My Ilocana aunt, who served as one of my nannies long time ago, just died of heart attack, in Ilocos.
I was too young to remember that she’s the most trusted household person my parents had. Papa remembers, he would ask her to deposit 200,000 pesos to his bank account from time to time, two decades ago, and nothing ever went wrong.
Nita is her name. My mother’s cousin.
One time her boyfriend visited her in our house in Laguna and I hid behind our long curtains, the ones that flow from ceiling to floor, and I watched them talk and touch with affection. However hard I shake my head for memories of her, this was the only picture I could draw from the corners of my mind. Happy Tita Nita and her Sweet Boyfriend Younger Than Her, cuddling on our sofa, without them seeing me. I remember being curious because it was not the Tita Nita that I’m supposed to see.
My photo albums show her standing by my side in school field trips. My memory of her show her sitting, in love.
Years later, when we would see each other in Ilocos or in Manila, I would always observe how she speaks: as if she’s always angry. But Ilocanos are like that. Always looking galit. Fierce. Even in love.
My mother is an Ilocana.
She’s not stingy. Like the sterotype for Ilocanos. Her eyes are fierce. When she was a small girl, one of their neighbors had a problem with her: one lakay (old man) said that she has eyes that are too fierce for a child. You know, like cold, merciless Japanese eyes. Ah, macho men those Ilocanos are, he actually went to my Grandmother to tell her about her daughter looking at him straight in the eye with no emotion (or so I imagine). Mama told me she didn’t intend to stare at people that way. Her eyes were just like that, she said.
But my mother could be really fierce at the best of times.
When Tita Nita had a boyfriend younger than her, my mother suggested (she tells me after Tita Nita’s death) that she consider going abroad because that time, Tita Nita was thinking of working overseas. My mother actually wanted her cousin to leave her boyfriend. So my yaya left for Hongkong.
But perhaps this fierceness has a reason?
When I came home from Ilocos this Holy Week, Papa listened to my stories of how Ilocos has changed. Mama reminisced a lot of things about Ilocos. Her Ilocos. One of the stories was, when she brought her boyfriend (Papa) to the province, her mother had a high blood or something. My grandmother didn’t approve of my father at first, when he and Yang (my Mother’s nickname) were just dating.
But my mother married my father.
When my grandmother died, I was finishing my thesis. I couldn’t get my hands off my draft and so I begged off from the funeral. It was a heartless decision, I know. But I did pray for her soul.
Lola Milia is how we, her grandchildren, called her, but everybody in town called her Mommy, because of their high regard for her.
She used to sit as a local politician or something and she had one of the biggest houses in Angkileng where everyone goes to when there’s fiesta. One of her sons was a valedictorian, the other was a rock star SK chairman, the other son a Chemical Engineer and one of her daughters used to be a beauty queen. Her other daughters turned up as good mothers, while my mother was a Salutatorian and the Gerry Roxas Leadership Awardee (which is usually the valedictorian, right?) In other words, Lola Milia had been a pretty good mommy.
I don’t remember chatting with her. When I mentioned this to Mama, she says my Lola Milia is not that fluent in Filipino. She speaks Ilocano and they exchange letters in English. This last piece of information, I know.
Mama used to keep bags full of Cards Of All Ocassions. Lola Milia used to send her daughters letters and greeting cards and photos of old times, all with sweet messages in English. They were not touchy-feely mother and daughter who exchange Iloveyous in person, but their letters… their letters are something.
I think of Parisian parks and London squares of 19th century when I remember their hand-written letters. I think of English drawing rooms and scented candles and women in hats and gowns and ballroom dances and royal balls. Maybe because of the design and illustrations of some cards that stuck in my mind. But, no, the scrolls of their hand writings are simply classic and romantic, gentle and dainty, Elizabethan, dignified.
This is their love, Ilocana style.