Saturday, April 21, 2007

My Paternal Grandmother

I’m trying to remember whatever I could of my grandmother, but I do not have much to go by.

My father’s mother’s name was Liberata Santos. Although she lived to be 85, and I was already in college when she died, I had very scant memories of her, of which very little was based on my own personal experience with her. Most of the stories that I heard about my grandmother were from my aunt and my cousins, with whom she lived, in the big house next to ours.

I do remember that before I started going to grade school, I would go with her to help her peddle fresh fish that she carried on a bilao on her head. Usually, we would not go far, as she had her “suki” (regular patrons) in Don Galo, especially the Pulo area, who regularly bought from her, fish and sometimes some tomatoes, kangkong and labanos for making sinigang. I would be her only grandchild who was available to accompany her as all my cousins were going to school, while my sister and another brother were too young. My older brother was not someone she counted on, and in those days, probably not someone expected to help.

I do remember her long white hair that she regularly treated with coconut oil. She would get the coconut milk (derived by squeezing grated coconut meat) from the maid or her loyal houseboy, Polonio, but would cook it herself to extract the oil. The coconut while being cooked this way was very aromatic, but what we would wait for was the brown “latik” that was formed when coconut milk was cooked. That was delicious. She would transfer the coconut oil to a small bottle and wait for it to cool, and then apply it to her hair. Her straight white hair reached almost her knees, but since she was shorter than 4’10”, that wasn’t too long. She was a bit plump and very fair. Although she spoke a little Spanish (just the prayers and the cusswords), it was obvious from her facial features that she was not Spanish.

For reasons I never got to find out, we addressed and referred to her, not as “Lola” which is the common way, but as “Grandmother” (pronounced the Filipino way – granmader). Her younger relatives called her "Lola" or "Nanang Berata."

I do remember that she was diabetic, and she used to “steal” spoonfuls of sugar from the sugar container, which was kept in my aunt’s trusty GE refrigerator. When caught in the act, she would fight off my cousins who would try to take away the sugar from her. In the physical struggle over a spoonful of sugar, she would always lose, as my cousins were taller and stronger, but that would not stop her from cursing them and her illness, in a flurry of Tagalog and Spanish expletives. Soon, she developed a gangrenous toe that would not heal, and when that was amputated, she finally acquiesced to not having sugar.

When she was too old and sick to sell fish, she kept herself busy by sweeping their front yard with a walis tingting, and sometimes, squatting alongside the asphalted main street (there were no concrete sidewalks then) to arrange the pebbles and stones on the ground. She did not find television (then in its early days – black and white, no remote control, and only two or three channels) entertaining, but would try reading newspapers in English, by syllabicating the words, as English was not a language she knew.

I remember the stories about her because my cousins often teased her about them. She was 16 when she first got married, and had a daughter, my aunt, Kakang Salud (Salud Gutierrez), before she was widowed at age 20. At 24, she married a widower, my grandfather Alejandro Valentino, who had one daughter, Kakang Floring (Florencia Valentino). Lolo Andoy was a cochero. Their union produced my father, Ruperto (“Peting”), but it was, again, a short-lived marriage. At 28 she was widowed for the second time and never remarried. She continued to take care of the three children, two of her own, and her stepdaughter from her second husband.

Although I never saw her wear them, I did get some occasions of seeing her bring out her baro’t saya with matching panuelo. She must have valued those clothes, or why would she keep them when she had no more use for them?

At six o’clock every evening, she prayed the rosary, in Tagalog, and some prayers in Spanish, before an image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which she kept in an altar in her room. After my grandmother died, this antique image of the Virgin Mary, about sixteen inches in height and encased in glass because she was dressed in a beautifully beaded white and blue dress and made valuable by her ivory hands and face, was transferred to the main altar of my aunt’s house. It was treasured as a family relic from my grandmother.

My “granmader” died in her sleep, in 1966 at the age of 85. I was 20 years old then.

I never thought of keeping a picture of my grandmother, but last week when I visited my cousins, I asked if they were able to save any pictures of her. Unfortunately, a fire gutted my cousins’ house and my parents’ house a few years ago, and nothing was saved – not any photos, not her “baro’t saya” and “panuelos,” and not the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, which was her most prized possession.

Deprived of any physical reminders, I would just have to keep an image of her in my mind, and hope that this story would help introduce my grandmother to my children, especially when I get too old to remember correctly.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

My Maternal Grandmother

My maternal grandmother, Matilde Jimenez, was born on March 14, 1905. Her children called her “Inang” (a derivative from the word “ina” which, in Tagalog, means mother) while her grandchildren called her “Inang Tilde.” Her youngest daughter was only eleven months old when her husband, Antonio (or Antonino, but nicknamed “Meno”) Lombos, a caretela driver, died in 1936 of a ruptured appendix, while playing football. For information on my maternal grandparents, I can only ask my only living aunt, Tia Remie and uncle, Kuyang Ben.

Of the little that I actually remember, I know that I was fond of her, and she of me.

I always remembered her to be a hardworking person, selling rice and pan de sal in order to support herself and her five children, my mother Dolores, and her siblings, Felicisima, Ricardo, Benjamin and Remedios. She maintained her own household, with her then unmarried children. Her only brother, Melquiades (Quiades), could not help her much as he earned very little as a taxi driver and had his own family - a wife and six children - to support. While she died at 55, her younger brother died only recently, in his 90’s.

When I was in first grade, she had a sari-sari store situated on her brother’s property, which faced an “eskenita” (alley). My school, the Don Galo Elementary School, which was a few blocks away, and her house were on the same side of the main street-, which as a child I was not allowed to cross - so I could go to her store on my own after class. It was there where my parents would pick me up later in the day as soon as they had time to fetch me. I remember that she would offer me a Coke and whatever bread or candy was available in her store. One of my favorites was a wafer - similar to a Chinese fortune cookie - that had tiny toys inside, including rings that I could put on my little finger. She generously gave me rubber bands and “peks” which I used as toys when playing with the neighborhood children.

For some reason that I never knew, she gave up that store, and instead started selling pan de sal, pan bonete (similar to pan de sal) and rice from her house. My job was to use a wide, flat wooden stick to keep each variety of rice in a neat pyramidal shape apart from the other rice varieties (Milagrosa, Wagwag), which were displayed in the other compartments. There were three such compartments in one big six-legged rectangular box, with sometimes a fourth compartment for mongo. I would help measure the rice to sell, using a scooper that looked like a gallon can of paint sliced diagonally, with a wooden handle at the center of the closed, flat bottom part. The scooped rice was placed in a wooden box called the “salop,” which was open on one side where rice grains were poured. The flat wooden stick was smooth with age and frequent use, and had a rich patina, and I liked caressing it with my hand, like a sword that would not cut, but could swipe away across the top of the salop all rice in excess of the intended measure. Rice used to be sold by the salop, or “kalahating-salop” (1/2) until the government required that rice be sold by weight.

A dress that she gave me has not survived the years, but its memory has. My grandmother was very proud that I was finishing my third grade school year with honors. Although only the top three honor students were called to the stage (as first honorable mention, I was fourth) she took delight in the fact that her first granddaughter (I have a brother older than I) showed promise. As a gift, she gave me a dress. That was very special because in those days, I would receive new dresses only on two occasions a year – Christmas and my birthday – sometimes not even.
I remember it vividly. It was a maroon dress, with small black-checkered design, with a round neck, without a collar, and with covered buttons at the back opening. The neck and armholes were decorated with tiny “C” piping made from the same cloth, sewn in half-moon fashion, one by one, like scallops. The skirt part was sheared, and had a pocket on the right side, the top of which had the same scallop accent.

It was the practice in those days, especially when one is poor, to buy larger clothes and shoes for children so that they would not out-grow them before they got worn out. Since I had few clothes, and it was my favorite, the top got worn out right away. My mother knew how to sew, and so did my grandmother, so one of them replaced the top and sewed it to the old skirt, loosening and lengthening where needed. After a couple of years, the top was still okay but the skirt needed replacing, and it was replaced. Technically, did I get a new dress?

When I was in high school, my grandmother became very sick. This was the first time that I heard about cancer, an illness that would befall at least three members of my mother’s family, including my own mother. My grandmother had breast cancer, and could not afford whatever therapy was available in those days. They could not even afford to give her painkillers. In December 1959, I knew she was dying. Instead of celebrating the season, my mother and her siblings would be huddled with their dying mother in a dark and stuffy room, where she lay writhing in pain on a banig on the floor. I would hear my mother and especially my youngest aunt cry along with my grandmother when she was in pain, but I was afraid to disturb them and stayed outside the door to her room. I prayed fervently that my beloved grandmother would not die during the Christmas season and begged for God’s mercy to let us still have her until after the holidays. When she died on January 7, a day after the Feast of the Three Kings, which then marked the end of the Christmas season, I worried that maybe I had offered her to God sooner than God would have wanted to take her. It was also then that I learned that my youngest aunt’s birthday was on January 8, and I was filled with remorse for not asking for a longer reprieve for my grandmother. It was the first time that I felt the terrible pain of separation that death brings.

My grandmother’s life on earth was brief, but I remember her fondly.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Teaching the Love of Reading

1. Share reading time with the people you love.

When my children were still babies, toddlers or in preschool, and occasionally, when they were in early grade school, I would put them on my lap to read to them. It was still fun to do even when they could read on their own. Now, they’re all grown up and they’re voracious readers. My husband theorizes that maybe the warm and fuzzy feeling of their being close to my body when they were young had become associated with reading, and while they no longer sit on my lap -the eldest is 30 and the youngest is 23 - ;), the association remains, albeit unconsciously. Unfortunately, my husband and I were at our busiest at work when our second daughter was growing up, and we did not get to spend as much time to read with her. It is sad but no wonder that she did not take to reading as much as the two other daughters did, but she caught up with it on her own later (more on this later).

If you are just going to start with reading together when your children are too old to sit on your lap, try sitting next to each other and reading the same book. I think that as long as you are still physically bigger than they are (say, they’re 7, 8 or 9 or a even bit older), you can still put your arms around them so you can look at a book together.

At times, I could be in bed with a book in my hand and my husband a few paces away, working at his hobby table, and I would try reading some passages from the book that I was reading – at one time it was John Grey’s “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, at other times some snippets of stories from Readers Digest – with him, and we would share a laugh - which goes to prove that no one is too old for sharing the love of reading.

Spend time reading together. Usually, this is before bedtime, although it could be anytime. I remember that before my children learned to read on their own, they would ask me to read book after book after book to them. Since I dramatized the reading (changing voices for each character in the story), it was fun but tiring, and my jaw would hurt from reading so much, but my heart was full.

2. Get books that your children are interested in.

As I mentioned earlier, one of our daughters did not readily take to books, until we discovered when she was two years old, that she had this fascination for horses, and at bookstores, she would pick out books that had pictures of horses in them, especially if the pictures were on the book covers. It was the same with the toys that she would ask us to buy for her. Although I could not explain where this fascination came from, I latched on to that and bought all the children’s books on horses, or containing stories about horses. Until recently, she remained in love with horses, and we keep buying her books on horses.

Find out what your children (or spouse) are interested in – mystery, airplanes, dinosaurs, football, cooking – anything at all, and make books on them available in your home. The beauty of books is that there is something on everything for everybody.

3. When reading is really difficult, ease them into reading.

When they were in high school, they all seemed to have trouble reading in Pilipino, especially Philippine literature. One of their teachers suggested taking them to watch movie and play versions of the Rizal novels that they were supposed to be studying, so that they could get the plot, meet the characters and have an overall feel of the stories without having to struggle with learning all that while reading in a language they were not at home with. I also looked for comic books (the same way I found cartoon books on statistics or physics), and looked for book versions of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo that had better, more readable fonts. (I do not understand why publishers insist on using archaic fonts). In short, I wanted to make reading easy and pleasurable.

When they were older, I learned that there are different learning styles, among them the visual and auditory ways. One of my daughters prefers auditory books (cassettes, CDs, DVDs), and we said, by all means. Now, she seems to be picking up a few books for her own reading pleasure, or for learning (her current interest is anything and everything about the Netherlands, as her boyfriend is Dutch).


Reading is fun. For me, I can pick up instant information by going to the internet, but I can’t get from the internet the same wonderful, warm and fuzzy feeling that I get by sitting on a comfortable sofa, propped up by soft pillows or snuggling with someone I love with a book of my choice.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Moving some posts

I'm moving some posts from another blogspot. I still have a few more to move to this site. When I am done transferring them, then I will drop the other blogspot, and will exclusively update on this site. Please be patient if you are reading some posts for the second time.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Conversations with a Cobra

Conversations with a Cobra

Kathy welcomed a group of 35 students under Ms. Judy Sibayan, her former thesis adviser who came on a field trip to visit our studio. Aside from showing them around, she regaled them with stories of how she not only survived Ms. Sibayan, but also actually learned how to be a better photographer because of her. (Incidentally, although she did not receive the highest possible grade, her thesis was adjudged best thesis of her batch’s).

Although Kathy’s assignment was to photograph endangered Philippine endemic animals, her thesis adviser wanted her to include the Philippine cobra, which is not an animal on this list. Kathy thought that Judy just wanted to see her dead.

To top it all, her adviser wanted her to use a film camera. It would have been easier to use a digital camera which would allow her to see right away if she got the pictures right.

Reluctantly and fearing for her life, she set up her photo session with the cobra. The Zoo did not have any anti-venom in the premises, and the nearest one was at the San Lazaro Hospital, just a few kilometers away but an agonizing three-hour ride in Manila’s horrendous traffic.

Judy wanted it photographed on a white background, with its wings flared – all poised to attack. With one eye looking through the viewfinder, and another eye watching out to see if her subject was aiming for her, and her hand shaking, Kathy tried to photograph the cobra. Because she was using film, she had no way of checking if her pictures would turn out alright and had to use up the entire roll of 36 exposures and hope that at least one would be sharp, properly exposed and with the cobra within the frame, and doing what was expected of him! It was a tall order for both the photographer and the cobra!

“Aren’t you done yet?” asked the cobra.

“Just one more, please,” pleaded the photographer.

“Okay, hurry up, I’m busy.”

The students laughed at Kathy’s funny way of storytelling, and Kathy continued with her narration.

She presented her photos to her thesis adviser, who thought that it might be better to use a black background. Unable to argue her way out, but convinced that her teacher was resolute in seeing her dead, Kathy cried all the way home but went back to the zoo to re-arrange for another shoot.

“You again? What do you mean, you have to re-shoot?” was the cobra’s reaction. Kathy pleaded with the cobra and explained that her adviser wanted a different background.

“Make it snappy. I get angry when I get too tired. Or impatient.” So Kathy rushed through another roll, careful not to displease her subject.

She then faced her thesis adviser, whom she feared as much as the cobra, and presented her with the second set of contact sheets. Briefly browsing through the new images, Judy chose the very first portrait of the cobra – on white background!

After narrating the story of how she survived her ordeal with her subject and with her thesis adviser, Kathy turned to the students and declared “Whatever does not kill you, will make you…” and she waited for all 35 of them, and Ms. Sibayan, to say in chorus, “…stronger.” “I would like to reassure you that you would live through Ms. Sibayan, as I have.” And with that, they applauded her. More than a talk on photography, it was probably what they needed most to hear.

A Holy School

A Holy School

My eldest daughter was in prep and I was eager to attend my first PTA meeting at her school, St. Scholastica’s College, a Catholic school just a few blocks from where we live.

Before the meeting started, I sidled up to her teacher and asked in a whisper, not wanting to let other people in on my ignorance – “May I know who St. Scholastica was? You know, I went to a Catholic school myself and I thought I was familiar with names of saints, but I never heard of her.”

“Mama!” In a hushed and embarrassed tone, my daughter chastised me – “St. Scholastica was the twin sister of St. Benedict. She was a holy person. When she died, she became a school.”

Home is Where the Internet Access is

Home is Where the Internet Access is

Kathy had already set up a G5, two monitors and her laptop on a temporary computer workstation in the house in Alabang because we were getting better Internet connections here than in Makati. A strong earthquake that hit Taiwan seemed to have damaged Internet cables that connected Manila to the rest of the world.

She worked here for three days and three nights, and never leaving for Makati. But on Sunday, when we came home from a party with relatives, she found to her horror that we had no Internet in the house, but there was in Makati. So, off she drove to Makati, even though it was past midnight.

Sacha was too sleepy to care but needed to connect to the Internet in the morning, but found it not working still by then. I had to make an emergency call for the driver to fetch her so she could rush to Makati. She left grumbling about the inconvenience of Alabang (something that did not bother her while we had internet connections).

I stayed home to tinker and fiddle with the wires, modems and wifi but could not get them to work. I tried connecting directly from modem to laptop, but still nothing. I frantically called the telephone company three times, and still nothing. I called Smart Communications to inquire about using my phone to log online but no, that’s not going to work for what we wanted to do. Then I remembered about dial up ISPs – and voila – I connected to the world.

Seeing how we all scampered to where we could connect online, I remarked to my husband that it’s no longer “home is where the heart is,” but “home is where the Internet connection is.”