My Lola – A Tribute

I write this as a way of remembering my grandma who joined our Creator on this day, 16 years ago. She is Gavina Bellen Bañez. She’s my mom’s mother. Both of her parents hailed from Bacacay, Albay. My lola was petite, with smooth kayumanggi skin, a small cute face, and waist-length straight black hair, which she tied into a bun.

My lola was a soft-spoken, gentle woman. I never heard her raise her voice. She was usually busy with chores—cleaning, cooking meals, preparing merienda, folding clothes, and going to the market. She wanted the house to be tidy. She also wanted us, her apos, not to be idle around the house. That was fine with me because I also liked chores, except during those times that I wanted to go out, play, and run around.

I remembered helping her with the laundry, specifically folding the clothes. I couldn’t be too sure now, but I guess, I was the favorite apo whom she called for this task. I’d gather the clothes from the clothesline while the sun was still up. The shorts, shirts, skirts, undies, curtains were crisp and sweet-smelling, the kind of smell only sun-dried clothes possess. I’d fold the clothes and place them inside our big cabinets in the bedroom.

That was alright, but there were other tasks I loved to do more as a child—watering the plants and cleaning our big windows. Why? They were more fun, I guess. For the plants to be watered, I took several trips to the water pump located in our backyard, washed my feet, filled up my faded maroon sprinkler with water and imagined the plants saying thank you to me as I watered them. As for the windows, they were too big and too high for a small kid like me, but I loved stepping on the top of the sofa, while my hand clung to the grills, all the time aware of the danger that I might fall, and imagining I had superpowers so I wouldn’t get hurt if I fall.

Photo taken in 2016 when I went home to Albay (It was a day after a typhoon, so the plants and trees looked ruffled). Here’s the same “poso” where I fetched water when I was a kid, every time I watered the plants.

Well, going back to my lola, I couldn’t imagine how she handled the household affairs. There were eight children in the house and perhaps, that was a big challenge for her slim frame. My two younger brothers played often and sometimes got into fistfights. My other siblings loved paper dolls and bahay-bahayan and cooking sessions with leaves and wild flowers as our food. Sometimes, we played with kites, played hide and seek, ran around the yard, and into the sala and kitchen while wearing our dirty and dusty slippers. There were two other games I joined with the neighborhood kids—collecting rubber bands (I had a keen eye and a steady hand then for targeting that Y-shaped stick where rubber bands are placed) and playing with native guns fashioned from kagingking and carved bamboo with crumpled wet paper as bullets. It’s obvious we weren’t so excited in helping with the chores.

My lola with her apos in our Sunday clothes. I don’t recall exactly why it was already evening (’cause we wore these clothes to church) but we probably had this photo taken after a family event.

My lola was sprightly; she moved and walked fast. In just a few minutes (or so it seemed), she’d turn raw ingredients into a sumptuous merienda. Some huge purple-skinned camote turned into kinalingking. Cassava became butse or minatamis na cassava cooked in coco milk. Gabi plus camote, saba, and langka plus cocomilk became ginatan. She also was very good in preparing hulog-hulog, pinakro, and baduya. She also walked fast. Whenever she went to the market, she’d be back in no time, bringing with her ibos, fish, and vegetables. Most of the time, it was my mama who went to the market. I’d request her to buy boiled peanuts every market day (Wednesday and Sunday). I and my siblings ate a lot of peanuts. How much? Imagine this, my share was placed in a plastic container as a big as a traditional tabo. That was a lot! (Maybe that explains why I was good at memorization as a student. :D)

A 2016 photo of my mom and aunt buying vegetables in the market, the same market that my lola used to visit then.

Now for something light, I shall tell you about my lola’s love life as narrated by my mom. My lola was in her late twenties when she met my lolo, who was almost 20 years her senior. At that time, she was a sales lady in a prominent store owned by a Chinese, in Tabaco Albay. My lolo incidentally passed by that store to buy something, and from that day, he always visited. My late lolo was fair-skinned and good-looking (because of his Filipino-Spanish blood) but his chickboy appearance didn’t impress my lola. In fact, she wanted to avoid him because of that. Not only that. My lolo was a widower and had two sons; perhaps, my lola found that complicated. But my lolo was persistent. Everytime she’d go home to Sula (an island in Albay), she’d find him at the pier. And everytime she’d go back to work, she’d see him there. So after a year or so, out of exasperation (hahaha!) she accepted him.

They were an odd pair, my lola and my lolo. My lola had Filipina beauty; my lolo looked Spanish. My lola preferred simple clothes; my lolo wore slacks, leather shoes, and applied pomade to his sleek hair everytime he went out. My lola told us stories about some night creatures, but it was more to scare us so we wouldn’t misbehave; my lolo told us stories to entertain us. My lola told us to eat the food on our plate, esp. the vegetables; my lolo bought us some candied peanuts from the market.

Their marriage was blessed with five (5) children: Ma. Jaima (my mom), Emilia, Evangeline, Joaquin Jr. and Nelson. I think that’s a proof that they really loved each other, but they weren’t showy with their feelings. As a kid, I never saw them hug or even hold hands.

My lola’s health started to fail after she had an accident at home when she was in her mid-70’s. While walking at the yard, she accidentally fell and fractured her hipbone. No one saw what really happened but from that day on, she couldn’t walk. That went on for three (3) years. A doctor suggested that she undergo an operation. I didn’t know what it was called but a metal was put through the bone of her right leg then it was attached to a pulley. The idea (based on how I remembered it) was to pull the bone so that her hipbone would align and that might help in fixing the fracture. It, based on my observation, didn’t help much and only made my lola’s condition worsen. She said it was also painful during cold weather.

During those times that I was home, I had the task of assisting (more on coaxing) my lola to eat by giving her spoonfuls of food. It must have been difficult for a once lively and hardworking woman like her to suddenly lose the ability to move around. I admire her serenity and her calm nature. I never heard her complain, never heard her say bad words to anyone; there were times that I saw she was silently crying.

When she was near death, she mentioned some names which I wasn’t familiar with. According to my mom, those were the names of some distant relatives. The she just closed her eyes and stopped breathing. I felt sad. My mind was full of questions. At what point did she die? Was it because of too much pain that she didn’t want to tell us? Was it because seeing her loved ones around her, she felt at peace and decided to let go? Was it because her departed relatives called her to join them? Or did God call her and told her it’s time to go?

Whichever is the answer, I wouldn’t know for certain. But I know she’s at peace now and free from all pain. I just would like to thank my lola for the good memories and for being a significant part of my childhood and teenage years.

(Author’s Note:
I wrote this piece on 25 March 2019, my lola’s death anniversary, and it was first published on my FB Account’s “My Notes.” We didn’t have a lot of photos during family gatherings in the 80’s so I only shared 1. Thanks for reading. ❤ )

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