A TRIBUTE TO MY MOTHER
By MARIA ELLIS
We rolled queso de bola (Edam cheese) on the floor like a plaything,” my mother would say, reminiscing about her middle-class childhood. She was named Salud, the Spanish word for ‘health’, because she was a sickly baby. It seemed to have done her good as she lived well into her eighties.
The seventh of eight children, and the youngest girl, her parents and siblings called her ‘Nene’. It’s a term of endearment for little girls. Her father Amado was from an affluent family and was alcalde mayor in their town in Bicol. Her mother Gavina was a poor barrio lass whose beauty had won her father’s heart. Their love affair was a Cinderella story.
When Salud was 24, she met her next-door neighbour Ildefonso who was in the army. He was a handsome mestizo with light brown eyes, and was Visayan. They got married in 1954 and had five children, the first-born being me, my mum’s replica in looks and temperament.
My mother was a schoolteacher who instilled in me a love for the English language. We would have grammar, spelling and pronunciation drills when she came home from work. (As a toddler, I spoke the language before I uttered my first Tagalog words). Little did she know that I would live in an English-speaking country one day. Or perhaps she knew intuitively.
Having been pushy in a nice kind of way, my mum made my sister and me take piano lessons. I was six and would rather play house or catch dragonflies (mea culpa!). But she insisted, and I’m glad she did, as mentioning the skill enhances my CV. Looking back, I hated it when she summoned me for a ‘command performance’ for visitors.
In my teenage years, my mum and I would lock horns over my proletariat dress sense. I went around in my cheap, pang-masa camisa chino (working class top), faded maong skirt refashioned from tattered denim jeans and bakya (wooden slippers). “What would my friends say if they saw you in those horrendous rags?”, she would admonish me in a tone typical of a bourgeois mindset.
My mother and I also argued over my student activism at university. “Your father’s an army officer and you go marching in the street shouting Maoist slogans,” she said. “If you’re sent to prison, it would be a disgrace to our family,” she added. It didn’t help that half the men in my extended family were in the armed forces.
Another contentious issue between my mother and I was my choice of career. She wanted me to be a lawyer or a doctor, but I was bent on doing a media course in broadcast communication. “What would you be after that?”, she asked. “I’d be on radio or TV,” I replied. “But that’s not a real profession,” she said. Many years later, when I worked as an interpreter in London, my courthouse assignments fascinated me. As I listened to barristers arguing their clients’ cases, I thought, “My mum was right. I should have been a lawyer.”
My parents were true to their Catholic faith. We went to Mass every Sunday without fail and prayed the rosary to the Virgin Mary. Imagine my mother’s dismay when she heard that I went to a Buddhist temple and took part in a naming ceremony. “Are you abandoning your religion?”, she demanded to know. “No, I just want to explore other spiritual beliefs as part of my practical education,” I reassured her. She was happy enough with that explanation.
A stickler for good manners and right conduct, my mum would express her disapproval of rudeness in people by calling them maleducado, saying it with such disdain that she practically hissed like a cat. Her moral compass would make her glower at couples being amorous in public places, with a look on her face that screamed Sodom and Gomorrah.
My mother was a Tom Jones fan. (Despite her prudish tendencies, she didn’t seem to mind those gyrating hips of his). We would have an early supper on a Wednesday evening so we could all watch his show on TV afterwards. She also loved the Nora Daza cookery programme and would try out the recipes on weekends, serving us cordon bleu cuisine. She was a mere mortal during the week, and a domestic goddess on Saturdays and Sundays.
Typical of Filipino neighbourliness, my mum enjoyed sharing food with families in our street. I have memories of being dispatched to Mrs. Crisostomo’s house round the corner to bring her a bowl of freshly cooked dish.
My mother was the luckiest woman on earth for having had the best husband in the world. She was my dad’s precious princess, and oh boy, did she relish every moment of his unconditional love and devotion! I say ‘unconditional’ because my mum would have been irritatingly unreasonable at times, but my dad loved her to the moon and back just the same.
When it came to the household budget, my mother employed her enviable ‘damage limitation’ skills. She loved the finer things in life while my dad was a frugal man. So, Smart Salud would declare only half the cost of her purchases. The young impressionable me imbibed this cunning practice, and years later, used it for marital audit purposes. I bought a new TV one day, and when asked by my husband how much it cost, I deducted fifty percent off the price. “Oh, that’s great value,” he said. He went to the shop the next day to get one for his mum.
Husband: Did you really get the TV for £100? They told me it was £200.
Me: Oh, it must have been a one-day sale offer.
But I digress.
Two years before she died, my mother came to visit me and my family in Northern Ireland. It was in autumn, when the leaves were turning yellow and falling on the ground. My mum had never seen such a spectacle before and was awed by it. Then, when winter came, she saw snow for the first time. She was child-like in her amazement.
After retirement, my mother devoted her time and effort to charity work. She organised many projects in her hometown to help the disadvantaged, particularly women and children. In her visits to my brother in America with my dad, she would go to flea markets and buy used clothing to bring home and give to the barrio people. I was with her one time and cringed when I heard her say to the seller, in perfect Imelda Marcos mode, “I’m buying these for the poor people in my country.”
My mother’s work in the community caught the attention of some local politician and she was asked to run for public office, which she seriously considered. When my siblings and I heard about it, we threatened to ‘disown’ her as we didn’t want her to be involved in the corrupt world of politics. Thankfully, she declined the offer.
She continued to be of service to others until she was disabled by illness. She is now in a place in Heaven reserved for extraordinary human beings who are called mothers.