Few months from now my mother will turn sixty. She gave birth to me when she was twenty-five. She was forty when Hannah, our youngest, was born. In between me and Hannah she gave birth to three more: Brian, Tracy, and Jeric. We could have been a brood of six if our mother didn’t suffer a miscarriage. She is our mother, but people call her ‘Baby.’
We used to live in a nipa-roofed house. The roof was reinforced by a transparent plastic bag to make up for the rotten nipa. The four pillars were oversized bamboo poles. The supportive braces were attached to those pillars horizontally to form the room. Our floor was made of bamboo slits that exhaled a crunchy sound at the slightest of missteps. The walls were woven split bamboo mats locally known as sawali. And the windows were foldable thatched nipa that could be pushed by bamboo identical to billiard sticks.
Our mother gave birth in that house on more than two occasions (I am unsure). The clearest I could remember was when Hannah was born. During those times, mothers were giving birth without the technology we have today. All the midwife had to require was boiling water, alcohol, and women neighbors as nurses. Fathers weren’t allowed in the makeshift operating room made of a white canvass of clothing spread lay on the floor. Children were lead outside the house until the baby was delivered.
I wouldn’t forget that time. The year was 1998. At 10:15 in the evening the midwife announced it was a girl. Our father who was drunk (as usual) regained his normality upon learning he has a baby girl.
I would remember few months after our mother had given birth, she went to Manila to visit her well-to-do classmate married to a wealthy Japanese. In high hopes to benefit monetarily from the visit, she left Hannah with me close to four hours, in which, she cried almost without pause. When my mother returned, she brought along with her a bottle of soy sauce wrapped in a brown paper. We sprinkled the soy sauce with cooking oil over the steaming rice. That was our lunch on that day.
At fifteen years, old, I was already broken hearted so many times, not because of the opposite gender, but because of the hardships our mother had to suffer so we could have food on the table. Along with my father, they did what they had to do so we could have a better life. My mother would hop from house to house to collect empty cans and bottles and she would clean them late at night as soon as she arrived from work as a laundrywoman. She would drag them on a cart and sell them to the paint shop.
Our father was a proficient setter of wood parquet but when projects were scarce, he would pedal a tri-wheeler and he would service the willing to arrive in their respective destinations with minimal charge.
I would remember when I competed in a spelling contest among high school students provincewide. Mother told me she would be after me while I went ahead to the contest venue. It was early in the morning; the stores wouldn’t let a credit if no item was sold. In those stores our breakfast was dependent, sort of a primitive credit card, the people called “The List.”
Before the competition, I glanced from time to time among the spectators behind the windows. My mother wasn’t amongst them. I went out of the venue after the contest and seated under the shade of what they call Almendras tree in the Division Office in San Fernando still waiting for my mother because I had no money left going back home to Mexico (Philippines). She came with a pack of biscuit and a cold juice in a tetra pack. When they recognized the winners in a ceremony, I won a hundred pesos, quite a sum to people like us during those times. I gave the purple-colored money to my mother to her great delight. I won third place in the competition handicapped by an empty stomach.
Many years later, the nipa-roofed house was taken down piece by piece by my father. It is now firmly standing along the Jose Abad Santos Street. Our house is still a poor man’s house but three of the children grew up in that house are educated. My mother made it sure she will go on the other side with a wealth she knew she could only provide the best: education. Our mother was laughed at, mocked and became a laughingstock in our neighborhood, but she prevailed. I made it out of college after close to twelve long years of starts and stops. Tracy became a Registered Nurse. Hannah is now in her second year going on third at Angeles University Foundation. She finished her high school at San Lorenzo Ruiz Learning Center. All prominent schools in our city.
The greatest lessons I learned from her: Keep fighting no matter how bleak the situation. Keep believing no matter how terrible the odds. Keep dreaming when most people are walking away from their dreams.
I am an airplane with broken propellers but kept steering the wheel because of the inspiration I draw from my mother. I hope I have been a good son and a great brother’s keeper.
I know I will be a great father to Elijah because my parents showed me how firsthand. I know I will be like my father who loved our mother despite her motormouth (my mother’s greatest defect) for thirty-four years. Like my mother, I will empty the coffers to the last centavo for my son and the unborn children that we are going to raise someday.
Lately, as we correspond through Facebook, I felt a sense of urgency to succeed when my mother is complaining of her aching knees. She is getting old and that breaks my heart. I cried when she said she wanted to see Elijah (my son who was born in Canada) in person, and she wanted to ride an airplane before she will die.
“Mother, God is good. He will strengthen you and revitalize your weary body.” I said.
“They are really hurting and I can’t move very well,” she replied.
“Someday you will ride an airplane, and you will see Elijah in person. I never asked anything from God that He did not fulfill.” I said.
She replied with a big thumbs-up ‘Like.’
Read more from James R Manalo:
James Ryan G. Manalo and family.
James is from Mexico, a city in Central Luzon in the Philippines