Our mother was born in 1933, the fifth of seven children to a poor, but happy farming couple. My grandparents worked hard. My grandmother’s family had some means, but the work was difficult. There is an old Filipino song that goes something like this, “Planting rice is never fun, bent from morn to the set of sun, cannot stand and cannot sit, cannot rest for a little bit.” – this was Grandma’s life. My grandfather, who I never met, worked as a prison guard – a slight man who contracted and succumbed to tuberculosis before his youngest child was five.
My grandmother loved to tell the story (and I loved to listen) about how Japanese soldiers armed with bayoneted guns, pounded on the door late one night. Her children hidden in the rafters, covered by grasses, were told to hush. She bravely opened the door and not understanding their demands after being dragged out by her long black hair, simply pointed to the corner of the meager hut where her husband was coughing up bloody sputum. It was obvious that the small space was filled with the stench of impending death and a dreaded contagion. Those soldiers left without stabbing their bayonets into the rafters or taking any of their pitiful supplies or touching my beautiful grandmother. It was a miracle. A miracle that honestly my family, cousins, and their families should be grateful for every day.
Fast forward a little and mom marries a young man who had big dreams. He too had come from a poor upbringing and wanted much for his beautiful young wife. They emigrated to the United States in 1958 and began their lives as Americans. Dad had many friends. He had an infectious laugh, a generous spirit, and a passion for life. They weren’t perfect parents but they tried. Dad passed away at the early age of 52, leaving mom to raise us. I say that loosely, because I was married with two children, one of my sisters was just about to start college and the last just about to start high school. One thing I learned is parents never stop being parents no matter how old their children are.
So, mom who had to be brave, probably pushed her grief down as far as it would go and forged ahead for our sakes. This woman who had to learn to balance a checkbook, pay taxes, buy a house, and raise girls by herself put her personal needs aside to make sure our lives never skipped a beat. She had to get a job in a nursing home while shuttling grandchildren to school and making sure we had a warm meal to come home to after our work days ended. And she prayed. She prayed a lot.
I mentioned the fact that Mom is (was) beautiful because she truly was one of the most beautiful women I have ever met. She had gorgeous thick wavy hair, a lovely figure, and could wear a set of heels and red lipstick that made her look like a model always. Truth be told, I wanted to look like her. I not only want to remember her like in the photo below, but for the choices she made for her family. She is our hero.
There is a little more to the story. Actually lots more but I’ll say this. Mom could have stayed in Dad’s shadow but she didn’t. She gained wisdom, earned respect from others and helped so many people. Memories of that noble woman are hard to conjure up when what we see daily now is a woman whose life is simply survival – no longer able to find fulfillment in anything. She would be appalled at what she has been reduced to – needing help instead of giving help. But, she is still our hero and we don’t let heroes down do we?