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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Four beautiful women

My grandmother, Paulita, never got her diploma in grade school which could have already promised during her time an opportunity to teach primary education. But her love of reading is so contagious, it seems like a strain of good bacteria that multiplies rapidly to bring book voracity to an outbreak.
Her challenge “basaha bisan putos sa buwad” had been passed on gracefully to two generations, which is why even without a college diploma my mother was able to land a job at the cosmetics department of what was Good Earth Emporium in Manila in the late 60s.
She got a job because she convinced the owner of Good Earth she is literate enough and good enough to compete with other workers who were on college level, because she got her education from the “putos sa buwad”, candy wrappers, and even “komiks” which only finds appeal among the “baduy” crowd.

“Uy, kay ngano gibugoan sila sa writer sa komiks?” And she would exalt on the brilliance of Ilocano author-illustrator Vincent Benjamin Kua, Jr. of the “Cecilia Sebulo” and “Touchstone” fame.

Paulita bore two women who became mentors and thus proved influential to how I had held the reigns of this life – her second daughter, Rosie, taught me to be independent, even if I know the term is a misnomer; and she taught me to fight back and say no to all forms of poverty and oppression. The other, Monic, taught me to literally climb my mountains to show her how much I love her.

My mother, Rosie, should have made another Josefa Llanes Escoda for her nationalistic pride, or another Florence Nightingale for her nursing skills, or a Pinay JK Rowling for her fantasy bedtime stories. But she was poor and had lots of siblings after her that she had to take good care of when her mother left the domestic life for a moment to save herself from the violence of a husband.

My mother stood as second mother, big sister, nanny, teacher to her five younger sisters and brothers. The others were able to finish school with her support. While she felt she actually had none of an academic achievement, my mother is the wittiest person I’d ever had encountered – she is practical, talks in a no-holds-barred manner; she is an oxymoron being a compassionate spitfire, to her tender mercies should always come justified; and she inculcates in us her children the love of reading for it is the only way we can see the world and taste and feel and smell it the way we would want it to be seen, to be tasted to be felt and smelt. It was from her I imbibed this kind of stubbornness, this sternness, this sarcasm, this hate for thought control, and from her too I learned to be gentle, and humble and compassionate, as she pointed one time outside of our storm-struck hut, “look, even tall trees bend.”

My aunt, Monic, lived high up in the mountains of Panique in Aroroy, Masbate. At the age of 14, I started on a journey to find my way to her. She was a special person to me, one who exerted her efforts to combine “retasos” or pieces of clothes sold “por kilo” to sew me some pair of shorts and blouses, and skirts and Hawaiian mumus when I was so much younger. To her, I was not only a niece. I was a daughter too. After an exchange of correspondence since I was in grade school, I literally took my way to her to feel again her hugs and listen again to her stories. My aunt’s simplicity is infectious. Monic is a person who finds delight in the accomplishment of her household chores and in servitude to a husband who goes out every night into the open sea to do spearfishing as a living and takes care of the coconut groves by day.
I had to cross eight rivers, and walk serpentine paths to find her hut in Panique. “Sus, Auntie, unsa ning lugara diyes sentabos na lay plete langit na!,” I blurted out and saw how the remark etched the laugh lines on the surface of her cheeks browned by the sun that scorches the coconut groves and corn farm that she and my Uncle Tim till. But too I found myself laughing at the feel of “langit na!” – sure that was my baptism as first major climb into what later on would transpire as a life spent mostly in the great outdoors.

It was there in Panique on one moonlit night, while we were out on the balkon flooded by the moonshine exchanging conversations, that I had proven to myself how much I love Auntie and the mountains that sustained her. Auntie could have been a great chef, or another passionate teacher, or a social worker. But again, like my mother, she never finished school. She was tasked to support younger siblings. And it was from her I first saw how it is when one would bushwhack and clear thorny paths for those next in line. And I sighed “oh, what a heart! Oh, what a commitment!”

My younger sister, Nanette, was a returnee at the University of San Jose-Recoletos in the late 90s, and according to school policy a returnee couldn’t qualify for major honors at graduation such as Summa Cum Laude or Magna Cum Laude. But with her gradepoint average of 1.2 on graduation time, she marched with one of those given Academic Excellence Awards. It gave me goose bumps to see her march her way to victory after her stint as an intelligent but skinny and poor irregular student – for working at night and studying at daytime in her bulldog tenacity to hoist herself out of the muck of poverty. Hers was the real multitasking, in the sense of the word. And hers is the victory that’s the sweetest!

In line with the celebration of the International Women’s Month, I would want to bow in curtsy to these four beautiful, smart, good-hearted women. They are the women who helped iron out for me the notion that love is the principle of existence and its only end, that the works of Lucy Maud Montgomery and Ralph Waldo Emerson and Samuel Langhorne Clemens are inspiration, thus invaluable; that the existence of God should and never become an issue, that motherhood is a choice and not a path, that single blessedness is a gift which allows one to exercise the right to whether or not raise a family for a much better purpose and direction, and that they taught me mountains already set the perfect example on how to sustain the hunger and thirst of children in the lowlands.
The celebration of the International Women’s Month makes lot of sense being able to see these four women move about in my waters, blaze trails toward better lives, and rub on to others their infectious spirits.

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