my three grandmothers

November 22, 2017 § 2 Comments

I have 3 grandmothers.

Nanay Auring, my dad’s mother, passed away when I was in 1st grade.  Her children’s stories of her beauty, intellect, culinary talent and strictness are well-known in the family.  Her former suitors, mathematical aptitude, Spanish specialties and outrageous acts of love for my grandfather are still the topic of reunion conversations to this day.  But I remember her most for the afternoons my Dad forcibly took me along to their ancestral house to practice the piano.  During that time, I saw those weekends as a painful act of discipline I was made to unfairly endure.  Looking back, I realize now that my Dad had partially made me an excuse to be able to regularly spend time with his mother.  As I sat on the piano and miserably practiced my assignment from my piano teacher, Mrs. Berenguer, I now recall how he went around cleaning the house and taking care of my then bed-ridden grandmother.  She would repeatedly groan “Daddy”, calling for my grandfather at every moment he wasn’t beside her, and I had gotten used to not minding it as I struggled with correcting my fingering.  I sat there wondering how she perceived the world around her.  If she still knew me.  She was my first encounter with diabetes.  The time we spent there would end with my dad finishing my grandma’s sponge bath, and making her drink her medicines.  He’d hide the tablets in mangoes or grind them with juice just to make her drink them.  That was either where I got my own reluctance to drink tablets, or my habit of asking my Dad to do the same for me back when he still conceded to my childish requests.  To this day, I take a good couple of minutes to drink them, and would prefer easier natural remedies not in the name of denouncing synthetic medicine but for the sheer despise of the gag reflex a tablet provokes in me.

Mommy Auring, my mom’s mother, and yes they were both named Aurora, moved to the U.S. before I even started nursery.   Together with my aunt, they braved the land of milk and honey for the quintessential American dream.  My brother and I grew up with all of her and my Tita Wowie’s balikbayan boxes. They were filled with fruit loops, chocolates, clothes and foreign toys that my parents did not spoil us enough to provide.  For that reason, we would eagerly look forward to that box every year, opening it and smelling the enclosed scent from a land far way, looking forward to perhaps the only toys we would own that we could brag about.  While my grandmother lives far away, visits and calls are moderately regular.  Although the frequency has substantially dropped after my mom passed away.  Mommy Auring is not the stereotypical grandmother portrayed as a person infinitely agreeable to grandchildren, but she was stereotypical in the sense that she did spoil us to some degree.  Due to circumstances, my grandmother did not grow up with a good education or family upbringing – and this has constantly been a source of conflict in the family.  Her life, although one could describe as having had a stroke of luck, was not devoid of difficulties nor was it copiously peppered with happiness.  Yet I know she tries her best.  She tells me about her lucky casino streaks and the stories of her friends over long distance calls.  Inevitable as well is the small talk about family, often repeated, at times intriguing, yet always with the same zest whether for praise or criticism.  Whenever I visit or she visits, she never fails to volunteer to buy me luxuries she can afford.  While some of her habits can be hard to live with, my brother and I would always recount her idiosyncrasies with fondness and humor.  I remember the first time I visited her after she left the Philippines, she fried me sunny side-up eggs on our first morning and as I eagerly waited to eat them with the then-novel bagel, she deftly cut out my favorite yolks and threw them to the trash before she laid them in front of me.  I stared at the gaping holes with shock as she told me they were unhealthy.  But I did not care for eating healthy at 9 years old.  I owe her my streak of fierceness, stubbornness and independence, the same traits that my dad would mock my mom and I for.  And while they may be the opposite of sweetness and kindness, those traits have allowed me to survive some of the hardest times in my life.

Yet I have a third grandmother, Mama Mila.  My maternal grandfather had several partners after his original wife – one was my grandmother, and the last one being Mama Mila.  The story is complicated, yet I grew up acknowledging her existence as perfectly normal.  There was a period in time that we would visit my grandfather in his house every weekend, and my grandmother had already long been separated from my grandfather then.  So it was Mama Mila and Tita Anna who greeted us in his home.  While the situation was perhaps a complicated overlap of interests and blood ties amongst everyone involved, I had only pieced parcels of the story from hearsay when I was already grown-up, at a period where it didn’t make any difference to me at all.  Nevertheless, Mama Mila had always taken cared of me well.  My grandfather’s house was always my benchmark for order, elegance, wealth and abundance.  She was always pleasant and seemingly perfect, consistently in high spirits.  Even when the circumstances of my grandfather’s estate eventually changed, I had always admired Mama Mila how she kept order, comfort, and still elegance, in my grandfather’s life.  Her devotion to my grandfather is laudable, especially now when he has become even more difficult to take care of given his old age.  And apart from that, Mama Mila has always been generous to me and my brother.  Although I had never seen her as a grandmother, as much as a “Mama Mila” – a concept a child accepts and grows up with, she treated us no different from family.  During the later years of my mom, and especially now with her gone, Mama Mila would go out of her way to bring us or my dad something, constantly letting us know that she’s always there if we need anything.

And while I am a person with no favorites, with the same applicable for my grandmothers, I love them all in their own way.  Though I didn’t grow up showing extreme affection to any of them, perhaps due altogether to my own personality, upbringing and characteristic reservedness, I would still like them to know that I recognize their presence in my life.  Not as just grandmothers, but as distinct people and characters – influences for which I am thankful for.

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