of disappointment and frustration, she grounded my brother by not putting him to school for one year. We are not rich so it was heartbreaking for my Nanay that one of her sons was just wasting their money paying for his college education.
Did I mention that we were not close as mother and daughter? But despite that, I was her constant companion or alalay when she goes out to buy groceries or to do her shopping. I remember dining with her in Goldilocks as a little girl then later as a teenager and there we were, never striking a conversation. We just sat and eat quietly and as a child, I didn’t see anything wrong with that. I thought it was just normal. But despite that, she was my greatest musical influence. She loved listening to the music of The Carpenters, Paul Anka, Abba, and other ballad songs in the ‘80s and those are types of music that I grew up with. She collected cassette tapes and LPs. I also later on collected cassette tapes and compact discs. She also stored up a lot of books at home but she never forced us to read it like other parents would do. She just let us be and since we always see her reading something, most of the time a magazine, whether we liked it or not, we just imbibed it. And soon, all of us are into reading.
We are not an I-love-you-hugs-and-kisses kind of family. Maybe it was because even from the kind of families that my mother and father once belonged, they were also not the I-love-you-hugs-and-kisses kind of families. So it became a cycle. Since my mother grew up under a super strict mom, she reversed her strategy when she became a mom herself. She was strict, yes, hot-headed, yes, a nagger, yes, but she could also be lenient and thoughtful. She never put us under curfew. Because she trusted us that we will go home within decent hours, we all indeed went home within decent hours without ever reminding us about it. We just did! Like as if it were already programmed, a value system already built-in.
We are not what you would call a closed-knit family but none of us, her five children, ever got into drug addiction, got pregnant by a boyfriend (or impregnated a girlfriend), or became criminals. And I wonder how my mother did that despite all the drama?
Oh, how she loved delicious food! It was from her where I learned that even if you are not rich, if you have extra money, buy yourself a delicious food even though it is expensive, even just for once. In her own way, that was how she enjoyed life. So even though we were just a lower middle class family, my mother brought home delicious desserts and food and we tasted what probably the rich have already tasted, or perhaps, not yet tasted. And that’s what I am doing now as a single adult. I pamper myself by going to my favorite restaurant, La Creperie, in Robinsons Galleria and order for my favorite crepe called Mango Hazelnut au Chocolat. Each time I go there I would order the same item over and over again.
My Nanay was 31 years old when she had me. I am her fourth child in a brood of five. When I was 21, a sad event that I never thought will happen to us happened. On April 10, 2000, she died of colon cancer. She was 52. This was how I came to know what death looks and feels like. And of losing a mother.
She was born on September 23, 1947. She would have been 65 years old today. Though none of her children turned out to be a lawyer, a doctor, or one with a high stature, I just hope that who we are right now, whatever jobs we are doing right now, the choices that we made, would still make her proud. After so many years that she was gone, she now seems like a distant figure. I don’t miss her at all. Because her spirit is right inside my heart. The spirit to make the most with my life here on earth. To remember my mortality by remembering her death and by remembering I will be reminded that life on this earth can be fleeting, that everything on this earth – happiness, sadness, richness, fame, popularity – can be fleeting. To make the conscious effort, even though it is hard, to move on. To keep going. To live my life in the fast lane and just do whatever it is that I want to do because life is short. And I am happy to be able to write this piece, regardless of whether I wrote this in perfect grammar or not, for my mother. Because should I be informed today that I will die tomorrow, this is what I really want to do today, to be today. A writer about my mother’s life.