- UncategorizedStyleFood & DrinkWomenTechPosted: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 | By: Esquire Philippines | 13 comments
This is the story of a grand old lady who bore ten children. Five sons and five daughters. No set pattern to their births, just one child after another within a span of 17 years. She bore her first eight children with a husband named Joe who died in a plane crash in 1967. Joe was the Chief Test Pilot for Philippine Airlines then. His plane crashed in Malaybalay, Bukidnon while testing a new aircraft. When Joe died, she was 35 years old and seven months pregnant with their eighth child. She named the baby ‘Joy.’ (“To ward off my deep sorrow,” she says, “…so the baby won’t know.”)
A widow of three years, with eight children, she dated her childhood friend (and god-brother). He was a widower named Jun, who also had five children of his own. His wife died of cancer around the same time. Picture it: a widow and a widower, old friends (they were, in fact, born in the same house) who kept watch over each other’s households. The children went to the same all-girl and all-boy schools, carpooling with each other. She married Jun in 1970 and bore him a son and then subsequently, a daughter. With their marriage, she and Jun brought their two households together, made up of thirteen juveniles plus two new (shared) babies. It was the advent of Martial Law.
She taught in the International School for almost three decades, while keeping the affairs of her sons and daughters, stepson and stepdaughters in line as best as humanly possible. There were dark seasons. How could there not be? It was, after all, the 1970s and her house was brimming with restless teenagers. The air had a frisson of rebellion—from music, politics, the lack of freedom, and the fight for liberated thought. It was the rhythm of the decade.
The home, she kept in tow with a firm but gentle hand. There was a wonderful library for the children, allowing them access to great stories. But the most important stories were not read but told during on the porch during Sunday brunch meetings. The children were required to share their week’s stories and/or settle fights that were going on. Fights over borrowed jeans, time slots for car use, the budget for ballet lessons, piano lessons, switching guitar teachers (for they didn’t quite like the guitar teacher who was an aunt-in-law), tennis time for the two youngest ones with their dad, Jun and so on and so forth. These were the stories that were important.
One son joined the Philippine Military Academy in 1983. He was discharged because of the beatings he took as part of the hazing rituals that undergraduates were subjected to. He was barely alive when she first visited him in the hospital and she nursed him back to health. He was sent to the States to forget and then recover. She bore it all with no hysteria and only concern for his well-being.
She imparted to her children that one doesn’t go to school just for the report cards, one needed a sport! And it was imperative that they all at least learn a musical instrument. The ones who could sing got away with just singing. They were spared the treks to the Philippine Women’s University School of Music or the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ summer program for Beginner’s Theatre, intermediate ballet, or workshops to join the Bayanihan Dance Troupe.
Peppered in between these busy days, she managed to take her younger children to see the sunset by the Manila Bay right across the Malate Church. Almost every day after school she’d pick them up and they’d sit by the bay walk before driving home to Makati. If it rained, they would eat in Aristocrat. If there was extra money they all ate at Gloria Maris by the Philippine International Convention Center. Life was not simple for her and yet it was so simple. She required church on Sundays, woke everyone up at 5am to say the rosary together before getting ready for school. She did this, every single day for decades. Until one by one her older daughters started getting married, a few moving to other countries to study. Three of her sons became pilots, four daughters became teachers, a step son became a psychiatrist practicing in Baltimore, a step daughter is a doctor and another a nurse, another in investment banking, a couple others in advertising, two others became entrepreneurs, one son is in the corporate race.
Her husband joined the judiciary then eventually retired. Through it all she bore every day with grace beyond this generation’s imagining.
During her time there was no Oprah. No chance to blog to ‘express ones feelings.’ She never joined a support group, an organized anything except for a Marian group—a term used to describe legions that are devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. (She was hardwired Catholic.) She never took to the bottle, though I imagine there were many stretches in her life that she deserved to do so.
She was immortalized in a famous EDSA revolution photo as ‘the woman in white.’ The picture shows her kneeling with a rosary in front of a tank near Camp Crame in the early hours of the uprising.
Underneath all the poetic moments in her life was the mundane coordination of socks and uniforms, watching basketball and volleyball games, piano recitals, declamation contests, spelling contests, singing contests, on-the-spot painting contests that all the sons and daughters would take part in.
Many people watched her from afar. Her poise was unmatched. She traveled a lot after she retired from teaching, thanks to her pilot sons and other daughters who migrated to the States or Singapore. She took vacations, religious tours. She hung around church friends, enjoyed occasional walks and games with her grandchildren. She liked watching re-runs of the’ A-Team’ (“George Peppard is still cute!”) as well as ‘Murder She Wrote’. She was pleased that the DVDs of her favorite TV shows became readily available. She’d draw sometimes for her youngest daughter’s projects, for she became some sort of a teacher, too. (Long story, another time.)
She’s growing older now. Almost eighty, she moves a bit slower. She fractured her right forearm in Beijing while watching her eldest grandson swim in the Olympics. He was representing the Philippines. She’d donned a Filipiniana gown one morning to receive a national award given by the President of the Philippines to recognize the efforts of her daughter in civic work, a trait her daughter got from her. She just went to ask the President for an autograph, she joked. When another prestigious award was to be given again in the Palace, she said she’d sit this one out and let this daughter take her friends and colleagues instead. (“I already played dress up for you last month, let the ones who helped you with your work go with you this time. So you can thank them, too.”) Both prized trophies are now on the table across her bed in her room.
Her room is filled with photos. Photos of her two husbands, the first love who left her widowed at 35 and the childhood friend she married before she turned 40 and who is still around. She has photos of all her children, stepchildren, and all their children up there too. She has grandchildren who placed in the California tennis regionals, grandsons who hold records in the UAAP track and field competitions, a grandson who swam in four Olympics and won “Most Valuable Player” at the recent South East Asian Games. All of them have a tradition of giving a medal to “Gramma” to hang in her bedroom wall. How she loves them all! She shares stories for her grandchildren, telling them about their fathers or mothers when they were children. She still has breakfast in the porch sometimes, where they used to hold their Sunday brunch family meetings. She still reads a lot. Mostly religious books although lately she’s been reading Hemingway for his easy sentences, she says. She is now learning how to play the piano. She also accompanies her youngest son and daughter to their drum lessons. She’d play along with music played by their drum teacher. She prefers the tango beat to the cha-cha but insists she likes them both. When they clap for her she says, “Are you really clapping for me or are you just being nice?” They say the applause is real. For many things, I’m sure they are thinking. She does deserve applause. For keeping it together this whole time despite all that was thrown her way.
She insists she doesn’t play favorites, but she does. Like any parent. (Sorry kids, it’s true.) But there is no doubt she loves all of them in her finite way – but her finite way is still more expansive than most of us! So her children got a good deal from the fates. Those punks lucked out.
Her memory isn’t as sharp lately. Sometimes she asks her children things like what year were they born. Most of the time she gets mixed up on what to do for the day or which vitamin to take first, but she’s got someone with her all the time now to help her with those things. Her youngest son is devoted to her 24/7, taking on part-time real estate deals so he can prioritize her schedule over anything else. He drives her to church, to the salon, accompanies her to travel wherever she feels like traveling. He takes her to the doctor, the mall, to endless movies because she gets in for free, beaming with her senior citizen card at hand. No matter how old her children get she still likes handing them bills as “allowance” or she tells them to “treat yourself to a book or something.” Then she smiles, her dimples showing.
She has an amazing life because she is an exceptional person. Grace unbound. She lost her sister recently. She took it hard, but she recovered. Her religion, I suppose keeps her steady—as religions in the end MUST do. Of course she can be bull-headed, for how else could she move past each challenge thrown her way. She keeps her cards close to her chest, close to her heart. Tossing down the aces when need be, her poker face is steel, and her timing is sterling. She knows about life so no one can bullshit around her. Oh she can be stern! But she can still laugh out loud and have her hair teased even if she’s just going to the grocery to get her sunflower seed stash. Hands and feet manicured bag and shoes a perfect match, hair in place, dimples on auto-surface mode. She cannot help it. She is proud of herself, and rightly so. She is proud of her children and the lives they’ve eked for themselves. (“Well, sa dami niyo, wala ni isang na-preso,” she says. [“Well, at least none of you are in jail considering how many you are.”)
She knows she forgets things, but she doesn’t forget what her life is about. She weaves it around other people, the ones who were under her wing. She leads a life of love and wisdom and sacrifices. Her earlier life was that of patience and perfectly synchronized timing of carpools and laundry, dinner and lunch money. She insisted in poetry and storytelling at night, she gave math lessons even for other children in our neighborhood. Her vocabulary includes that of her children because that’s what she’s all about. She refers to marijuana as ‘chongkee’ and says ‘bad trip’ when something goes wrong. She also calls gasoline boys and the family driver “brod.”
Her youngest daughter gets sad once in a while, especially when she sees her struggle with her memory. Something like someone’s name or a book title she once loved as a young girl. This daughter worries that she won’t remember her eventually. She thinks her daughter is being silly. But her daughter recently decided to be nothing but proud of her. That is how it should be, she says. “What a life I have!” Her daughter nods in agreement. Her daughter sleeps better now that she’s written a piece on her. She doesn’t know that her daughter will submit it to her Esquire web editor tomorrow. Her daughter needs to tell her story as it unfolds. Almost in direct correlation to her condition known to many as ‘the onset of Alzheimer’s.’ It is important for her daughter to let her read this article, so she knows how her daughter loves and admires her. Her daughter says to her, “Ma, everything that I’ve done right is because you are my mother. Everything I did wrong was solely mine.” She tells her daughter again not to be silly then says, “You made mistakes because I allowed you to, okay? Now, don’t go thinking I had nothing to do with those.” Her eyes gleam.
Well, this narration found its way to your eyes and she’s glad it did – for it is the only way her daughter can sleep well tonight.
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