Saturday, October 20, 2012


     No matter the pace of our lives, Mama had one regular habit - going to the beauty parlor weekly to have her nails and hair done.  This was something she kept up till her dying day.  I remember that during her illness, her doctor had to request to wipe off her nail polish so Mama’s conditions may be easily monitored. When she died, one of my sisters-in-law had to rush to the mortuary to give her a manicure and pedicure lest she haunt us all from her grave.   

     Mama had her moments of nastiness and bitchiness and she would never deny it.  She was, however, one of the most caring persons that ever came to be. 

     When we became adults, we had for neighbors a troublesome couple.  The husband was a bank manager and the wife a real estate agent.  They had four kids, two boys and two girls.  The household was often in turmoil with loud quarrels and sounds of blows exchanged.  Maybe to avoid embarrassing herself, the wife frequently left the household for weeks and seldom stayed home.  The children, ages 9 to 6, were then left on their own.  They fended for themselves as best they could with the father providing them the money to buy food.  He was out of the house early and returned usually by midnight.  When the father came home, he was in the habit of inspecting their abode especially when there were no helpers.  Whenever he was dissatisfied, he woke up all his children no matter the hour of the night to have them wax, scrub, and polish.  While the children were at it, he loudly and shrilly harangued them.  Sometimes, there were sounds of spanking which only the eldest son received.   One night, he even locked out the son naked as punishment.  The poor boy spent the entire night standing at the driveway in his birthday suit.  Mama found him in the morning and that was how the boy was allowed to re-enter their house. 

     Being immature, these kids regularly squandered their food budget on candies and chips.  When Mama found out, she started sending food over to them when meal times came and it became a regular thing between the two households.  When the youngest son went to a military academy, Mama sent him delicious food weekly which he wisely shared with his upperclassmen.  According to him, he avoided being hazed and beaten by this simple act of sharing his food.  Mama did this until he finished his course and needless to say, he was forever grateful for her care.  As gesture of their love and gratitude, this son and another sister, took leave from work, insisted on watching over Mama during her terminal illness and stayed until her end.

     Mama stood as protector of these children while they were growing up.  One time, the husband and wife were engaged in a dangerous fight such that their helper fled and jumped over to our backyard.  Mama learned that the wife was wielding a machete and the husband had his gun out and cocked.  In a bit, Mama rushed to their house and immediately took over the situation; she vehemently reprimanded both husband and wife for such a glaring scandal right in front of their cowering children.   For a short time after, the couple and their children lived in uneasy peace.   This, of course, was a perfect example of a marriage gone sour.  The wife continued to be absent from the domicile and for even longer periods and the husband later brought home another son borne out of an illicit relationship. 

     Mama had plenty of superstitious/irrational beliefs, too, which I think was common for her generation.  We grew up turning our plates around when someone needed to leave while we were eating.  I don’t know the reason for this anymore; whether the person leaving or you will meet an accident if you didn’t!  There was that time, too, when she moved heaven and earth to break my brother’s romance for the simple reason that the lady involved had gapped front teeth.  She claimed that money will never be retained by the couple.  One of her half-sisters got married and borrowed her pearl rosary; during the ceremony, the rosary’s cross got lost.  Mama felt it was an omen of a hard life ahead.  This sister died of child birth many years after. Mama was likewise wary of persons with smoky eyes because they would try to steal from you and those with rabbit’s eyes because they will betray you.  Shifty eyes meant that the person is calculating or is hiding something; and so on and so forth.  I was in fear of the way she sat in judgment of my friends simply by the way they looked.  I resented such sweeping condemnation then only to realize that she was right most times.  Maybe, she could have been a sharp profiler!

     The last time that she celebrated her birthday, the first caller of the day, one of my business associates totally unaware that it was her birthday, came in a black dress.  Mama commented on it after the visitor left.  She said that it was the color of mourning and that maybe it was going to be her last birthday.  True enough, Mama died the following year, months before her birthday!   

     Many times during those years, I could feel that Mama was becoming lonely.  It must have been painful for someone who was truly vibrant and perky to have to step into the shadows of our lives.  In hindsight, I even thought it would have been better had she remarried while she was younger.  But, Mama always said: “Walang pangalawang Gloria sa pag-aasawa.”. (You can’t find happiness a second time in marriage.)  Am sure it’s one of her homegrown knowledge again; having been burned badly by the second marriage of her own mother.  After Papa died, she devoted her entire life to raising us.  It was not for want of any suitors, too.  I remember parades of suitors coming to pay a visit but Mama must have discouraged them from the get-go that few even ventured a follow-up.   It was only after she died that I came to know how deeply she loved Papa.  Among mementos that I dug up from her personal belongings were plane tickets of Papa’s trips, passport, letters and telegrams of Papa, even the bathrobe he wore when he suffered his heart attack; all these she kept for thirty seven years. 

     Being lonely, however, did not hinder Mama from sharing many stories from younger days.  Whenever she came home from Canada, we spent lazy afternoons chatting about what occurred in the past; funny stories and family revelations were uncovered!  She was constantly alert to what may happen while Papa was alive.  He once came home with his secretary in tow.  Apparently, the lady was not feeling well and Papa offered to drive her home.  He stopped by to tell Mama first so she will not worry if he got late.  Not one to let such an unusual development pass, Mama immediately forked over a few pesos to the secretary and instructed her to take a cab home.  She advised that a wife should never allow any other woman to grab her husband’s attention and solicitude.  For this, my uncle Itio, Ibu’s husband, often teased Mama for being “selfish”.  He jokingly remarked that because she refused to share her husband, God took him away early. 

     Courageous and spunky:  these are the two adjectives I believe best describe Mama.  If I were a painter, I would most probably paint her as a lady pirate standing on top of the ship and laughing heartily as the wind and rain whipped across her face.  She always seemed to have that aura of audacity about her!  If she had ever shown any weakness at all in her lifetime, it was her extreme love for and expectations from my eldest brother, Harry.  He was always treated like a prince and the rest of us like his vassals.  But, that is an entirely different story altogether which may be told another time if ever. 

     To Mama’s credit, she also retained many of Papa’s friends even after he was gone.  Most of these friends were Americans since Papa was assigned to work on contracts with the Clark Air Base.  The favorite of these Americans was Chinese food and Mama bragged that she could cook Chinese very well.  Of course, they took her up on her invite and she had to order from a Chinese restaurant downtown.  With her characteristic chutzpah, she claimed she was the one who cooked them all!  Ha-ha-ha-ha-hah….. what a brazen liar! 

     Papa’s most loyal friend was Mao and Mama was always quite close to him and his wife despite his very poor credibility.  You see, the man was addicted to gambling and Mama considered his wife a saint for putting up with his vice.  He hocked his family’s jewels and everything else just so he could go to the races and bet.  He once borrowed Papa’s watch and could no longer return it because he pawned it.  Papa and Mama tolerated all these and even laughed at Mao’s escapades.  Mama often mentioned that Mao was repeatedly involved in fights over betting debts but would quickly disappear under the table while Papa tussled with whoever Mao made enemy of.  After Papa was gone, Mao visited us every so often just to check and see how we were doing.  I remember he also habitually picked me up and drove all the way to their residence in Quezon City for meals.  In fact, when he failed to show up for a few months, I dreamt of him coming for a visit in a real spiffy attire.  He looked jolly and relaxed and seemed much, much younger.  Because of this dream, I called up his wife to say hello; only to find out that he passed away too some weeks back!  She could not inform us because she could not find our telephone number.  Did he come into my dream to say goodbye?  I often wondered.

   Mama said it was the same thing that happened to her when Papa passed on.  Being young and emotional, she cried to high heavens and questioned God for Papa’s death.  She related that there was one night when she fell half asleep on the rocking chair.  Her arm was over her eyes which were swollen from too much grieving.  She suddenly felt Papa in front of her and he took her arm off her eyes.  He told her to pray constantly and believe that God will always take care of her and her children.  Then, just as silently, he disappeared.  Mama could not tell whether it happened for real or just a dream but that was the time she gained acceptance of his death and moved on. 

     She may have been doing the same for me when I dreamt of meeting her at the memorial park.  This was at a time when she had been gone some months.  She was wearing her usual long house dress and was beaming as she walked towards me.  She assured me that she will always be with me and will constantly watch over me so I need not worry.  Maybe that is the reason why I still cannot comb my hair in public, or sit on the sidewalk while waiting in line for a ride, or even look out the window to watch people go by.  You see, these were all no-no’s for Mama and I can feel her watching me so my mind tells me, “Magagalit si Alice!” (Alice will be angry!)

     I guess, Mama always had such a larger than life presence in our lives.  In fact, my brother, Dick, called her a “terrorist”!  It began when she regularly came home from Canada.  As soon as we received word that she was coming home, I would be busy with my household help sweeping, wiping, scrubbing, waxing and whatever else it took to make my home squeaky clean.  On one such occasion, Dick dropped by and saw how busy we were.  He commented that it was the same thing happening in his own home.  Apparently, the thought of her forthcoming visit terrorized us all into cleaning like there was no tomorrow!  And who wouldn’t when this particular visitor climbed our stairs with one finger running along the banister and checking for dust?

     Mama seemed to have had an uncanny inkling of her impending departure.  On her last trip back, she had this sense of urgency to see everyone whom she had not seen for the longest time. With my uncle Ador, she went on a long trip to their hometown.  There, she visited old friends and relatives.  She became cranky when at home as if she always needed to be somewhere else.  When she fell ill, I immediately told her to fly back to Canada as my brother, Tom, requested.  The doctor advised, though, that even there, all they can give her was nursing care.  Tom still felt that she would receive better care there and, needless to say, her medical needs can be met by her healthcare insurance.  Even with the assurance that I will fly with her, she gently but adamantly refused to go saying, “Dito ko na lang hihintayin ang oras ko.”  (I will just wait for my time here.)

    So the waiting began.  Mama refused to be admitted to the hospital until necessary for times when she needed blood transfusions.  Her usually charmed life worked its magic again when we found a doctor volunteer who came to check on her every day.  This blessing came in the person of Dr. Carmen Castaneda, one of the best friends of my doctor-cousin, Josie, who had by then been in the United States for some years.  Another cousin, Lyja, brought over the hospital bed that Ah-pe used when he, in turn, battled a terminal illness.  Everything was set to make Mama’s last days as comfortable as we can manage.  A caregiver was hired to monitor Mama’s needs and to ensure painkiller was given as needed. 

     It was open house from then on.  Guests streamed in; relatives, friends, and mostly, people she had influenced and helped.  She talked to Ibu over long distance because Ibu could no longer travel due to her diabetes and other complications.  I overheard her one time saying with resignation, “Baka hindi na tayo magkita ulit.”  (We may not get the chance to see each other again.)  Always, though, nights were reserved for karaoke singing.  She just loved to watch her grandchildren perform for her.

     My aunt, Uma, who was herself recuperating from a long battle with rectal cancer, also came for a last visit.  As soon as she entered the room, Mama gave her the good news, “Tom is coming home.”  Uma replied, “You know, my ass had been bothering me since yesterday.”  Mama again gave Uma the good news about Tom.  Uma again told Mama about her ass.  This exchange went on for about five times so much so that Lyja and I were bent over in silent laughter behind the door.  Then, the two old ladies looked into each other’s eyes and fell into a companionable silence; a silence maybe only two kindred souls can share in the face of death.   

     On October 23, 1988, Mama finally gave up her fight against stomach cancer.  As a sign of consideration perhaps, she chose to creep away in the early morning hours the day after my own wedding anniversary.

     Days from now, it would be her 24th death anniversary.  It could be a day of remembering for us, her children.  But, frankly, in my senior years, I often get to recall how she was with us, how she made life seemed so exciting and exhilarating.  Am I meeting the bar she had set? I think of how I had been with my children and how my children would be with their own children, my grandchildren.  I truly regret that they and their cousins missed out on one of the most colorful personalities they could have had the privilege of knowing when Mama passed away.  Her fiery Castilian temper, her vivid striking beauty that made everyone look her way, the lilt of the laughter that she shared with abandon, her quick wit, and the gentle heart beneath her domineering presence – I will always hold all these dear in my heart and memory. 

     For those of you in our next generation, I recount some of these memories before age blurs them in my mind.  I hope that in knowing more about her, you will know who and what you are because of who and what Alice had been! 


     I always got this feeling that we disappointed her in many ways.  Knowing how meticulous and specific her standards were, I can understand how and why.  Much as we all tried to do as she pleased, we all went about living our lives the way we envisioned it to be.  In the end, Mama must have felt quite alienated and puzzled by how we all turned out and what we became.  But such is life and Mama would not be one to gripe about it.  She, herself, must have been amazed at how her own life evolved.

     Mama was born youngest in a brood of three.  Her mother, our grandmother Nanay, was quite young when she lost her own husband and as duty dictated in those times, our great-grandparents felt compelled to find her another husband to head her family.  Mama’s stepfather was a widower with three children of his own.   

     Mama was then four years old and quite spoiled by her grandparents who lived nearby.  Ibu, my aunt and Mama’s only full sister, laughingly said that Mama was a handful when she was a child.  She was a little cutie with very, very fair complexion and curly hair.  She smoked at that ridiculously tender age.  She claimed she kept her stash of cigarettes in a tin can and she normally stole a smoke behind their house in the province. 

     Mama’s family was relatively wealthy.  Among the many properties that her father left behind was their town’s marketplace and a cockpit aside from some farmlands.  Even at that age, she was already tasked to collect the daily rentals from the market vendors.  People were straightforward then and stallholders simply dropped the coins due into another tin can that she carried with her.  Unknown to Nanay, for sure, Mama would siphon off part of the collection to her own loot so she could buy her ciggies and candies. 

     The children of her stepfather, whom we called Tatay, were much older than Mama and her siblings.  His eldest daughter was already in her early twenties when they remarried; a son in late teens and a young special child-daughter completed his side of the family.  

     When arguments arose due to differences between step-siblings, Mama always piped in an answer or two causing her to be banished from dinner.  Ibu related that she, on the other hand, learned to keep whatever thoughts she may have had to herself and hurried to finish her meals quietly.  Knowing my Ibu, I can see how she did so since she was one of the kindest and sweetest persons I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  At any rate, I presume that being banished from a meal was the least of Mama’s concerns since she had a horde of cash and candies to tide her over.

      When ordered to clean up their youngest step-sister, Mama washed her up by using her foot to which the step-sister often screamed “Monyo monyo”, meaning demonyo or devil!   As I said, Mama was spoiled and, maybe, she just cannot see why she had to be the one to clean up a special child who was in her early teens. 

     Their grandparents soon realized the mistake in their choice of a step-father for the young family.  To their dismay, Tatay turned out to be a profligate gambler and drunkard and slowly, the family wealth dwindled.  As the second family started adding new members, Mama’s grandparents relocated the three children to Manila and took them under their own care.  Thus, Mama and siblings got to enjoy the city life and enjoyed education in Manila.  Sadly, her brother, Arturo, was stricken with throat cancer and died at age 16.

     Typical of their generation, Mama married early at the age of 18.  My Papa was a China born young man of 20 when they met; but atypical of the times, they married for love and not for convenience.  Maybe Mama was really quite headstrong that I never heard of any stories implying any objection to the mixed-race union. 

     I do not know if there were any objections from my father’s side of the family but surely, Papa was enamored with this Spanish mestiza that their union simply cannot be stopped. 

     Unfortunately for the young couple, they married a few months before WWII broke out.  Mama related much of their misadventures during the war since my Papa was on the Japanese army’s wanted list.  It seemed that Papa played in a series of basketball games that raised funds for anti-Japanese activities prior to their invasion of the Philippines.  They hopped from one place to another and kept on moving.  Mama would tell how she had to rub dirt and grime on her face and all over her body whenever there was need to walk out of the house.  Being such a pampered young lady, she griped and cried over their situation, their food and accommodation and Papa always promised that as soon as the war was over, he would give her the life of a queen. True to his word, Papa indulged Mama’s every whim in the short time they were together. 

     Papa’s behavior may have set the norm for which Mama had been regarded by his family throughout her life.  Of course, it helped that Mama learned to speak Fookien Chinese even in the early days of their marriage so she would understand everybody around her.   I believe that this was what endeared her to them.  Actually, she told me that she was starting to feel paranoid over everyone saying things she didn’t comprehend.  She felt like they were always talking about her.  When they all laughed, she always suspected she was the object of the laughter!  Papa did not alleviate her misgivings by adding that the Chinese as a rule loved to talk about people.  He advised that when you join a group discussion, stay until the end because as soon as you leave, they start talking about you!  Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha…. but isn’t that true of everybody! 

     Papa died of atherosclerosis when Mama was only 29 years old.  My Ah-pe, Papa’s older and only brother, appealed for Mama to stay with our Chinese relatives instead of setting out on her own.  Consequently, my brothers and I grew up in the wide open spaces of my uncle’s lumberyard.  As a testament of their love and consideration for her, Ah-pe and his family accepted and even offered their generosity to Mama’s half-brothers, half-sisters, cousins and even mere friends whenever they came to the city to study.   Mama’s half-brothers later ended up being employed by Ah-pe.  In my adult years, Mama disclosed that she made her half-brothers promise to stay with her until all her children were grown.  Nervous at the prospect of raising three boys by herself, she thought she needed their male presence to influence my brothers.  Of course, the promises were really not kept because both half-brothers met their destined life partners earlier than Mama’s schedule.  Like a loving sister, she took it all in with calm and good wishes for them.

     It was fortunate on their part, too, that Mama was treated very generously by Ah-pe because their family slowly but surely lost all financial resources because of Tatay’s gambling and drinking.  Mama had to regularly send money to Nanay so they could plant crops on their heavily indebted farmlands.  Tatay, in his older years, suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed and bedridden for a long, long time.  The years of paralysis must have stirred Tatay’s conscience because on his death bed, there was no one else he asked to speak with but Mama.  She quickly traveled to the province to see him.  What transpired, she never told. 

     We had a house of our own in the lumber yard.  It was spacious with trees all around.  Mama joyfully indulged in all kinds of hobbies in her own yard.   I remember we had banana, mango, nangka (jackfruit), papaya, and santol trees fronting our house.   With her favorite music playing over the radio, she would putter around with her roses and other flowering plants.  I was then too young to identify what kinds of flowering plants she busied with but the yard looked pretty at all times. 

     When Mama was not meddling with other people’s affairs, she was continually preoccupied with one project or another.  Believing she could do it all, she contemplated various ventures she could undertake.   

     There was one time when she obsessed about going into hog-raising.  To try her idea, Ah-pe gifted her with a piglet so she could experience how it was to raise a pig.  The pig was a “landrace”, a term I heard them mention when it was delivered.  It was white and bigger than the normal local piglet.  Mama had a pigpen built which was quite roomy and she tended to this piglet with the help of our houseboy.  The pen was kept spotlessly clean and dry at all times.  Mama was so entertained by this pig and made the big mistake of naming him.  She called him “Balloon”; that was his name and she would call out “Loon, loon, loon” to him whenever she came to check up on his condition.   Surprisingly, Loon lumbered along and oinked his way over to seek her hand.  He nibbled softly at her hand when she stroked and caressed him.   This was their ritual mornings, afternoons and evenings and Mama had a grand time caring for and loving Balloon.  Unfortunately, the time came when Balloon grew to his ideal weight for slaughtering.  Stoically, Mama allowed it to happen but it must have broken her heart to do so.  The pen was immediately dismantled and the idea of hog-raising was quickly forgotten! 

     At one point, she also got attracted to raising a pair of pigeons.  She thought she could just have these two and train them to become homing pigeons.  Well, “homing” was exactly what they were.  They flew away and came home with some other pigeons.  They did this repeatedly and offered a home to maybe more than a hundred pigeons that our “kisame” teemed with cooing and scratching pigeons.  It became so noisy and bothersome that she had to expurgate the entire roof space to drive all her feathered friends away! 

     I don’t know if it was because of Mama’s vivacity or because of sheer number of people living in it, our house was a constant hub of activity morning till late at night.  Mama was always the ringleader of all kinds of activities.  Some nights, we would all be gathered around in the verandah with the adults taking turns relating the most atrocious horror stories.  Other nights, there was music and those with two left feet were taken on the floor and taught how to dance.  Even the children were taught to tango and boogie!  There were special nights out, too, when they trooped to Isaac Peral to bowl. Isaac Peral is now United Nations Avenue and the bowling alley had been replaced by the Unilever. There was a good panciteria right beside or very near that place where Mama and her gang of relatives went to buy a delightful soup dish with plenty of meatballs after their games.  As was customary then, they always brought a kaldero (casserole) with them where their order was filled.  For this treat, all of us kids would wait up no matter how late.  I remember that on most nights, I had to be carried to bed since I fell asleep watching and enjoying what the adults were up to!

     I cannot now imagine how our house, with all of its residents and activities, could be kept so clean at all times.  There were times when we were fifteen or more living in that spacious residence; add to that my cousins and Ibu who came to sleep over on weekends.  Not to forget, of course, the household staff!  Our wooden floor was always gleaming and furniture was clear of dust despite lumbers and sawdust being somewhere near.  We always had household helpers and Mama was quite exacting in her demands.  The household helpers, however, were always treated like members of the family and Mama always knew their personal circumstances.  Upon her encouragement, my cousin, Fausto, even organized dance parties for our helpers and the compound workers so they didn’t get too homesick.  On summers, all helpers were sent home so they could enjoy the season with their own families and friends.  Those who wanted to return were instructed on how to contact her so she could send them fare.  Most chose to return and many left for good in tears only because parents made pre-arranged marriages or whose parents needed caring.     

     In their absence, we, the children, had to take over many of the chores.  The cleaning of the house, the washing of dishes, setting of table at meal times – all these fell on our shoulders.  We worked in teams of two.  My brothers, Harry and Tom, made up one team and Dick and myself the other team.  Somehow, we were able to work out an acceptable schedule among ourselves.  Most hated chore was the wiping of dishes because per Mama’s instructions, plates and glasses needed to be wiped dry and shiny after washing.  It also became routine for my brothers to guard the shiny floor from the stairs and to warn everyone coming in to wipe their shoes or slippers. 

     When we grew a bit older, my two eldest brothers were added the task of going to the market to purchase the few necessities needed for the day’s meals.  This became a whole new ballgame for them because that was when their entrepreneurial spirit kicked in.  Noticing that vendors converged in the compound when the workers took their breaks at 10AM and 3PM, Harry and Tom decided they wanted a piece of the action, too.  They purchased cantaloupe and avocado and made watered down juices loaded with plenty of ice for sale.  Those were better times because vendors threw out fruits that had even just a little bitty stain.  The two fiends shrewdly picked up these discards as well and used them to make additional juice.  No one knew any different.  They likewise purchased all sorts of breads to sell.   And, business was good because they extended credit and collected on paydays.  This became their routine every summer until the time that they became old enough to work for real. 

    It was quite a democratic community we had; we were free to play and roamed around with the children of the foremen, the driver or the laborer.  We didn’t know what social status meant; only their names as neighbors and friends.  Mama, bless her good heart, never explained wealthy versus poor to us.  She, herself, played a vital role in the community for her homegrown knowledge of medical practicalities.  I think, everyone must have taken for granted that she was some kind of nurse or midwife because every time someone got sick, they came calling on “Aling Alice”. 

     Mama may be a softie for people who needed her help but she was extremely particular about good manners.  It was not beyond her to turn nasty on anyone that may have offended her sense of propriety.  People who got to see her ugly side were mostly outsiders such as laborers, drivers or dispatchers who came to make deliveries.  If a man made the mistake of whistling at her, she looked intently at him in an effort to wilt him down, and called all her male relatives to confront the boor.  Ultimately, workers in the compound learned to warn visitors to keep away from the Espanola if they ever encountered her.     

     Mama was all about abiding by rules.  Important in the morning was waking up early; earlier than the full sunrise.  This, I guess, was one factor that contributed to our becoming hardworking adults.  I was never sent out on errands; those were always tasks for the boys.  Thinking that she had to be tough especially with the boys, Mama did not hesitate to use the rod to discipline all of us.  When my brothers were teenagers and beatings no longer a threat, she simply locked the door after curfew and left them to sleep on the ground if they came in late.  She was, by then, an expert in tough love and the silent treatment! 

     Mama was also a stickler to a high moral standard.  I remember very well an incident when she strongly manifested her views on mistresses and their kind.  Employees of long-standing enjoyed free housing in the compound.  One such person was a Chinese employee whose wife stayed behind in China.  Came a time when he brought home a pretty Filipina partner.  As customary of those times, no one befriended nor even spoke to this woman.  She took to calling me into their home whenever I walked by on my way home from school.  I was only around 8 or maybe 9 years old at that time.  Unaware of the animosity of the community towards the woman, I felt nothing wrong with being friends and staying to play with her for a few minutes before proceeding home.  When Christmas came, she gifted me with such a lovely princess dress that I ecstatically brought home.  Mama inquired as to its source and upon being told that it came from this woman, Mama immediately ordered me to return the gift and to stop seeing her.  No amount of pouting and crying on my part made her change her mind.  I guess that was my first lesson on morality! 

     Mama religiously went to Mass on Sundays and on Wednesdays for the Perpetual Help Novena.  I used to tag along whenever she went and many times got my ear pinched because I never listened to the prayers and instead gazed in awe at the murals on the ceiling and the images on the stained glass window.  These never failed to fascinate my impressionable mind!  The one thing that turned me off, though, was waking up at dawn to attend the 4AM Mass on Sundays.  Mama always insisted on going to the first Mass of the day!  Ah-pe enjoyed teasing her about it and made sure to position himself along our way home.  He would routinely ask Mama where we had been.  On being told that we went to Mass, he always advised that we should go at a later hour because we irritated God by waking Him so early.   He also commented on our Sunday best attire telling her that God will not give what she asked for because she already looked rich!   This was the same thing he told another employee who also went in his best long-sleeved shirt and tie.  He told us we should go to church looking like paupers so God will take pity on us!  But, what do you expect of an atheist?  Ah-pe continually claimed that he preferred to go to hell because he expected he would have no friend in heaven.  He presumed they will all go to hell! 

     One of the best gifts Mama gave us was her love for music.  She had a clear soprano voice and she loved to sing to all of us while encouraging everybody else to sing, too.  She constantly had her radio turned to stations that played old time music.  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Vic Damone, even Neil Sedaka, Matt Monro, all these crooners she introduced us to.  It’s this love for music that connected her to her grandchildren.  My older kids, especially Only Son, who got to spend some time with Mama, can easily identify the songs from those days.  My nephews also tend to call on Frank Sinatra when challenged to sing!   As for myself, every so often, I can still hear the song “Goodnight, Sweetheart” whenever night falls. It brings me back to nights at home in the compound when everybody turned in and all the sound one can hear was this song. 

     Mama was also a voracious reader.  She had stacks of magazines and pocketbooks and spent siesta time reading.  She may have gotten plenty of ideas from the magazines because she was also into self-help projects.  There was a time when my uncles were almost graduating and looking forward to applying for work elsewhere.  They were all uncertain of how they can wing their interviews so Mama devised the EOP project; meaning English Only Policy.  The rule was everyone had to speak in English at home and anyone caught speaking Tagalog was penalized Twenty-five centavos per occasion.  The fund went into a pot which was spent on treats by weekend.  Twenty-five centavos was a lot of money at that time, the basic wage being something like Two Pesos only.  Uncle Ador often devised a trick by waiting until he was out of the house and shouting a question to his cousin, Carding, in their dialect.  Carding, who was still inside the house, often instinctively replied also in their dialect.   The pot got fattened by tricks they played on each other. 

     Another high score on Mama’s expectations on good behavior was consideration for others.  It may have been because there were so many of us that she insisted we be considerate in everything we said and did or because she did not want her relatives to feel like they were second class.  As the only girl in her brood, however, Mama allowed me some leeway when I threw a tantrum which was really, really rare anyway.  Vivid in my memory was an incident involving my pet chick, Pinchi.  How I came to own such a pet chick was an interesting story.  I raised this chick from the time he broke out of his shell.  Helping Mama put eggs to the right basket. I heard cracking sound and the chick suddenly peered through the shell and maybe, thought I was its mother hen.  At that same time, I was the proud owner of a kitten named Mimi and she became the bosom buddy of Pinchi.  The three of us were inseparable until one day when Carding, unaware that Pinchi started to follow him, went out the verandah door that automatically shut and broke Pinchi’s neck!  On seeing this, I bawled like my life depended on it!  To make matters worse, I demanded between sobs for Carding to bring Pinchi back to life.  Since I was unstoppable at that point, the poor man took the chick, laid it on a clear surface, took a deep aluminum pan and covered it over the chick.  He then took another pot and banged on it with a stick and started to chant.  Soon, all the adults in the household chanted along with him.  Every few seconds, he opened the pan to check on the chick.  Of course, Pinchi was still lifeless and I sobbed even harder.  This went on for a few rounds and I cannot now recall how the incident ended.  I am pretty sure it must have involved being served some coveted snack courtesy of my wise mother.        

     Our hectic, happy family life slowly turned into placid and gentle days when Mama’s half-brothers and cousins started getting married.  One by one, they found a life outside of the compound and started their own families elsewhere.   Her half-sisters graduated from college and started careers in the province.  My three brothers, too, were then starting work in different places and we moved out of the compound.  Mama, with her boundless energy, contented herself with reading her favorite magazines while listening to the radio and keeping up with friends and relatives.  Ibu and our cousins, Josie and Lynn, remained a constant part of our lives.  The tradition of spending weekends and holidays together was continued; a tradition that we, likewise, kept in our generation until everyone in Ibu’s family migrated to the United States.    

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


     I am starting to dislike my neighbors; a family that has been right beside us for the past eight years. 

     We have always had a very warm, friendly relationship in the past.  Because we share a common driveway, most outdoor projects such as plant placements, outdoor fixtures and even car parking, our two families discussed and agreed on. 

     Since they got themselves a dog, however, I slowly but surely started getting to realize how irresponsible and inconsiderate they are. 

     Our family has always had a pet.  When we enjoyed a bigger residence, there was one time when we had five dogs, a stray cat, a couple of rabbits that grew into a tribe and a fighting, macho duck!  As the kids matured, we trimmed the pets down to just one dog.  

     We had a loving, calm, and sedate pug in Mozart.  By instinct, he always knew his limits.  Running away a few times, he always found that half a block was all he could manage.  He got spoiled when it came to food choices.  He could eat whatever he picked.  He slept with us in our beds and expropriated our spaces.  Mozart had a heart condition and lived for eleven years until he died of heatstroke sometime back. 

     Because I truly grieved for Mozart, I could not consider getting another pet.  Two years ago, Only Son (OS) thought the grieving should end and surprised me with another pug.  This time, my pet is a frisky, over-eager one and we named him Chopin.  We call him Choppy for short.  Lately, his nickname started sounding like Chubby for the simple reason that, yes, he has become so chubby and fat!  Sorry, it’s my fault.  But the vet that attended to Mozart before said it’s alright to be a little fat as long as they still show a waistline.  Choppy’s vet on the other hand seems to refuse to add any other comment except to say, “He’s overweight!”  

     Modesty aside, we do try our best to be responsible pet-owners.  We feed, play with, and bring Choppy to the vet regularly for inoculations.  Although we don’t get to walk him as often as he wants, we ensure that he runs around until his tongue hangs out every few hours a day.  So, I guess, he is getting the exercise he needs because he is the one who surrenders by flopping down on his tummy to rest.  We exert a lot of effort, no matter how cute he tries to look, to discipline him.  At this, I fail plenty of times but The Hubby (TH) and OS are always there to right my wrong.  At two, Choppy now knows his boundaries.  He knows to climb up his chair when someone says “Up” and most times, he learns to stop whatever rowdy activity he plans to engage in when we say “Down”.  He sits politely in front of you when he asks for treats and waits for you to say “Go” to get the treat you are handing out.  Some teenage guests of the neighbors get so involved with him because he knows to bring up his paw when they say “High 5!” or “Appear!”

     Just as humans are never perfect, the same goes for my Choppy.  His one weakness - CATS!!!!  Faster than lightning he would go as soon as a cat is sighted.  No amount of calling and hollering on our part would get him to come back.  Lately, he has also learned to ask to go out not because he needs to do something but more because he could smell a cat somewhere around his turf.  Typical of the feline specie, the cats seem intent on taunting him by hanging around - on higher grounds.  My short, bow-legged little baby cannot reach them no matter how high he tries to jump!  

     Choppy has, likewise, developed the habit of sleeping right through all the television shows using our slippers as pillow.  He would even position the slippers to suit his own comfort such that we have to dig through his fats to get to wear our slippers.   It got to a point I had to explain to him that these things are called “slippers” not “SLEEPERS!”  He listens intently to the lectures but he looks at me like I had gone bonkers.  So I conclude that whatever I may have said just goes out the other ear as they would say.

Pampered and loved! 
     He shows some kind of frustration over his inability to open the door for his “sisters” and “brother” when they come home.  To aggravate matters for him, they would prompt him by saying “Open the door, Choppy!”  When someone repeats this phrase, he starts heaving until he gets to the howling stage.  The howl is soundless and he would lift his nose in the process.  All the youngsters think it is so cute but I think it might be harmful for him because he cries out with no sound. 

     Choppy is also much too appreciative of the little gestures of caring that we show him.  Every time a member of the family accompanies him out so he could do his thing, he would come home all excited and offer his ball to this particular person to play with.  So, when no one wants to play with the ball, he would carry it around in his mouth and run around in a flurry until someone notices and responds to him. 

     Of late, he has puzzled me by his refusal to sleep in his bed and always insisting on lying down right beside my bed on the floor.   Oh, he has also developed the habit of chasing after guests who step out of our house with packages taken from us.

     So much for the Choppy and his glowing resume! 

     Back to the neighbors.

     More than a year ago, they expressed their desire to get themselves a dog.  TH advised them to get a female pug so we can have little “puggies” in a few years.  Contrary to their running conversation, the neighbors went and got themselves a Labrador Retriever they named Lexus.

The giant and the glob trying to be friends
     Lexus is such a sweet dog.  He is playful but kind and while he was still a puppy, I asked TH to get Choppy to meet and pal around with Lexus.  Looking to the future, I was thinking they need to be good friends because Lexus would grow to be humongous while Choppy would remain just that little glob. 

     Even while he was a puppy, Lexus was already much, much bigger than Choppy and the latter often refused to play with him because of the puppy’s tendency to hop over him.  Fearing that Choppy’s spine might be harmed, TH decided that Choppy should no longer run around with the neighbor’s dog. 

     Life went on joyfully especially since Choppy is already pretty much self-contained.  His daily activities remained the same.  Wake up, watch his mama prep breakfast, eat, play, walk around in the driveway, get inside, sleep, eat, play, run around, watch television with mama, cry a little when everybody leaves and cry some more when they come home, learn some tricks and sleep some more.

     Lexus, on the other hand, also grew into a beautiful golden Labrador.  He was often out in the driveway frolicking in water that his “dad” would pour all over the place.  He just loved playing in water.  He would run in and out of their house while barking loudly.  His dad told TH that Lexus never learned to walk on their tiled floor and would often slip which made him bark a lot.  He also barked loudly almost through the day and the household help revealed that it was because Lexus doesn’t like to be left alone on the ground floor.  He barks because he wanted someone to come down and keep him company.   As a habit, this big dog with his big booming voice starts his barking spree sometime at dawn and stops only when he gets to play at the driveway while his “family” is having breakfast. 

     Now, this is a household of two working parents, one teenage son and a house-help who attended school.  There were times, therefore, when Lexus was left alone and howled through the day to the irritation of the nearby houses including ourselves.  His family also does not walk him so he is afraid of the streets.  TH had to push him out of the driveway at one point just so he would get to feel the street. 

     Unfortunately, he also never outgrew nor was he taught to stop the habit of gnawing at a person’s hand whenever he feels playful.  Consequently, you cannot stroke or touch him without provoking him to nibble your hand in return.  With his big teeth and uncontrolled power, even a slight loving nibble on his part is painful. 

     Because they have failed to restrain their pet's bad habits, the neighbors have now been constrained to erect a fence that confines the area within which the dog can run around.  

     Although the head of the household tries every now and then to teach Lexus certain behavior, the family obviously just could not give this dog the time to train him.  TH gave him some attention and we often laughed at the dog’s little inefficiencies.  For example, he would bark whenever he enters their residence because his front legs would step up over a height of around three inches but could not lift his hind legs to fully enter the house.  Someone always has to come and lift so he could get in.  Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous?  He could also not hop on a chair!  Choppy realized this early on and would cockily jump into one of the driveway chairs and with nose in the air, show off while Lexus drools from below.   To further demonstrate his superiority, the evil little pug would pee on Lexus’ head!  Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!  What bad manners my baby manifests sometimes! 

     The situation of this wimpy and pitiful Labrador turned from bad to worse when the family had to get a new household help.  The previous one, who really treated him nicely, had graduated from college and been able to secure better employment; and the new helper does not seem to know the first thing about hygiene.  She would sweep their part of the driveway and pour all the dirt into their flower pots.  She dumped all their garbage, dog poo and all just behind the empty unit at the end of our driveway.  When the rains came, all the dirt flowed downwards to our two units!

     Soon enough, I saw our vet making a house call on Lexus.  The dog was stricken with Corona virus.  This made me apprehensive because, as I said before, our two families share a common driveway.  Whatever made this Labrador sick might also contaminate our little pug.  I called the vet just to verify if there is any preventive measure we needed to take.  I was assured by the vet that Choppy is safe from any contamination since he has been fully inoculated against illnesses.   It seems that Lexus was not getting the same kind of medical treatment and his family has been remiss in bringing him for immunization! 

     I often watch this beautiful golden Labrador lolling around in the driveway.  His eyes are, as usual, red all over and he picks up all kinds of items he could lay his teeth on.  He digs out their plants and wanders around aimlessly not knowing what he could do with his time.  I think to myself, “What a waste!” 

     If only the country has a viable animal protection and control program, I would not hesitate to report his situation in the hope that he would find another family that would not only love him but would throw in caring and training as well. 

     In a country of almost a 100 million people, however, where the majority are poor and claim to go hungry at times and 80% being unemployed or underemployed, animal protection may take last priority in our government programs.  

     Maybe, Lexus’ great-grand pups may enjoy better protection in a future time.  Right now, we could only watch in frustration at the waste of such a beautiful creature.  So much for responsible pet-renthood! 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


     Unlike millions of Filipinos, I am blessed with some kind of health protection via my HMO; HMO meaning “health maintenance organization”.  My HMO is part of the employee benefits that Second Daughter (SD) enjoys from a company she has served for almost eight years now.

     I get to really appreciate the HMO most when I or The Hubby meets a health emergency.  I once slid and broke my wrist and the HMO covered all my hospital expenses such as the emergency room services, x-rays, scans and subsequent medical consultations.   SD likewise gets to benefit from the HMO whenever she twists her ankle accidentally.  Note that she has the predisposition to do so every year or two.  Thankfully, the HMO covers even the costs of physical therapy. 

     The Hubby and I, however, much to SD’s frustration, have never been inclined to use the HMO services even as aches and pains manifest.  Maybe because of our senior years, we tend to be in denial and refuse to consult even while symptoms develop.   Unless, of course, the pain gets too excruciating that there is no way out except the hospital!   At any rate, suffice it to say that we are so far contented to use our HMO card only as needed.   Often, of course, we pray that we will never need it!

     The Dental HMO, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired if not totally turning out to be a rip-off. 

     For several years, dental services were okay.   As long as the dentist consulted was accredited with the HMO you may continually visit them for the necessary and covered services.  Came time, however, when the HMO subdivided dentists into several sub-groups; so much so that even if the dentist you want to consult is accredited with the HMO you carry, you will still have to check if this dentist is part of the sub-group that has been assigned to your account.  And, that was when we started having problems with our dental needs!

     For more than two years, we have been playing Russian roulette trying to find satisfactory dental service from the HMO’s accredited sub-group’s dentists.   

     Time after time, we have had such bad experiences that I cannot seem to decide which of our annoying mishaps to start relating.

     For instance, there was this time when SD and I went in for prophylaxis with an accredited dentist whose clinic was located at the Robinson’s Galeria.  After the clinic’s receptionist had both of us sign the necessary documents, the dentist started with SD.  When SD stepped out of the dentist’s cubicle, she whispered that the dentist was heavy handed.  I, nonetheless, decided to go ahead since we were already there and we already signed the charge slips.  When I was with the dentist, she asked me if I had any heart condition and whether I had clearance from my doctor to undergo dental prophylaxis.  WTF!  Whoever heard of asking a doctor for clearance to have one’s teeth cleaned?   She simply refused.  I got this feeling she was in a hurry to get somewhere because she was constantly on her cell phone while she was doing SD! 

     The Hubby, though, is the one who bore the brunt of all the inefficiencies of these accredited dentists.   His horror stories are limitless – until the time when he decided he will never, ever avail of the HMO dental services.

     One time, Hubby and I went to a dental clinic in Shang Mall to have (again!) prophylaxis.  Two young, lady dentists, who seemed to have come in after a shopping spree, attended to us.  They were just totally engrossed with their own chitchat while doing the cleaning.  Afterwards, the dentist who attended him simply informed that she damaged one of his fillings.  Oh, is that all!  Being the pacifist he normally is, The Hubby just took the information quietly.  Until the tooth started to ache! 

     The Hubby requested for me to find him an accredited dentist nearby.  I guess that at this point, he was starting to develop an aversion to dentists who practice inside malls.  Luckily, or so I thought at that time, I found an accredited one in a nearby subdivision.  Off Hubby went to consult and have his tooth filling repaired.   What bothered him afterwards was that the tooth still ached even after the so-called repair.  Upon inspection, he found that the dentist did not repair the tooth in question.  The man did the tooth right beside it!  Note that it was a perfectly okay tooth – no caries at all! 

    Right there and then, we decided to forego the dental benefits of our  HMO cards.  SD and the rest of our brood question our judgment and cannot seem to understand the rationale of having to pay for services which we can avail of for free.

     Fast forward to September 2012 - SD requested to find an accredited dentist under the HMO.  She wanted a tooth extracted because she previously refused to shell out Sixteen Thousand Pesos to have root canal.  According to the dentist she consulted before, that tooth had four canals!  Since it was an inner tooth, she decided she will simply have it out and maybe pay for retainers so that her teeth will not rotate. 

     At any rate, when I called to make an appointment with a dental clinic in Megamall, I specifically said that this is for extraction.  The receptionist simply instructed for the patient to get there at appointed time with her HMO card.  No other information was provided.

     When we got to the dentist, we were told that the HMO will only cover “simple” tooth extraction.  And, before they extract, patient needs to have an x-ray done.  X-ray costs 400 pesos!  And, if the extraction is classified as a difficult one, then it will not be covered by the HMO and one needs to shell out from Two Thousand to Five Thousand Pesos.   

     Because SD had free tooth x-ray done before, she requested the clinic to verify with the HMO if this is indeed not covered.  While we were waiting for the HMO’s response, the dentist offered SD to inspect the bothersome tooth.  SD agreed.  Since SD already had her mouth open, the dentist then offered to conduct oral prophylaxis.  SD again agreed.  Later, the receptionist confirmed that x-ray is not covered by the HMO benefits. 

     I then advised SD to defer on the x-ray because I was aware that the dentist Hubby and I consult charges even less than the cost of x-ray for tooth extraction!  

     The Hubby made an appointment with this dentist shortly so SD was scheduled to have the tooth extraction the following week.  The next morning, however, SD woke up with a swollen cheek on the side of the troubled tooth.  Could this be the result of the poking and drilling during the cleaning process?  Who knows!  At any rate, SD had to rush to our dentist to consult.  Antibiotics were prescribed and SD hopes to be rid of the infuriating tooth by next week. 

     Now, SD is in a foul mood towards the dental services of their HMO!  

     I try to analyze the difference in the quality of service that we receive from the medical and dental service providers of the HMO.  

    I realized that the medical service is normally rendered in a hospital with medical practitioners accredited both by the hospital and the HMO.  Hospitals, being complicated corporate structures, do have plenty to lose if the standards of professionalism and medical ethics are not met.   This alone should prevent any practitioner from taking a short-cut in rendering services.  Worth mentioning, too, is the fact that doctors normally invest millions to be allowed to practice in a particular hospital. 

     Dental clinics, on the other hand, are normally owned and operated by one entity.  Usually, it is the owner’s name, a more senior dentist, that is at stake.  Young, sometimes inexperienced dentists are hired to render the services.  These dentists, unfortunately, flit from one clinic to another and are more interested in acquiring more assignment than establishing a credible practice. You see, while they are part of the dental clinic, they remain unknown and unacknowledged.  In fact, the next time around that you go to the same clinic, you may not find them there anymore.  So, if there should be subsequent problems, the  probability is that they will not be there to respond to your complaints. 

     After all my griping, grumbling and analyzing, I wonder – have they ever heard of dental malpractice?   


    After attending a truly enjoyable children’s party, my thoughts meander towards some negative behavioral tendencies of Filipinos …… in parties.

     First offense I immediately recall is our propensity to be late for events.  Without considering it, we add to the concerns of our hosts since they plan and structure the party program following a certain time frame.  As a solution, most invitations announce the event for an earlier time than what it would actually be.  The reasoning is that guests can come late but still be on time; if ever there is such a thing.  As if a wrong can right another wrong!   Sheesh!  A lot of people think it is fashionable to be late!

     This brings to mind a story I read somewhere about ambassadors and members of diplomatic communities cruising around the venue of an event to time their arrival at the appropriate moment stated in the invitation. 

     In ordinary Filipino life, woe to those who arrive on time because they will be met by a somber venue with even the celebrators in absentia!  You will even find the caterer’s personnel in the process of setting up tables, chairs and food dishes.  Now, if the venue is booked for the ACTUAL time that the hosts planned, you will also have to sweat it out because for sure, the air-conditioner is yet not turned on.  Thankfully, the party starts but the room, nevertheless, is half empty.  The hosts are constrained to start so the program commences. 

    And, now I go to our second misdemeanor in parties….

     When the party starts, guests, especially because they arrived late, get so involved in their personal chitchat that you seldom find even a handful paying attention to what the program emcee/party host is saying.  It seems like a most difficult task for the emcee to get the audience and party guests to participate in the fun and games.  Painfully, I have often witnessed party hosts pulling out all the tricks of their trade just to get the guests to dive into the party mood and get things going; just like a dentist extracting a molar. 

     I’ve experienced one party where the party host just totally gave up the idea of games because even with a prepared list of participants, no one stepped up to join!  It looked like the guests were there just to dance to the band’s music.  Segueway to after the program,  the band started to play and only a couple or two stood up to dance.  So it was not the music they were waiting for.  Thus, the party ended with the band, which was booked for THREE (3) sets of play, not even finishing their first set because the room suddenly emptied.  It gave me a feeling that the guests only came for the food which was certainly good, by the way!  What an epic fail of a party and what a waste of money! 

     Anaconda also told of a wedding party where when the groom was to give his thank-you spiel, only members of the couple’s families and some closest of friends remained.  The groom commented that “ay wala nang tao” ( oh, the guests have gone!)  Again, the idea that they only came for the food started to niggle. 

     Third common error we commit during parties is actually just the fault of the sound technicians.  They tend to play some of the loudest music during meal time.  Without realizing that this is the only instance when guests could interact with each other and catch up with goings-on, the sound men, with the blessing of the hosts, come up with a play list of the songs.  Unfortunately, they seem to think that they need to fill the venue with the sounds.  The music just utterly blares that you could hardly hear yourself.  

     I regularly comment to hosts that when guests come to your event, they indirectly honor you and the occasion you wish to celebrate.  Gifts are inconsequential because once a person confirms his/her attendance, he/she starts to incur a sizable expense by travelling to and from the venue on top of ensuring that he/she is wearing the right attire for the occasion.  Hey – have you checked out the prices of fuel and clothes and shoes these days?  It goes without saying that most people move around in the same circle of friends and associates and, therefore, meet the same people again and again in parties.  One, therefore, cannot wear the same attire to each and every occasion. 

     On the other hand, guests should realize that when they are invited, hosts are simply saying that they are an important part of the hosts’ lives and that they would like to share this occasion with the guests.  To return this compliment, guests should immediately take the effort to RSVP or respond to the invitations so that the hosts could draw up an accurate count for their preparations.  Guests must likewise ensure that they are appropriately attired in accordance with the party motif.  Once at the party, it is common courtesy to listen and watch the program that the hosts have prepared.  When called on to participate, do let your hair down and plunge right into the activity.  Allow the hosts to set the party mood and direction.  All you need to do is pay attention and enjoy!  No one wants a killjoy and a party pooper as guest!  It is a sure ticket to being uninvited the next time around and you will stew in your own ignorance wondering why! 

    And, for heaven’s sake, do not make a French leave!  Have the decency to properly say your goodbyes to the hosts.  Express to them how much you have enjoyed the party and the company and sincerely mean it. 

     Keep in mind – tardiness is rudeness.  It is inconsiderate. 

     Remember, too, that you are attending a party and not a wake!  Put your game face on and bring your jubilant party mood for everyone to share!