Indulging in nostalgia can be a sentimentally sweet activity. That’s what my colleague/friend and I did this afternoon. She started it, shared stories about her “old country” (Portugal) where she lived when she was a little girl. Reminiscing the culture of her youth, she related heartwarming and precious memories of growing up under the watchful eyes of two very different yet loving grandmothers. I love to hear about old times. I encouraged her.
This lady, also a Lola, turned misty eyed as she dreamily recalled her maternal and paternal grandmas. The simple matter of a dress code was one example of a major difference she had to contend with as a young girl. Her maternal grandmother tolerated her miniskirts. The paternal grandma would pull the hem of her skirt down in kind rebuke, duly imparting the message that skirts should always be longer. So one day, that young girl borrowed someone’s long dress, put it on despite the over size, with a skirt that reached the floor and hair combed in tight pigtails, she dramatically presented herself to the very old-fashioned woman – and mischievously quipped, “Now, how do you like this, Avo (Grandma)?”. The old lady totally beamed with approval and delight, never mind the teasing ridiculousness of her granddaughter’s appearance.
Do you have a Grandma/Lola like that?
Let me tell you about mine, a very sweet woman with deep set, soft brown eyes, hair always combed in a neat bun, a gentle smile that never left her face, a cute aquiline nose, short in stature but very demure even up to the last years of her life. She wasn’t much of a talker, as I recall. I don’t remember having engaged in lengthy exchange with my Lola. But I do remember watching her, and watching her watch people around. She had that very knowledgeable look like she understood everything going on around her. Like she understood everyone around her. She delighted being in the midst of gatherings. Though seated quietly, she was a very strong and compelling presence.
Lola would not bother in the kitchen, but she gave instructions for her younger sister to supervise the cook or house help, and made sure that enough variety of food was prepared for the family for every meal. What she seemed to enjoy was doing laundry. I spent summers of my youth in the farm, and often visited my grandparents’ big and imposing wooden house on the hill. Fronting the house was a wide balcony open on all three sides, overlooking an expanse of orchard and grassy fields on the sloping hillside. In her favorite corner of the balcony, she’d sit on a low stool in front of a deep basin, and very conscientiously and methodically wash clothes, surprisingly almost leisurely. She seemed to relish the work that apparently to her was not a toil. Didn’t rush her movements at all, just efficiently washed and squeezed. I conjectured, Lola meditated as she did laundry, with a placid yet thoughtful look in her face. I never understood till now how she could spend two to three hours on that wooden stool, appearing so calm, content, and at peace with her herself – and her laundry pile! That’s what I admired about my Lola. She put love into what she was doing, and she obviously took joy in it.
Lola always kept loose peso bills in her pocket. Up to when I became a young adult, whenever she saw me, she would dig into her pocket and pull out loose bills that she pressed into my palm. I must have been Lola’s favorite – I didn’t see her do that to my cousins or younger siblings. Of course, I never refused.
My best recollection of my Lola — whenever I walked home from school in the city, I passed my Lola’s house. I’d catch a glimpse of her standing by the open window, looking down the street, probably waiting for me to walk by. I must have expected to see her by the window because I never failed to look up. There she was. How long she waited, I never knew. I didn’t always pass by at the same time in the afternoons. Upon seeing her smiling face, I’d wave. She’d wave back and gesture for me to come up her stairs. Of course I did, knowing Lola always had some snacks readied for me. Upstairs, I’d cheerfully greet her, at the same time, reached for her hand to bring it to my forehead as I slightly bowed, an old custom of respect to the elder. To this day, that custom is followed by many Filipino children – and the gesture is called “mano po” (loosely translated in English as “bless”), a lovely tradition carried from early generations. When I go for vacation in the Philippines, and when I see relatives’ little children, often I would hear parents prod the little ones, “Did you bless Lola?” I savor old traditions.
The strange and awesome part about my Lola, she communicated mostly with her smiles and her expressive eyes. Seldom did I hear her speak. Yet, I think I understood her very well. I love my beautiful Lola. Mama, in the years before she passed, often told me I looked like my Lola. And that to me, is one of the best compliments I’ve ever had. Her name: Rosenda Borras Manuel.