By Elizabeth Angsioco
Allow me to be more personal this time.
I called my mother “Mama.” I lost her when I was twelve and in sixth grade. I regret having only a few years with her, but I treasure those years. Admittedly, I have a limited memory of Mama but there are enough striking ones that in retrospect, I believe helped shape what and who I am now.
My lola and titas repeatedly said that Mama was the most beautiful of all siblings. They said she was lively, and knew how to have fun. She was often a “Reyna-something” during Santacruzans in their place. And because she was pretty, Mama had many suitors.
My aunts would recall how they connived with Mama’s suitors so they would be able to talk with her (they never told me though what bribes they received for doing that!) This was because my lolo, their father, was quite strict and would embarrass any man who would court Mama in their house. They said lolo would bring out his sleeping mat and shoo guys away because “he was already sleepy”. (Yes, this scene happened in real life and not only in old Pinoy movies.)
They also said Mama was smart. But because the family was poor, she could not be sent to college. Mama eloped with my father when she was quite young. She must have been only 18 or 19 because she was only 32 or 33 when she passed on. I was told that I was not the eldest child because before me, they had Ate Maribel who passed away as a baby.
After me, Mama suffered two or three miscarriages. I remember because I was told by an aunt that after they knew about Mama’s subsequent pregnancy, she “sold” me to my tita for fifty centavos so the pregnancy would be okay. They said I had “panulak,” whatever that meant. This was in the early sixties.
We were four kids alive from the possible seven or eight. It was a difficult life, and Mama primarily shouldered the hardships. To be fair, my father was not evil, I never heard him raise his voice or physically hurt Mama when they argued. But Papa liked the good and easy life: clothes, “barkadas,” music, alcohol, and women.
We were poor. My childhood was spent in shanties in Sta. Mesa, San Juan and in Olongapo where my father was employed by the then US Military Bases. Mama stayed home and it was in Olongapo where I saw how she really suffered.
Mama was uprooted and transplanted to a place where she knew no one. She kept to herself and only knew our immediate neighbors. I don’t remember seeing her go out except to the market, church, and to school for some meetings. No, not even the movies though she might have. My earliest recollection of seeing a movie was with my lola.
Mama kept house and was quite strict in keeping things in order in our small abode. She didn’t like dirty and crumpled clothes so she was very meticulous in doing the laundry and ironing. I also have memories of crying when she would bathe me because she scrubbed me like she wanted to remove my skin, it really hurt!
Mama was also strict with afternoon naps (but like other kids, we just pretended and waited for her to sleep before we resumed playing.)
My father was the breadwinner. He did not earn much and a big part of it went to his vices. This was the cause of many of their spats. It was up to Mama to make do with what was given her and I knew it was not easy. I wonder how, but she did it.
The most hurting memory of my childhood was when Mama discovered Papa’s mistress. I was around ten at that time and was with her when this happened. I don’t remember her immediately freaking out but I saw the hurt and anger in her face. Yes, there was a big fight that night.
The lively, smart queen was no more.
It was in the hospital with Mama that I had my first menstruation. I felt scared and told her. Her only words were, “Dalaga ka na.” She said we would have a party when I turn eighteen. Admittedly, I did not know what being “dalaga” meant and why turning eighteen was a reason to party. Perhaps Mama wished me to have something she never had.
As it turned out, Mama would never see me grow up. She passed on. My lola’s family brought her body back to San Juan and had the wake there. I heard people murmur saying they did not recognize Mama because she aged a lot. They were expecting the lively, smart, beautiful Iling (Mama’s nickname) they knew in life.
I remember not crying during the funeral. Perhaps I was too young to understand grief. However, just a few years back, when a friend’s mother passed on, I broke down. That was the only time I gave myself the chance to grieve for Mama.
My mother did not live a happy life but she never complained to me. Her life is not something I would wish for others but I know that millions of Filipino women lived and still live lives like hers.
Motherhood is overly romanticized. It is said to be the noblest role of women. In fact, not a few believe that marriage and keeping home and family are women’s destined roles. These roles are not easy.
So, when you ask women what they do and with bowed heads they answer, “Sa bahay lang po,” RESPECT AND HONOR THEM. Imagine a world without anyone doing what your mothers and these women do.
Tomorrow is “Mothers’ Day,” your mom deserves to be told you love her not only on this day but every day you can.
Mama, wherever you are, this is for you. I miss you and I love you very much.
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“Mama,” republished with permission from Elizabeth Angsioco
Image credit: Charity by William Adolphe Bouguereau, public domain