Lola’s Girl

I always cherish the fond memories I have for grandma, I called her Mamá Pedeng. I have always been her little helper – in the kitchen, in her mini-grocery store (sari-sari store), in household chores and every time she went to supermarkets every Thursday afternoon and Sunday to attend the 6AM mass as well. No shorts or pants are allowed on Sundays.

The delicious smell of her cooking was retained in my mind. She had the best “Laing” in the world! Most of our bonding moments were in the kitchen. While she was preparing the ingredients for the laing (taro leaves), I was grating the coconut manually. She would always prepare two kinds: one was spicy (for my grandpa and one for me).

At age of 6, she taught me to cook “champorado” and since then it became my favorite merienda. Every time she cooks, she would always asked me to watch her and get familiarized on the method and preparation. I learned the secret of cooking laing, langka, inun-on (paksiw). These were the first three viands I learned at age of 9. There’s one thing I couldn’t forget, when she asked me to sell “baduya” (fried banana with flour), I was really crying. She told me that I have to learn how to earn money and I don’t have to be shy about it. Little did I know that she’s only testing me and teaching me about the value of money.

She’s a business-minded person. Apart from nurturing her family and going to the rice field, her life was her sari-sari store, it made her physically and mentally active. I learned the subtraction and addition at age of 5 because of her. She taught me how to count money and give the change to customers. I love helping her and putting the grocery items displayed and organized according to colors and variants.

After school, once I am done with my school homework, I would help her in making ice candy. Like preparing all the ingredients and again – grating the coconut. Sometimes, if I have to prepare for exams and projects, she wouldn’t allow me to help her, instead she would watch and wait until I finished or she would wake me up if I had fallen asleep.

Seems like everything about her will forever be etched in my memory bank. She has the best stories to tell. From her childhood until she met my Lolo. She became a widow at age of 25, she had my Mama as her second child and a 3 year-old youngest son when my Lolo died. She’s resilient; despite of being single mother she worked so hard to provide for her three children; she worked at PNR (Philippine National Railways) as vendor where she met my step Lolo. They were blessed with two children. Her strong personality was one of the traits my Mama got from her.

One of my favorite stories was her growing up. She’s the 4th child amongst the 10 siblings. Their favorite sport was playing baseball. At home, each of of them has their own tasks. She’s assigned to be in the kitchen along with her brother (2nd eldest). They were best of friends until they grow old. I remember how she took care of him when he was sick. He lived in our place for a while and so I vividly recall their special closeness. But my Lola was close to all of her siblings. She loved them dearly, she’s very vocal and affectionate to her siblings. She would always look forward to Summer holidays. And so do I.

Seated on the right first row.

Growing up, I would always mark the calendar every year from April 25 to May 3. That means – vacation with cousins in the ancestral house! They have yearly Santacruzan, a family tradition that their parents passed on to them. And on the last day there’s as big celebration. A family reunion.

The ancestral house

May is the month of Baranggay Fiesta. My Lola was always excited to gather all her siblings. She would prepare the delicacies (latik – glutinous rice in banana leaves, ibos – glutinous rice in palm leaves and santan -pili jam) for her siblings as take away. And she made me always involved in the preparation. I told you, I was her little helper! Of all the cooking sessions, only her delicacies I didn’t have the interest. To me it’s like an art – as I watched my Lola doing, it was really complicated. She did it neatly and meticulously. It’s not just tying up the banana and palm (buri) leaves. The challenge in preparing suman sa ibos is not in the cooking process, but in preparing the container. You will need to make the palm leaves over a mold to make individual containers. This needs to be locked properly to hold its form. The mixture of glutinous rice, coconut milk, and salt is scooped to each container. It’s really different from all the delicacies I have seen and tasted. It was special!

She’s the generous and kind person I know. I would always hear her saying “di madadadala sa hukay ang pera” . The most important thing is when you die and face Jesus “you are prepared”. When there’s typhoon, she would open our house to neighbors to stay with us for at least overnight or until they are safe to go home. My favourite was, when she prepared food for our guests – because it’s champorado or pansit bato! It was like camping inside our house!

An epitome of simplicity. She doesn’t like to put on make up or lipstick. To her, beauty is not on physical appearance but how you carry yourself and how good is your heart. I remember, she once said, “If you are beautiful – why do you have to put on makeup and accessories?” To look more beautiful? Then that’s not contentment.” She loved being natural. But she adored me whenever I joined beauty pageant. She was always proud of me.

Doesn’t she have a beautiful smile?

Then the saddest part came. I have to leave her and Papà to pursue my dream of finishing my college in Manila. She was crying. We were both crying. I felt so sad. I’m going to miss sleeping with her and praying with her. They were aging. She’s at her 80s at that time. There are times when I recall that moment I’m still teary eyed.

When I was a kid, she bought me a 2-ft tall doll. I was so happy; it was like a dream to me to have a big doll with blue eyes, long curve eyelashes and eyes that open and close. It’s not the expensive that you’re thinking of; but to me it was the most precious and beautiful gift I have received so far. I kept it until high school and was displayed in our living room. She had requested to just leave it to her when I left for Manila on that summer time. She told me that whenever she remembers me, all she can do is to stare at the doll. She’s very sentimental and I guess that was one of the traits I got from her.

When she passed away I was always longing for her. I dreamt of her indeed – she was not talking but just smiling at me and she disappeared into a very bright light. Then I realized, she’s really in heaven.

Every time I look back – I felt her unconditional love; I felt her presence, her warmth embrace. Because I will always be the Lola’s girl.

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