If you’ve had a yaya in your life, you might be able to relate to this.
When I was barely a year old, my Manang came to live with our family. She was 22 and had never before travelled outside her small village in Negros Occidental. She stayed for 43 years.
With my one other surviving sister living with her family in the US, Manang is the closest that remains of my nuclear family. I sometimes think about her life and how she might think of it herself.
As a young girl, she must have had her own dreams and hopes and aspirations. She once told me that all she wanted when she left her village was to ride a big boat and see the lights of the city. Did she imagine that her life would be devoted to serving our family?
She was third-runner up in a neighborhood beauty contest when I was growing up. What did it feel being belle-of-the ball and then coming back to our house to her chores and duties?
While taking care of my dad, mom and my sister thru long sicknesses, did she resent not having had the opportunity to do the same for her own parents since she was far away from them and with us?
She has always been very smart but did not have the opportunity to finish high school. Did she feel frustrated when we discussed topics she could no longer relate to? My Dad once said that if Manang had the opportunity to finish school, she could have been a lawyer. The context for the statement is forgetten but it’s something my Manang recounted over and over again.
We were her children as much as my parents and she took care of my sisters and I as such. When I first left home for college, she would pack care packages in my luggage – little things I didn’t ask for that she thought I would find useful (like nails tied to opposite ends of a nylon rope to hang my laundry on).
When my sister, Grace, first discovered that her hair was falling off from the chemo, it was Manang she screamed for in fear and panic to come and help her. It was also Manang who was with my sister Gina when my eldest nephew was born and the first in our family to hold the baby.
She fought our battles, sang us to sleep, nursed us thru minor scrapes and major illnesses. She would jump up and down with joy whenever one of us brought home a medal. Did Manang feel left out when all those family pictures were taken without her?
Less she begins sounding like one, Manang is no saint. She could be loud, opinionated, obstinate, petty and vindictive. She once danced around the living room when she found out that somebody she particularly disliked was diagnosed with a sickness. During the later years, she would boss around my Mom and lord it over the house like nobody's business. Was this her way of venting her frustrations and regrets for everything she thinks could have been for her, had she taken other paths in life?
She would drive me crazy if we ever lived in the same house again.
But - no matter how strangely she manifested it - she loved us unquestionably. She loved me best of all. I was the baby she came to take care of and have the sweet baby face to show for it :-). Until recently, she would still run after me to wipe the sweat off my back with the handy white towels she always had around. Here's your visual - I'm 5'11" about 150 lbs (ok - 190; ok, ok - 200; shut up already), she's barely a little over four feet tall.
Manang has been retired for 2 years now. She is back home in her village in Negros – which has grown and changed as much as we all have over the last 45 years. Given the norms of her hometown, she must have come back in “triumph” - lugging with her the spoils of our now defunct household – bits and pieces of our former life. Of couse, she blew all her money on a big welcome home party for herself.
I guess – by some counts - I’m doing right by her. She will be provided for during her lifetime. I try to help out materially in other ways when asked for. She is surrounded by nephews and nieces she had helped send thru school over many years (how productive and grateful they are is another story all together). I know she is better off financially than the siblings she had left behind. Even better off than she might have been if she didn’t leave the village those many years ago.
On other counts, I’m not so sure. When we talk on the phone, she annoys me with her stories of even more relatives in need and her long-winded stories of how she spends her days. One of her favorite topics nowadays is how much her neighbors and relatives tell her how good she is for having sacrificed her life to serve our family and how lucky she is to have me supporting her.This goes on and on with minimal variation, if I let it. I try to make the calls as short as possible, sometimes being curt and dismissive - always feeling guilty afterwards.
But, I had a flash of an insight recently. Other people, under different circumstances, might talk about the bridges and buildings they had built during the day, the awards and recognitions they have received, the places they’ve seen - all attesting to a life well-lived.
My Manang has no bridges or buildings to speak of. No degrees. No awards. She had us. We are her life's work. We are the witnesses to her life well-lived. And she deserves to talk about it all she wants.
I blog. She brags to whoever will listen. We both could benefit from some editing in our chosen media. Seen in those terms, I guess she and I are no different. She raised me after all.
I love my Manang.
a) If my life were made into a movie, Aling Dionisia Pacquaio, in her introductory movie role, would be Manang
b) Sharon Cuneta's Yaya Luring supposedly is a Gold card member of a major international bank - meaning she has an 8-figure bank account, aside from being a media personality herself.
c) The picture accompanying this post was probably taken just a few months after Manang came to live with us. The handwriting is my Dad’s. Jun-jun is me. To understand the Filipino penchant for nicknames, see this.
b) Manang has visited me a few times. I posted another blog entry from her last visit here.