Day 47: the maiden, the pious, the mother part two

The Epitome of a First Lady

BEFORE I STARTED writing The Maiden, The Pious, The Mother Part One, I was actually with my mother on the phone, contriving to have an interview with her.  She was, surprisingly, very acquiescent and open to my unabashed drillings of her life.  On my side of the coin, however, it was no picnic.  How can I possibly give justice to the story of a woman I both loved and judged throughout my life?  Moreover, I can’t be wrong with any details of her life otherwise, I’d be hanged for being unworthy both of her name and of her heritage.  Toilsome as it was, I gathered all my strength and power of memory to paint a woman whose timidity spoke of unreachable dreams and anesthetized pain.  And whose verbal power, patience, passion, sectarianism and unequivocal talent with details saw through years of looking after an impetuous husband and raising six kaleidoscopic children.  Very very well.

Throughout the years, I never really knew the woman behind my mother.  There were years in my own life growing up when I thought I hated her for always being right.  There have been numerous times when I laughed impishly inside when she committed mistakes (like tinkering on the remote not knowing which buttons to push or giving up on driving altogether!) because not only did it happen rarely but she always got away with it.  With subtlety.

This etherealness my mother possessed is her classic docket.  No one literally knows what’s going on inside her head because she meets everything with her Mona Lisa smile and like the Mona Lisa, no one really knew the equation of that smile.  Is she happy?  Is she surprised?  Is she frustrated?  Nenette can fool you with what she says because she barely means them.  Her footprints had been everywhere, from the muddied dirtroads of Jaro, to the cobblestones of Ilocos, to the hot asphalts of Manila and to the beaches of Zambales – she knew the shadows of everything represented and presented.  And its linear backdrop, needless to mention.  She, like me, can embody different bodies and her mental capacity is alternative.  Apart from speaking Tagalog and Waray-Waray, she speaks fluent Ilocano, Cebuano, Capampangan (she worked in Pampanga for a very long time) and Zambali.  And of course, she is an English grammarist, so she knew how it was to have rules around her, suffice to say, she imbibed it fairly well.  Like I said, she got away with almost anything that included dialects, bank deals, work, raising kids, battling with nuns in our school if she thought we didn’t deserve the grades we received, collecting shoes and bags, politics, the church and her humanitarian duties and of course, marital mishaps.

She fought through all this with a smile.  She openly cried when frustrated but when she did, I always knew that it was her way of telling the world, “Screw you, you’ll see!”  And then again, the cycle begins.  She wins at the very end.  Always.  My very sentimental siblings freak out more often than not when they see my mother cry thinking she is depressed.  I tell them to let her because she needed to cry.  This is the only way she can bounce back and replace her worries with her prototypal smile.  Only a few people know that Nenette’s tears is her bridge to reconciling with herself so I tell my brother and sisters, “Let her cry.  It will do her good.  And then tell her how beautiful her hair is.  Or how young she looks at 60 and before you know it, she’s back in her little garden, tending to her orchids humming When You Tell Me That You Love Me . . . ”   In my own estimation, anything beautiful makes my mother cry.  I got this from her I guess.  Both of us can see loveliness even in the most mundane circumstances.  And when we cry it did not mean we were sad.  We were simply moved.

My mother, Nenette met my father, Jun in Manila when both were in college.  Jun was studying political science in the University of the East and Nenette was taking pre-med at Centro Escolar University.  Both lived in a virtual adjoining dormitory because the owners were brothers.  And there was only one cook for both houses.  This particular cook who was chosero (bluffer) was the reason why they met.  He introduced them, quite squarely, telling my would-be father that a girl wants to meet him.  Of course, that was not the entire story because a day before that, Cook Chosero spoke to  my mother and told her that a guys wants to meet him to which my mother frowned to, modest as she was.  My father, thinking this is ONE HOT GIRL (wanting to meet him) readily went to my mother’s side of the dorm and introduced himself.  Mmm, not my father’s type of a hot girl.  Instead, he found her to be the opposite.  She was the sweetest girl he ever met.  And so intelligent too.

They fell in love instantly and after graduation, they eloped.  My father was not able to pursue his law degree and my mother forgot about her dreams of becoming a doctor.  What can they do?  I arrived in the world even before they had second thoughts.

And there I was, the hindrance to their dreams of late.  But definitely was . . . worth the taking.

Nenette was a good mother.  She may not be a good cook because all her life she had a day job and cooking was never really a talent of hers from the beginning but she made she sure we all looked good.  That we all smelled good.  And that we all did our homework and pray the Angelus at 6 PM daily.  When we were living in Mandaluyong, I saw my mother fell into a deep depression.  I really did not understand it back then but I did remember both of us being sick, life was such a struggle and my father had to walk some kilometers away from where he worked (because he was economizing) to deliver us goto (rice soup in chicken broth) and had to tend to my sister Kit as well who was a year old back then.  My mother, whose hair fell on her back, cut it really short and I remember being sad myself because I never wanted her to cut her hair.  I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world and when she cut her hair, I found her ugly.  In my own bantam definition, ugly meant desolate.  And being trapped in a life of hand to mouth and her dreams fading away.  She embraced change and said goodbye to the maiden in her.  It was the 7os and things were really beginning to disintegrate.  Nenette, on the other hand, began her sweet odyssey towards parenthood.  She knew back then that this is the life she wanted.  To become a mother.  And the best mother her children will ever have.

If I start talking about tactics, I think my mother’s unique way of expressing herself is the reason why she is the best mother in the world.  She is a standard mother.  She wants the best for her kids and she want her kids to be good.  Well, we did not turn out like that at all.  We were opinionated kids.  We make decisions and most of all, we were all intelligent. As much as she is.  Imagine, 6 kids – all different zodiac signs – all inquisitive and all comfortable with scrutiny and the artistic realm.  I am a writer.  Kit was a musician. Angeline, a professor.  Noreen was a beauty queen.  Mark the Jack of All Trades and Dess, the thespian.  You would not want to see us in Christmas shoppings and conversational dinners when we were teenagers.  In my 30s now but I am still wondering how my mother handled all of us back then.  Of course when we got older, the more theatrical our lives have become.  There were events of unexpected pregnancy, coming out, addiction, matrimonial disunion, career mishaps and so on and so forth.  My mother, an unproclaimed control freak, was always there.  Always.  There were times when we had to shoo her out of the room and stop meddling into our lives, but she always managed to get herself in.  So silently until she roars like a tiger in the night making herself known to be the best and the worst conscience known to man.  And we all ended up listening to her.  I guess it is true when they say that mother knows best.  For Nenette, she may not know whether she was right or wrong but she knows she has to be obeyed at the end of the day.

And for a sweet lady like her, nobody actually knows that she is all steel inside and how convincing she is.  Even the sound of her whisper can make the strongest man cry.  My father did. I did.  We all did.  For years I have wanted to single out and detect where it cored.  I may have known snippets of my mother’s life back in Leyte and a few more during the time that she and my father where still unmarried, but it never occured to me as to how she got the stamina to look good everyday, deal with her children’s dilemmas, her husband’s inconsonances and generally, life’s alterations and gets away with it.  I have always thought that my mother’s character is not about strength or survival but more of durability.  Or something deeper than that like faith.  Or God, perhaps, thus, when she speaks, everybody listened because she belonged in God’s league.  Or more precisely, she is God’s mistress.  And she breathed, walked, talked and endured life through God.

Like I said earlier, I was never a religious person but I know where my spiritualiy lies.  It may compose of various hallucinogenic perspective but in a lot of ways, I know my God.  The only difference is, my mother’s God is definitely well-anchored than mine as of yet.  I will get there.  I hope.  At least, I know, deep inside my heart, that it is true what they say, like mother like son.

And so one day I asked her, “Ma, what does God got to do with everything?”

She paused, looked up, breathed in and held my hand.

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

I did not understand what she meant by that until today.  I figured out that she was speaking in behalf of her God.  And when she said that she actually meant to save me from me.  She knew all along that I will be who I am today, fearless, adventurous and oftentimes, sick in the head, so she had to remind me to save my very own soul from my own reckless head.  In my life, I have had it.  And more.  And somehow, I  managed to bounce back.  From the day I realized how bold life can become, I have fancied myself as Phoenix.  A person who has countless lives and can die anytime.  But can also live again at any given time.

I am happy I had a mother who is the epitome of a first lady.  I could not ask for more.


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