Random thoughts on our weekend gathering
My husband turned 40 last week and we celebrated this milestone over the weekend. I asked him if he wanted a big party. I threw one for myself when I hit the big 4-0 two years ago. Well, it wasn’t really a “big party” but 13 friends and 10 family members (not including my own) came over to our house. It was my big 4-0 after all. But my husband wanted to celebrate small. He said that he would just invite his three best buddies. But one was hospitalized and somehow the two also didn’t come. So it was just my sister’s family and my mother. That’s already 15 of us in the house so I would think that was already a big party.
He ordered pancit malabon and puto (rice cake) and he cooked arroz caldo and fried tofu (tokwa) with matching dipping sauce made by combining soy sauce, garlic and lots of onions. I also bought him ice cream cake from Dairy Queen. “You didn’t have to,” he said. But I knew he was glad that I did.
So we were all chatting after we had eaten when the phone rang. It was my kumareng Olive. She asked if they could come over. Her sister Delia is here visiting from the Philippines. I knew her sister because we all lived in Noveleta, Cavite when I was a little girl. We were all childhood friends you see. And now we are more than just family friends. There is a stronger bond that connects us all. Olive’s aunt, Tita Adela, is my sister Lina’s godmother. Tita Adela’s daughter Lanie is my son Ryan’s godmother. Both Lina and I are Olive’s kumare because her youngest daughter Trixie is our godchild. Have I confused you enough? He he he.
And wasn’t it good timing that they decided to come over when we had food in the house? Otherwise, I would have scrambled for something to serve them or I probably would have ordered pizza.
So they came. Olive’s family and also Lanie’s family and Delia, Olive’s sister. It’s been ages since we’ve seen Delia. She said that she hasn’t seen us since we left Noveleta. That was in 1978 and I was 12. But I have seen Delia years later. I was working then at Quezon City when one of the sales rep in the pharmaceutical company I was working for told me that Delia from Noveleta was sending her regards to me. When I asked the sales rep how she knew Delia, she told me that Delia was working at SSS where she made her usual rounds. Then a few days after that, I saw Delia along EDSA waiting for the bus while I was aboard a jeepney. I still recognized her because although she wasn’t as thin as she used to be, her face had not changed that much. She didn’t see me though.
(Me and my sister Lina with Olive, sister Delia and brother Cesar)
Last Saturday was the first time she’d seen me in years. She said, “Gumanda ka.” (You’ve become beautiful.) He he he. That just tells you that I wasn’t an attractive child and I was well aware of that. I’ve heard people compare me to my sister, how prettier she was, how fairer her skin was and how bubblier (mas bibo) she was. And I think that’s why I developed an inferiority complex early on. I was already a timid child and comments like that just made me recoil more inside my own little shell. And this is the reason I get irritated when people would also compare my children to each other. Oh he’s more handsome than the other one. Mas maputi siya. (He’s got fairer complexion.) It’s not good. Every child or individual is special in his/her own little way.
So we ate some more. They liked my husband’s arroz caldo and fried tokwa. They were surprised that he could cook. My mother told them that he’s the cook in my household. But just for the record. Even though he cooks and I admit that he cooks better than me, I am still the one who does most of the cooking around the house. He usually only cooks in the weekends because I am busy then with grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning the house and I also work on most Saturdays. But I held my tongue when my mother told them that he’s the cook since it was his day. It was his birthday so I let him take the glory.
We asked Delia how she likes Winnipeg so far. We all knew it wasn’t the best time to visit because of the cold snap we‘re having. But she said that she wouldn’t mind migrating here in the future. As for now, she doesn’t want to leave her aging and frail mother back in the Philippines. I think the first thing she noticed here is how traffic compares to the Philippines. She said that the distance between Olive’s house and Lanie’s house is pretty much the same as the distance between Noveleta, Cavite and Plaza Lawton in Manila. Here, it will take you half an hour to drive from Olive’s house to Lanie’s house. In the Philippines, it takes two hours to reach Plaza Lawton from Noveleta. Isn’t that crazy?
As for food, she noticed that the (potato) chips here are saltier than the ones back in the Philippines. I told her that when I first came here, I noticed that people here bake their cakes a lot sweeter than back home.
We were talking about the children when Arnold, Olive’s husband, said that when they were still in the Philippines, he would whip his oldest daughter with a belt when she was misbehaving. I then said that you couldn’t do that here. The police would arrest you if you get caught doing that. My brother-in-law then said that he would tell his kids that if they told the police that they were being beaten, the Social Service people would get them (the kids). And would they want that? As for me, I am against child beating.
Then Delia asked me which ones of the kids are mine. All the kids were all upstairs in the bedroom by now. She asked me, “yun bang nagmano sa akin? (Is it the one who kissed my hand?) I told her, “Kung nagmano sa iyo, hindi ko anak yon.” (If he did, then he’s not one of mine.) He he he. You see, my sister makes her children follow strictly this common Filipino tradition of kissing the hands of our elders. It’s not really kissing, but we take the right hand of our elder and bring it to our forehead. It is a sign of respect.
Once in a while, I’d tell my children to kiss the hand of their godmother or godfather when they come over for a visit. Or when we go to Filipino gatherings and there are elders there that we know. But I am not really that strict with following this tradition. Of course, people are glad when they see children still doing the blessing or the kissing of the hand or when they answer in Po and Opo. Among my children, only my oldest one says Po and Opo. Sometimes my mother would comment that I am very modern in raising my children and that my sister is very conventional. Sometimes I don’t know what to think of that comment. Yes, my children may not be kissing everybody’s hand and saying Po and Opo but I think that although they are not doing these things, they are still very respectful and polite towards people, especially our elders.
(Lanie and Olive, with kids on their laps, Delia, Mama, me and Lina)
At reunions like this, you can’t help but reminisce about the good old days. I was surprised at how Olive remembers stuff differently than I do. And how she remembers stuff that I don’t. I’ve always thought that she lost her father, who was a conductor for the Saulog bus, when we were only 5 or 6. No, Olive said. We were already in high school when her father had a heart attack. What I remember was her lying on the floor crying when she learned that her father died. And then my mother chimed in that I went to Noveleta with my father to attend the wake. But I don’t recall going back to Noveleta to attend the wake of Olive’s father.
Now, as I look back, I think my father told me about the death of Olive’s father and how she cried on the floor. But I never exactly saw her cry like that. It was just a vision in my mind out of my father’s recount of that sad news. I tell you, I had such a traumatic childhood and there are parts of my past that no matter how hard I try to recall, they just wouldn’t come back to me. I think I have this sort of selective memory. My brain chooses to bury not just some of the bad memories but the good ones as well. Sometimes I wish I could be hypnotized and maybe I could dig them back up.
Delia asked if we have kept our old pictures. She knew that we had lots of pictures from our childhood. They didn’t have. So I brought out two photo albums with our old pictures. Olive said that we were rich and we were able to afford to buy a camera and have all these pictures. I told you in one of my posts that we were quite known in town because we owned the only tailor shop. Olive’s mother sold rice cakes and kakanin in the town market. She told me that she would borrow my clothes when she needed them for parades and special occasions at school because they couldn’t afford to always buy new clothes. How come I don’t remember that?
But what I remember is that we used to hang around a lot, Olive and me. We were of the same age and we were the best of friends. But then I left Noveleta when my parents separated and even though we have reconnected after many years; even though we are now kumares, we were not able to have that kind of friendship again. Sometimes I wish we could. But I guess we’re both busy with our own families now and we have different interests and we have grown apart and it would never be the same again.