“Ipunin mo yung mga damit na may punit para pagdating ni Inay, mapasulsihan natin…”
That was my Mom, asking me to collect torn clothes which my Lola usually repairs by hand. At the age of more than 80, my grandma could still stitch our clothes manually- and she never used eye glasses- not in her whole life.
When I was in primary school, my Mom left us to work abroad. My Lola used to visit us in Calapan (which was not yet a city then) almost every week. She used to check on us to make sure that we have enough food for the coming week and ensure that our school uniforms were clean (read: washed carefully and pressed properly). She always bring with her fruits- pomelo, guava, calamansi- mangoes, bananas- and vegetables- sitaw, talong, okra, etc from her backyard farm in Victoria.
During my Mom’s absence, her mother, our Lola, was there to take care of us. Whenever someone gets sick in the family and everytime my Dad leaves for his out of town training or mission she was there to look after us. And oh, it is worth mentioning that my Lola remembers every birthday of anyone in the family—all my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my nephews—just about everyone’s birthday- she knows them by heart.
Funny, I remember how she shouted at me many times for catching me climbing up the trees at the back of our house with my childhood friends. Her worried face for fear of me falling down had always been followed by a “kurot” somewhere.
During my early childhood, it was from my Lola that I learned how doing sacrifices and piety equals religion. Not only does she attend Holy Mass, at least three times a week, but she does it with full conviction. She wakes up early morning to walk her way to the town church which was like thirty minutes walk from our house. Inside the church and during the mass, she knows all the gospel songs by heart, she responds to the priest aloud, and even after the mass, she stays in the church, praying and still praying some more. There were too many times that I went with her and I asked myself what could she have been praying for because I noticed that she does not only pray the rosary once or twice…but she does it over and over again. Would our God really require us to repeat the prayers a thousand times before He replies? Naïve, I am.
One evening, while I and my Lola were reciting her novena in our bedroom (I was actually just watching her in awe although she may have thought that I was praying with her), I asked her why her prayers were always lengthy and why does it seem as if she’s repeating the prayers over and over-all the time. I remember how she smiled at me and holding my face fondly, she said, “Pinagdadasal ko kayong lahat…ang iyong Inay dahil malayo sya sa inyo, ang Tatay mo para ilayo sya sa tukso at kapahamakan…at kayong apat para makatapos kayo ng pag aaral…”.
That time, around twenty years ago, although I was, perhaps, still too young to exactly understand those caring words from her, I have never forgotten the sincere look in her eyes and the love that transpired through the warmth of that simple touch on my face.
In 2006, after 5 years of working in Saudi Arabia, I went back to Philippines to celebrate Christmas with my family. It was also Alia’s first time to visit Mindoro. (**http://medylene.blog.friendster.com/2006/12/**)
In short, it was one of the best Christmases in my whole life. I was with my family, my parents, my aunts, uncle, cousins and my Lola and we went around Calapan, Naujan and Victoria’s scenic and historical spots. We visited other relatives who were not able to join us in the unplanned tour. Alia was very happy to meet most of her cousins. I was joking with my Aunt that the “next generation” of kids in our family are more aggressive (and a lot noisier!) than my “batch”…but we were more beautiful and refined.
As we were all having fun, chatting, giggling, joking and catching up with so many stories between me and my Aunts and my cousins, I noticed my Lola sitting at one corner and observing us. Every now and then, she laughs and plays with the kids who were running and shouting all over my Uncle’s house.
It has been long ago since I last spent time with her. From afar, I noticed that her face has now become old and she lost much weight. Maybe she noticed that I was staring at her, and she called me.
“Memen, Ineng..”, she said. “Paki abot mo naman yung isang bangko (chair) at ng maitaas ko yung paa ko..”.
I immediately approached her and brought the chair towards her. I asked her if she’s okay and if she’s feeling any pain. She told me that maybe because the weather was cold and because she was sitting for long, her back started to hurt a little…But she also assured me that it’s normal with her…at her old age.
I sat beside her, concerned, I was. She looked at me and told me that I lost weight. I smiled back. I knew I wanted to start a conversation with her, but I just couldn’t find the right story to tell.
Looking at Alia who came towards me for a random hug, in the middle of her playing and running with her cousins, my Lola told me that Alia looks more like my husband than me. I smiled and nodded back. She asked me several questions about Eric, his family, my work in Saudi Arabia, Bimbo, my sisters, and many others. It was a light conversation between my Lola and me. But it was one exchange I never knew I’d miss.
New Year’s Day came and my relatives came to spend it with us too- because it was also time to celebrate our town fiesta. As usual, my Lola was with us, although she was quieter and she stayed most of the time sitting and just watching us.
One afternoon, I came home from the city, and I saw my Mom sobbing in the kitchen. I was so worried and I asked her what was wrong. She was hesitant to tell me the reason why she was crying but she probably knew that I will not let her go without telling me too.
She told me that she was so upset with her Inay, my Lola…. I was puzzled.
According to my Mom, she saw my Lola took a leftover, half-filled softdrink bottle (which was probably left out by my nephew, Justin, who usually opens a bottle of cola-- drinks half of it and leaves the other half anywhere in the house. That time, my Mom was talking to my Ninang. With the half-filled softdrink leftover on my Lola’s hand, she approached them (my Mom and my Ninang), saying, “Alam mo Ineng (she was talking to my Ninang), palagi na lang akong umiinom ng mga tirang soft drinks dito.. kagaya nito…binubuksan lng nyang si JJ tapos iniiwan na..sayang naman..”
In between my Mom’s sobbing while she was telling me the story, I also started to cry. I felt for both my Mom and my Lola. My Mom was probably embarrassed in front of her kumare—thinking why would she let her “mother” drink a leftover?”. She assured me though, that she would never allow her to drink any leftover. I believed her. She had always been asking my Lola what she wanted to eat, or if she needed anything, and if she wanted to eat or drink anything in particular- our refrigerator, our kitchen, everything in our house was at her disposal.
My Mom explained her side although I told her that she should not because I knew how she felt and I perfectly understand the situation…and that it was not a big deal. If it was for any consolation, I also told my Mom that she should be more understanding with my Lola because she is already very old…and maybe she is now more (or was it less??) sensitive.
At the end of our discussion, my Mom asked me that if she reaches the same age like my Lola was (84) that time; would I be taking care of her too? She also asked me if I would be half as loving as she was with her own mother.
I assured her that I would love her more than any daughter in the world would do so.
During our most recent vacation, I had seen my Lola only twice when I visited her. I brought her some strong pain relief medications for her growing pain on the knees and back. She lost further weight and she could hardly walk without help anymore.
As I kissed her hand (“pagmamano” is a family tradition we have), I let Alia and Aisha do the same thing like I did. Alia did, but Aisha just stared at her, afraid to come closer. I told Aisha, “Baby, yan si Lola …sige na, mag bless ka na…”. Aisha, looking puzzled, turned to me and said, “La-la???”. I smiled and I noticed that my Lola smiled too. Looking at Aisha, she said, “Oo Aisha…ako si Lola…lapit ikaw dito..”. And Aisha bent over and did it.
Before I left her that day, my Lola held my hand and said, “ Nakakatuwa naman at nakita ko sina Alia at Aisha.. lalo na si Aisha, mabuti at nakasama mo ngayong bakasyon at nakita ko sya… Si Aisha, Ineng, kamukhang-kamukha mo…ikaw na ikaw ang itsura nya nung maliit ka pa…”.
I smiled while listening to her. Still holding my hand, she added, “Ineng, may balak ka pa bang mag anak ulit?? Ay siya, pag may kasunod pa ang dalawang yan, malamang ay hindi na ako makikilala..”.
Those words pierced through my heart. I knew deep within that what she just said was not next to impossible.
Early on a Monday, I received a message from my sister, saying: “Update.. si Granny nakadiaper na.. at parati umiiyak dahil hirap na hirap na.. Di ako mkakontak sa tin.. pakisabi kay mommy.. dumalaw na..kasi daw baka cia na lang hinihintay..c momy na lang di nkakadalaw..”
I felt a cold shiver all over my body.. I suddenly felt my knees got weak.. I wanted to reply to my sister’s message but I could not find the words to say.
I called my Mom to ask about my Lola. She told me that she’s really in pain and her condition is deteriorating… I need not ask more.. coz I was sure that my Mom was trying hard to sound braver, if not breaking.
Now I wish I could be there to tell my Lola how lucky I was that I became her apo- how much I appreciate her kind gestures and the lessons she taught me about faith and goodness; about just being always ready to help and to listen.. I may not be her favorite grandchild but I respect her a lot for the love and care she had given us especially when me and my siblings were still young.
There were times when we fell short of criticizing her ways of showing her concern…but we shall always remember her words of wisdom and encouragement- for my Lola’s love was as extraordinary as herself and because her legacy will linger through countless years in our family.
Tonight and in many other nights in the future, I will remind Alia and Aisha about my Lola… the woman who had been a very special mother to my Mom and to me…