Back in the day, when we were still living in Pagsanjan, Ate Rosing and Ate Conching were our neighbors and my Manang's barkada. Our family would invite them over for holiday dinners and other special occasions . I was especially fond of Ate Rosing. She must have been less than five feet tall but whenever she saw me, she would reach up to give me a buss on the cheek.
They had both retired from “ the service”. They had come to town many years before from various parts of the country to work as helpers for different households. Their employers had since migrated or died or gone away. Ate Conching and Ate Rosing stayed behind, eventually sharing a small rented room together. They had been away from their own families for so long that “going back” (wherever this was) might have been like returning to strangers.
The Ates lived on selling rice cakes and doing occasional jobs for families in the neighborhood. In their spare time, they were church-ladies - part of a small army of elderly women who kept house for the parish priest and attended all the church activities. Pagsanjan had become their home. Their neighbors and friends - their substitute family. Everbody knew them. They did not lack for invitations to join neighbornnod and housenhold social occassions. And whenever someone was sick or there was a death in the community - there were among the first to commisserate and offer whatever assistance they could .
I haven’t seem them for awhile but heard about them recently. Ate Rosing is weak and slowly losing her memory. Although she remains mostly lucid, it's difficult for her to take care of herself already. Ate Conching has terminal cancer. They have to rely on the kindness of neighbors. Somebody comes to give Ate Rosing a bath once a week. Another accompanies Ate Conching to her doctor’s appointments.
There is something both sad and uplifting about this story. It is sad that f0r various reasons - each of us has to leave our families behind at some point and venture into the world alone. It is comforting that we have the ability to move on and make families of our own.
Ate Rosing and Ate Conching are quiet, simple women. Most of their lives have been spent in the service of others. But, in their quiet simplicity, they have left a mark. They will not go unforgotten.