My family is no special really. We’re not part of any royalty or rich landowners, called hacienderos. But, like any family, we have stories to tell. I heard stories from our old folks and I remembered how I was keenly listening as a child. Now, I wanted to share some of the stories. Most details might be vague but I wanted to write it down before I totally forget the stories of the past.
My oldest memory of my family’s past was on the death bed of my great grandmother, Lola Neneng. I could not recall meeting her alive. I remembered we, grandchildren and great grandchildren, were called to give our last respect as she lied on a bed with her eyes close. They said she needed to see all of us before she would go. After several days, I was called again. This time they wanted me to touch her warm dead body because they did not want her ghost to haunt me. Yes, I could not even read yet but I was able to touch a dead body.I am not sure of my age then but I was not in school yet so maybe I was three or four.
I also remembered Lola Neneng’s funeral. She wore this beautiful pink terno gown. It was my first memory of liking the color pink and a dress. They said the Filipiniana gown was made in preparation for her funeral. She was 98 or 99 years old before her death so our family had prepared everything. Her daughters made the pink gown. That’s the time I learned we were a family of seamstress and tailors.
As I grew up I learned that we inherited our broad noses from Lola Neneng but some of her kids were lucky to inherit the Spanish pointed nose of Lolo Nilo, her husband. He’s the patriarch of the family. A simple, half-Filipino and half-Spanish farmer. He died before I was born so I just heard a few details about him.
My grandfather was their first child. I fondly called him Lolo Sosong. He had this big nose, big ears, balding head and a very fair skin. They said he was not so lucky for inheriting his mom’s nose. Still, he had a very fair skin which makes him a half-baked mestizo (I guess).
In Filipino culture which had been greatly influenced by three decades of Spanish colonization, mestizo features were more preferred than the Filipino’s brown color and broad nose. Since 16th century, Filipinos were trained to looked down on their own countrymen.
Lolo Sosong was born in 1916 and he became a farmer too and learned carpentry. Education was not a priority in his time. Along with his siblings, they would till the land and they would travel by foot to look for odd jobs. That’s how he met my Lola Bebang in Baguio, a mountainous and cold province in the North.
They said my grandpa walked all the way to Baguio in search for a job. Instead, he met the love of his life. The distance between our town in Pampanga and Baguio is equal to four hours of a bus ride in the expressway. So, I imagined his struggle while traveling on foot to the steep mountainside of old Baguio.
My grandpa brought her new bride in his town. She bore 13 children where one died as a child. Lola Bebang had the traits of a mountain girl. She was known for being thrifty and very resourceful. She could feed her kids with whatever they had in the garden or farm. She planted and sold vegetables. She raised chicken and goats. She could also catch fish.
My grandpa was a US Veteran pensioner. His story was what I would often hear from the family. I couldn’t recall if he was part of the guerillas but they said he was able to capture a Japanese soldier who was surrendered to the Americans. I learned later on where my grandma was during the war. She was pregnant for the third time during the war and she was carrying my uncles—- they were identical twins. At a certain point of battle or maybe a raid, she would hide inside a dry well with her young kids. That was war and it was all she can do. The only family member I heard who was a casualty of the war was my grandpa’s boxer brother. They never heard of him after the war.
After 1945, life went on and probably became harder. My grandma bore her youngest daughter in 1965. They lived in a small hut in the middle of farmlands. I remembered going there to check out what was left of it. It was near a stream with clear water and lots of fishes. Well, that was almost three decades ago. Today, the stream was covered by lahar from the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption.
Most of her daughters eloped and married before finishing high school. One of my aunts was a mother at the age of 15. My youngest aunt eloped after her high school graduation. All of my aunts have their own story of a martyr, sacrificing, loving wife and mother. I could say that most of them have their own sob stories which is not actually surprising in a country where women are often underappreciated and overworked. I just knew how my grandma tried to help out her daughters from their lazy or womanizing husbands. Today, I know how much painful was it probably to my grandma to see how her daughters were hurt and betrayed. The irony is most of them stayed. Till death do us part, right?
On the other hand, the sons, including my dearest father, had to find their own fate and luck. Given with only a high school diploma (not sure if all the boys graduated), becoming rich was a dream. Getting by was a goal. Some became carpenters. Some of my uncles became tailors. Before the rise of ready-to-wear (RTW) clothings, their businesses and jobs were in demand. Then, tailor and dressmaking shops started to lose clients. Students, doctors, nurses and other professionals would prefer the cheaper RTW uniforms.
While my dad was a struggling student for a two-year course and a war-freak fratman, his older brothers were in the brink of bankruptcy. One of them lost every thing including his wife and sons. The promise of a better future for the family’s next generation seemed to be gone.
However, my uncles, aunts and dad chose the long yet sure way. They sacrificed themselves to give their children a better future.
My dad who had no special skills decided to try his luck out of the country. Two of his older brothers were already in Saudi Arabia so it shouldn’t be a big deal except for my mom and us, his three kids. Going abroad is the only option for most Filipinos back then in the 80’s. The economy was bad. There were no jobs.
I was just 11 months old when he left to work in the Kingdom of Saudi. I knew he did his best to be a good father and I was aware of the sacrifices of every family had to endure when one or two parents become an overseas Filipino worker (OFW). I had two more siblings and it meant more years away from our father. Money was still short while other people believed we ha so much.
Out of our parents’ sacrifice, the three of us have our college diplomas. I have three kids now and I am working hard in the Philippines so I don’t have to be far away from them. Maybe, my generation is luckier because jobs are here now and we have diplomas. If my parents did not do the ultimate sacrifice, life wouldn’t be this simple for me.
My family’s saga might not have made headlines but it was still rich of lessons, history and values. What I am now is molded by several generations that faced poverty, war, sacrifices and survival.