Friday, May 06, 2005
7:48 PM |
In Praise of Mothers
[Something for Mother's Day...]
Once each week, after I wake up from the utter, bright sunniness of most Sunday mornings, I make way for the one ritual that governs a life kept busy with the weight of bachelorhood and the demands of a semi-workaholic existence: I visit my mother who lives a few blocks up north from my apartment in Tubod.
We have lunch together -- sometimes with chicken curry, which is my favorite, and sometimes with Korean barbecue. Sometimes, she prepares salad made from fern leaves and marinated in coconut milk. We talk like giddy airheads about the celebrities we see on the television, gossip about Piolo Pascual, and such and such. Sometimes we scan through old pictures and rummage through a wealth of memories. She remembers her childhood in Bayawan well, and she remembers, too, the travails of her early adult life. Her stories have become the stuff of my very own fiction.
My visits are something I have surprisingly found myself looking forward to doing every week. Perhaps, I tell myself, it is a sign of years slowly edging off the brackets of youth. I am almost 30. In the gravity of adulthood, mothers become strange sources of comfort. We share the same birthday -- August 17 -- and this adds to this connection between us, knowing that we are yoked not just by flesh and blood, but also by the reckoning of our stars.
She lives in our house somewhere in Piapi, bordering Silliman Village, in a huge compound the parameters of which used to be lined with trees. (Now only the coconut trees are left, but devoid of their fruit, because my brother has complained to the neighbors that the falling coconuts are wrecking havoc on our property.) It's a big house, two-storeys in all, and something she shares with my 80-year old lola
, mother's aunt, who had raised her and my Auntie Fannie when they were girls growing up in the backwaters of old Bayawan.
The house has a veranda, and overlooks a garden Mother grew from the sheer effort of her hands; it is still something she waters every morning, after breakfast and prayers. On Sundays when I am there, her morning gives way to preparing something delicious for lunch for her youngest son (me); she waters the garden only when she comes home in the afternoon (while I'm in the back veranda snoozing in the bamboo divan under the late sun), after she visits and prays over the sick in the local provincial hospital -- something she has been doing every Sunday since as far back as I can remember. This should make her a saint, but then again, she is also given to her fits of passive aggression (an artform and negotiating tactic perfected by the shrewdest of Filipino mothers, I think) -- which is something that makes her more human, and indeed, more lovable, because imperfect.
And yet it is only now that I appreciate my mother more. Adulthood gives you that ability, I guess. Now that I have grown up and "flown the nest," so to speak, it is so much easier to see her as being more than just the provider for the most basic of needs. I have known her all my life as the woman who fought so many battles just to provide six growing boys three square meals every day. She has always been somebody who fought her way out of all certain obsolescence. She has lived a very rich life.
If only for that, I am already grateful for having known her. That I call her "mom" is a privilege.
When she was a young woman, she felt trapped by the narrow certainties of small town life. Bayawan in the 1940s did not exactly give any local girl the chance to become so much more, except perhaps the life of a housewife, or something completely banal (not that I'm saying a housewife's life is necessarily banal.)
She wanted to become a nurse. She wanted to live in the Big City.
While everybody else around her told her how "immoral" and "evil" the big city was, and how she would probably become lost in metropolitan quagmire, she only smiled back and fought to live her dream ... by first making tira-tira, the local version of coconut candy.
And selling them tirelessly, by the skin of her teeth.
She sold enough coconut candies, and saved enough money to gain her passage to Cebu where, with higher education still impossible for a woman of humble means, she apprenticed herself to a beautician, and learned the trade so well she became a very good one, and eventually opened her own shop later on in Bayawan, when she had already married my father, and both were running our hacienda
's sugar produce down South.
There is a picture I keep on my bureau, of her from those Cebu days. The studio portrait is in sepia, depicting a young, beautiful woman with an engaging smile, hair perfectly done in the style of those days, makeup mute and simple, but evenly accentuating what made her stand out: her clear eyes, almost almond-shaped, and her lips teased with rouge just right, she looked almost pouty. She has the palms of her hands pressed together, and she presses her right cheek against that, head tilted a bit upward to welcome the studio light, which makes her cheekbones prominent. "A movie star pose!" I used to tell her.
That photograph, displayed in the photographer's studio for days on end, earned her many marriage proposals -- one from a Muslim businessman who wanted to make her drink a lumay
, to whisk her away to his home in Mindanao. She escaped that possibility in her life, but still found her way to Mindanao, in Butuan, where she opened her own beauty shop in a building owned by a man who would soon be her husband and my father.
It wasn't always an easy life. She had wealth, yes -- and for a time, in the heady days of the 1970s when sugar made people kings and queens of excess and affluence in Negros Oriental, she was the perfect embodiment of the local Southern socialite. She was part of a gilded age, preserved only in old photographs kept in kabans
and torn photo albums. And when the price of sugar crashed, so did our fortunes -- and my mother was left to fend for a growing family: she sold baye-baye
(a Bayawan delicacy -- a cake made of coconut and sticky rice), she sold homemade peanut butter, she sold Avon, she sold everything. Once, selling baye-baye
door-to-door, she got sunstroke, and fell face-first on the sidewalk. "The one thought that made me get up, and made me alive," she would later admit to me, "was the fact that I needed to put food on the dinner table." We also have pictures of those hard years: the beautiful, young girl of the old sepia picture now gone, all disappeared into a sunburned, wrinkled middle-aged woman with a toothy smile.
Despite insurmountable hardship, she saw all her sons graduate from Silliman University. In turn, and perhaps even for her, we all tried to make names for ourselves, or at least seek our fortunes for her sake, to turn back the hands of fate, so to speak. And how fortunes have changed!
We still speak of things turning out as they have now as if they are borne out of miracles.
"And they are indeed miracles," mother usually insists. We do not disagree with her. Her eyes gleam with the wisdom of so much experience.
In the end, I know the virtues of beautiful strength and perseverance because of Mother: she is the living example of both. These are perhaps her greatest legacy. And her influence.
In time, as I go about my life finding "older" friends for their promise of maturity and reliable sense of persevering spirit, I have found mostly older women who are, not surprisingly, the very reflections of my own mother. Most of them are also mothers -- and women whose lives have touched me, and made my own more interesting.
There's my mentor Ceres Pioquinto
who believed in me when even I didn't believe in myself. She is wit and ferocious will personified. Under her tutelage, I flowered. Now, she is Germany, and I miss her tight, but always reassuring guidance. Sometimes I feel my life as an academic is all a mess just because she is not there to tell me what to do.
There's Susan Vista-Suarez
, music's magic friend, who inspires because she makes a talent from rising to greatness even after every fall.
There's Marjorie Evasco, Susan Lara
, and Mom Edith Tiempo
, whose selfless regard for young writers have made them "literary mothers." I, and so many others following their paths, hold their mentorship dearly, for all time.
There's Margie Udarbe-Alvarez
, who possesses such an uncanny sense of self -- and with all of that packaged in with so much formidable intelligence. And she knows how to make killer pot roast. Perfection!
There's Ma'am Betty Abregana
, whose sheer iron will and example still inspires so many, even after she left Silliman after helping steer the university down the superior path for a good number of years.
There's Laurie Hutchison-Raymundo
who inspires me with her unflagging energy. She is the Energizer Bunny, really. She shares my love for Monty Python, and makes the most technical marine biology anecdote sound like a humor-laden episode from The Twilight Zone
. She taught me a lot about the theater, and a lot more about reading people.
And then there are the best sisters-in-law in the world, Daisy Relatado-Casocot
and Efeb Bustamante-Casocot
, both amazing women, my brothers Dennis and Rocky are luckier to have them in their lives. There're also Lily Caballes
(my best friend Gideon's mother, and one of my mom's closest friends), my best lady friends Jacqueline Pinero-Torres
and Kristyn Maslog-Levis
, Jocelyn de la Cruz, Myrish Cadapan-Antonio, Glenda Ramira-Fabillar, Juliet Padernal, Danah Fortunato, Irma Faith Pal, Rosario Maxino-Baseleres, Jackie Veloso-Antonio, Arlene Delloso-Uypitching, Batchiba Lacdo-o, Dessa Quesada-Palm, Cecilia Hoffman, Esther Windler, Andrea Soluta, Kitty Taniguchi, Sherro Lee Lagrimas,
among so many other women I've known all my life, all of them strong, and each a testament of formidable spirit.
Thanks for the inspiration.
Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers in the world.
Labels: family, gender
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