Day 46: the maiden, the pious, the mother part one

Sangkay Luling (My friend Luling)

Nakain ka? Han kasunog han munyika (Where have you been when the doll got burned down?)

Usa katuig an paglaga (It was a yearlong combustion)

An aso waray kitaa . . . (You did not watch the flame)

–  old Waray-Waray folk song


I was on the phone with my mother the other night. I was in bed, recalling the face of a relative, whose house got burned down recently with accordance to my mother’s story as she, on the other side of the world, sped her moving self towards Zambales riding a 1 AM bus from Manila. She visited my brother Mark, whose condominium pad got almost burned down a week back because of a kettle that was left boiling on the stove. I was immersed in my own racing thoughts on fire and what it signified having an occurrence in the family recently and was floating through my mother’s passionate declaration that we all need to pray for safety all at the same time. For about 30 minutes, Nenette and I, mother and son, friends for three decades, bartered snippets of our lives, unashamedly judged through it and laughed through it in chorus knowing that we both trusted each other’s potency during unfortunate times and also knowing that, even with our difference in character, we both knew how to infuse humor even with the most tragic of all stories.

Nenita was born in the town of Jaro, in the damp island of Leyte, in 1948. She was one of two children by Gavino and Angeles, who were both children of post-traumatic stress disorder having gone through war that did not match their children’s buoyant manners surging through the more positive 50s and the revolutionary 60s. When Nenette was growing up in their house that was built on top of running creek, she spent most of her time getting lost in the sea of people that went to and fro their ancestral house with slabs of meat being clobbered and grinded in their kitchen.  True to form, she belonged in a family of meat butchers who sold and owned swine and carabaos.  True to form, little Nenette permeated with the masculine side of life, seeing carnage of animals at an early age, as she drank her bottled Coca-Colas and watched the puddles of rainwater from her window on a low-down afternoon when the streets were quiet and only the sound of her mother’s chatter was to be heard.  Angeles, a diva of a woman, who manicured her way through life with her metaphorical language and deadly red nails, taught her daughter mental strength and being lucid with reality.  The entire family owned coconut groves and her childhood was spent there watching people climbed up the tall coconut trees to either filter saps or to furrow crops during coconut season.

When Angeles’ mother, Eugenia, passed away, Nenette was barely 5.  She never knew there was a thing called death.  Perplexed by the coffin lying on the receiving room, she asked her mother Angeles why people die.  Angeles looked at her daughter and told her without batting an eyelash, “Because people die.  We all die.”  She patted her robust, fully made up face with her lace kerchiefs and pulled back her tears.  Dominatrixes don’t cry.

Gavino was a published writer after the war and was a voracious reader of post-modern politics and the Greek mythology.  Working as a tax officer and sidelining with his brothers in the meat trade and copra business, he provided his family well.  But unlike his wife Angeles, who was self governing and verbal, Gavino spent time on his own – had his own world of Zeuses and tuba (an alcoholic beverage coming from coconut sap)  – writing in Waray-Waray (inbred dialect of the eastern Visayas) and dabbling on the English vocabulary, which, in turn, spawned wonderful poetic works about nature and the clouds that were both published in his native dialect and translated in English in the 50s.

Nenette adored her father’s piety to the arts that was likewise mutated ironically by her mother’s classic life skills.  The resistance to life’s retribution and the celebration of life itself even in distant times of emotional distress and financial tribulations.  Like Leyte itself who went down through history as the symbol of the Philippine independence after 1944, Nenette reconciled with her interestingly eclipsing heart growing up and seeing her generation upheaved from the ghosts of the war that loomed in her parents’ eyes.  She graduated with honors in school and through Gavino’s animus shadow, she began reading newspapers and secretly read Nancy Drew detective novels, which, at the time, was a distraction to her increasing glee to the written arts.

In high school, she was the news editor of her school newspaper.  At the same time, she was also the school darling.  She played lead in the school benefit play called Rosette of Aragon based on Katherine of Aragon.

Through the years, I have always thought that I got my writing prowess from my mother’s literary discipline.  Just recently I realized that I did not because it was from my grandfather Gavino’s poetry where I derived most of my bohemian musings from.  Nenette’s hardcore obsession with exactitude was so immense to a sense that she is a grammarist – to which I am not.  I am break-the-rules writer and I like it like that.

Lately, my mother read my MY LIFE IN 5o DAYS and forthrightly tortured my use of language thinking it was lovely as it was but arcane in precision and tone.  I wanted to strangle her for being so blunt!  What can I say, she is my worst critique and inasmuch as I ignored her assessment and violently reacted to it anyhow, I went back to my administrator route and double checked my alleged grammatical boo-boos.  Anyone can critique my work and call it arcane, archaic, unreadable or even downright bad writing, I could care less.  But not Nenette.  It hurts !!!

Going back to Leyte in the 60s . .  .

She giggled with her cousin/best friend Lilly when they went out to the salog (river) and walked by foot to buri (farm) drowned in stories of Wak Wak (mythological baby-eating woman who flew around the coconut groves at night) and boyfriends they kept from their parents lest they’d be punished by kneeling down  for hours or be deprived of dinner of delectable humbbas and binagol.

Gerrick was Nenette’s first boyfriend.  With his flare for guitar and positive energy, she rested her very busy head trekking through romance’s picket fences and synergized her teenage years watching Susan Roces movies with him, daydreaming she was Susan Roces and collected posters and magazine covers of the 60s movie icon.  Gerrick, who was her constant companion at the time, spent movie time with her – all of these unbeknownst to their parents – and one time, Nenette came home late after watching Susan, Suzy, Susay and Gavino, frustrated with her lame excuse and realizing that his daughter lied, tore a Kislap magazine cover of the actress and shoved it in her daughter’s mouth!

A good girl as she was, my mother’s first brush with lying was with her fanaticism over the fabulous Susan Roces.

Years later, when she started going to Centro Escolar University to study Medical Technology, Gerrick married another girl back in the province to which later on, according to her cousins, Gerrick got drunk in the town pub and retold stories of his time with Nenette and that she was, in fact, the greatest thing that ever happened to him.  He died of a car accident many years later.  Nonetheless, it did not break her heart because she knew all along that her own life is just beginning.  After spending a good year in the Tacloban’s Divine Word University, Nenette thought she had to fly to Manila to pursue a better education and to explore her youth.  This was 1966 and the whole world was burning brassiers, Woodstock was brimming and The Beatles were coming to the Rizal stadium for a concert for the first time in the Philippines.

In the university, Nenette was a diligent student.  Her passion for grammar and her collected personality caught the attention of professors and she graduated with flying colors. Likewise, it caught the attention of admirers, both men and women alike.  I remember my mother telling me about her lesbian suitors back when she was doing internship at San Lazaro Hospital when these girls would block the the corridors just to talk to her when she passed by.  My mother, a trooper as she was even with her modest looks and disinclined mien, eventually befriended them and thereafter became her bodyguards to the more twisted male patrons.

If there was something that I will remember most about Nenette’s accounts on her school life, it was her assertiveness and hunger for learning.  Her colorful youth in Leyte, her intellectual father and her very hawkish diva of a mother, her associations with rain and her own town’s green forests, rice paddies and free-flowing rivers, her Nancy Drews and assimilated fascination for folktales and dark monsters fueled her sudden shift to Manila’s tumultuous rebounds.  In the late 60s, the city was filled with questions and just like the world, it was beginning to see women as a force rather than the woman who prepared dinner for her family.  Feminism was forming and sex wars were becoming memorable by the second.  The political arena was becoming a show of barbarism and the people were becoming curious with bottled up anger.  Nenette, in her motionless acumen to see through it all, remembered her Lola Tina and the way the old woman recited the Virgin Mary’s litany in their totemic house in Leyte.  She closed her eyes and prayed three Hail Marys and wished for glory in this metropolitan disarray.

She studied well and found solace in knowledge, believing God is with her.  And that her Lola Tina was waiting for her in Leyte.  Praying for her safety in Manila.  Waiting for her to come home to pray along with her.

Nenette, Angeles and Jon (1975)


Justina was Gavino’s mother.  Everyone called her Apoy Tina.  My mother, as a child, already knew that the power of prayer comes from something or someone.  For her, that particular someone was her grandmother Justina.  She was illiterate but knew how to pray the rosary and can recite the litanies by heart.  Nenette learned her early prayers from her.  It was also told that Angeles was not a driving force for my mother’s reverence because she was an earthy woman and was busy running a family, thus, my mother spent more time with her Apoy Tina and actually cried more if she was going somewhere more than if her own mother Angeles did.  Having heard this story, it is funny how history can repeat by itself because my niece Apple is Nenette’s cornucopia in terms of spiritual existence.  Apple is even closer to her lola more than she is to her own mother, my sister Noreen.  Nenette, in turn, became Apple’s teacher and good friend as we speak.  I think the universe have a way with repeating beauty that procreated both symmetry and devotional implications.

Years after being flagged down as the family’s paragon of spiritual awakening, Nenette, pious and charmed with the church went on being a torch bearer of Zambales’ religious movements such as The Daughters of Mary Immaculate and was a supporter of Knights of Columbus, to which my father, Jun, was very much a part of.  To this day, my mother attends mass not as a churchgoer but as a reader of gospels and a hymnist to its ecclesiastical celebration.

I was once religious, thanks to Mama.  I used to pray fervently to the Catholic church but one thing led to another, so I chose being a pagan instead.  It helped me understand my own spirituality in a way.  Nenette, on the other hand, steadfastly relieved her soul with her adoration for the Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, who, in her accounts helped her through the aches and perils of her youth and things she did not understand.  When I was younger, I asked her why she prayed so much.  She answered, “Because it is the best way to understand something that I can’t muster emotionally.”   I brushed her aside, with my wicked angst splattering all over my mindful queries and thought, “Because you are so scared.”

I was wrong.  Years later, when I began tinkering on new age religion, I realized my mother was telling me to surrender it.  To simply let go of the things that bothered me because the way life’s hand would have it eventually, it will simply heal by itself.  That by spitting it out in prayer, everything will calm its way sooner or later.  My mother was right after all.

Another time I asked her why God is there if God is even there at all.  She told me, “Kilabutan ka nga sa sinasabi mo, anak! (Be very afraid of what you are saying, your being sacrilegious, son!)” .  I laughed because I knew that I was, yet again, testing her conviction with her unbreakable religious faith, and said, “Ma, I am planning to go on Buddhism is why!”  She pouted, pinched me hard in the shoulders and said, “This is one of the few things, and the most important thing that you can have for an inheritance and you’ll throw it all away?  You are an ungrateful son!”

I laughed again and told her, “No, Ma, seriously, what does God got to do with everything?”

She paused, looked up, breathed in (as she does every time she got pinned down by my classic rhetorical cascades) and held my hand.

She replied, “For the salvation of our souls . . . ”

I did not understand it but I promised her that one day I will.

Today, after completing The Maiden, The Pious, The Mother Part One


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