A waste of me? (An Article by The Forgetful Magpie)

In celebration of Mothers Day, I want to share this article, written by my mom (The Forgetful Magpie) and published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on November 6, 2011 (see the article here).  This post is dedicated to all the mothers out there (especially to my mom and my mother-in-law) who have found quiet happiness in home and family and to whom we owe much thanks. I salute you. Belated Happy Mothers’ Day y’all!

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My daughter’s gift to me on Mother’s Day

A WASTE OF ME

It was the end of the day, just an hour or so before dinner.

I was sitting on my bed, the pillows propped up to support my back, crocheting a blouse for my daughter, Oya. The television in front of the bed was on.

My daughter, having just come home from work, looked in on me. “What are you watching, Mom?”

I looked up to check.

“You really aren’t watching the TV, are you?” Oya observed. “Oh, Mom, you are just wasting electricity!” she said as she walked away.

“I was relaxing, having the TV on relaxes me,” I whispered, to myself. “I had a long, busy day. Wasting electricity is not as bad as wasting me.” I was referring to the personal energy conservation relaxing bit, of course. But the thought gave me a jolt.

Upon reaching seniority when I turned 60, I somehow, slowly but surely, became a homebody immersed exclusively in the concerns of home and family. It was not a conscious choice. It just happened that on that year, my husband Manny had retired and our granddaughter Martina was born.

Manny hardly ever stayed at home before his retirement.  He would leave for work in the morning and get together with his best friend, Onib, the artist, after office hours and be out until the wee hours. They were both Malate “streetwalkers,” better known as “tambays.”

But Onib had died, and Manny had no friends around our suburban home to hang around with. So I had to be a friend to him, someone to go out with and talk to.  When he developed Parkinson’s Disease a few years later, I had to help him deal with his moments of confusion and offer gentle exchanges, pleasant conversations that were not too taxing or challenging.

My daughter Oya was also back home. She had gone away to college at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City and then to the London School of Economics for her graduate studies. Then she came home to stay, worked for her father until he retired, and sold the business. She found a job in Makati which kept her so busy that she invariably came home tired and famished.

Oya has always been frail and a picky eater. So I made a career of coming up with varied and appetizing menus for her meals and lunch packs. My bedtime reading then consisted mostly of going over recipe books, of which I had collected more than a dozen.

Granddaughter

My granddaughter, Martina, is bright and lively. I simply adore her. I eagerly looked forward to Martina’s bi-weekly visits. I always made sure that Martina’s favorite french fries and shrimps are prepared for her. I read to her, baked cookies with her, and sewed costumes for Halloween, school activities, and parties. I have, in fact, just finished making Martina an appliquéd bedcover with matching pillow cases.

And watching TV every evening “to relax” became my regular pastime. I know that watching TV is more often than not a waste of time, so I do something useful besides, something that does not require too much thought or concentration, mindless tasks like crocheting. I had become a real multi-tasker, one who does several time-wasting things at the same time.

Thus do I find myself at 67, a thorough homemaker, or more simply and honestly, a happy housewife.

I have been happy taking care of these three most beloved people. I have kept a fine house and tended a lush garden with joy.  Indeed, I have found great self-satisfaction in doing the things housewives do because, you see, I do them easily and rather well.

However, I have nothing to show for it. There is no public recognition, no awards for exceptional housewifery. In the eyes of the world, it may be a useful talent but hardly a significant one. So, I wonder if  being “just a housewife”  translates into a waste of me.

I have always been a housewife, but until I was slowed down by age and circumstance, I had moved in many circles and assumed many other roles.  I had many friends and had always felt free to do my own thing. I had been an activist, a women’s and children’s advocate, an organizer, and a writer.

When I ran into my friend, Julie, some time ago, she enthusiastically asked, “What are you writing now?”  “Nothing really,” I had to admit. “I haven’t been writing for a while.”

“What?” Julie exclaimed. “Why aren’ t you writing when you do it so well? You are wasting your talent!”

“I have other talents,” I quietly said. From which I derive more satisfaction and joy, I might have added.

Too much effort

Writing is for me a painful and exhausting process. I do not love it. It takes too much effort and insight and passion and discipline. The writing itself is easy enough, but I agonize for several days just getting it all together in my head. And I have to constantly fight the fear that the writing is not good enough. Because each word of praise I receive ups the ante in my attempt to do as well, if not better. I find that writing takes so much of me—or is it off me?

My gift for writing has served me well during my brief stint in advertising, as well as in writing copy for my husband, who was an advertising man. As an activist/organizer, I have written statements, primers, manifestos, speeches, etc. I have also come up with five books.

I do not think I have wasted my talent. I have rendered a good account of it. Although all the writing was done because I had to, or felt the need to, not for the love of it.

The question now is, does “wasting a talent” diminish it? And does non-writing waste the writer?

Just a few weeks ago, my daughter, Oya, noted that of late I had been quite forgetful and often uncharacteristically disorganized.  “Perhaps you should see a neurologist,” she suggested. “You might be developing Alzheimers.” The neurologist ordered an MRI and an EEG.

The results gave me a third jolt. My midbrain showed a scattering of tiny blood vessel “strokes” that blocked the passage of blood and oxygen in capillaries to my brain. It is not so bad, he assured me, considering the onset of old age. He prescribed medication to not only strengthen my neurological system, but also to prevent any more blockages and mitigate further deterioration.  I had actually been wasting away!

I was told I had to become more active physically, mentally, and socially. I concluded that I had been taking care of everybody and everything else but me. I had been writing, but not for me, not to please myself, not to satisfy my needs, not out of love.

“What did the doctor say?” my husband who was waiting outside asked.

“He said I am no longer as bright as I used to be” I said. “And it could get worse.”

“Don’t worry,” my most loyal fan assured me. “With your brain, it will take a long time before you turn into an idiot.”

 

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Sense and Sensibility

The following is an article to celebrate Manny, my husband of 45 years.

 

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

Sense and sensibility, it seems to me, is as good a formula as any to constitute a good marriage. One of the partners should have the good sense to provide for the family’s basic needs, and, the other, the fine sensibility to enhance family life.

When I married my husband, Manny, I believed he had the practical sense to earn our living. I, on the other hand, would provide the sensibility. I thought myself cultured and refined, to be well versed in history, literature, art appreciation, and psychology, having been schooled in an “exclusive” college for women.

My husband got a “no-frills” education in public school and as a working student, took the highly technical course of Industrial Engineering. When I first introduced him to my friends, I didn’t get unreserved approval. He was not, after all, part of our collegiala circle. He was, indeed, by my friends’ standard, a poor boy.

But they did concede that he was not bad looking. He had attractive, dark eyes and the perfectly classical nose. He dressed simply, very neatly, and one couldn’t fault his manners.

Although my family was much better off than his when we married, I saw no reason to feel superior, to even think that I was marrying “beneath my  station”, (aside, of course, from the truism that “all women do”). Though well educated, I came from peasant stock (and don’t my toes show it!). My father was a “risen peasant”. It was his exceptional intelligence that won him a full scholarship in college, a Civil Engineering degree and good well-paying jobs that raised his own family’s status into upper middle class. My mother had claims to a Hispanic heritage. Her grandfather was a “peninsulare” who came to the Philippines as a member of the Guardia Civil stationed in Pangasinan. But she was born and grew up a provincial and only came to urban Manila as a young bride.

Manny may have grown up in the school of hard knocks, but he comes from “fallen aristocrats”. His father grew up in Intramuros . He was a true gentleman of the old school who stood out at my wedding wearing  a decidedly elegant white suit. And the rest of his forebears are decidedly Manileno. His maternal grandfather, Godofredo Dancel, was Secretary to President Manuel Quezon. His grandmother was pure Castillian so he has more Spanish blood than some of my Spanish speaking friends, if Spanish blood is at all a measure of personal worth. And his great grandfather, Antonio Dancel was once Governador of Rizal.

As a child, he would tell me, he used to ride his three wheeled cycle in the passage around his maternal grandfather’s living room in a grand, old bahay-na-bato  in Tondo. The house, unfortunately, became one of the casualties of the American Liberation of Manila in 1945. I have no such memories. My own grandfather had a large 3-level house at the edge of his coconut plantation in Calauag,Quezon  but it stood by the railroad tracks, next to the train station and its proudest wall ornament was the graduation photograph of my not-so-good-looking father.

It was his mother, Ana,  who “fell” from grace by eloping at 16 with a handsome man who was and remained a small time bureaucrat and having ten children by him.

But even poverty could not erase nor diminish the innate fine sensibility and good taste derived from her “aristocratic” heritage. To supplement her husband’s meager income, she fashioned exquisite children’s dresses that were exclusively sold at Tesoro’s and bought by Manila’s wealthiest families. She was already in her sixties when my daughters were growing up, but she paid me the complement of making them each a particularly lovely party dress. I could and did sew my children’s dresses too, but I didn’t have her way with ribbons and laces. They lived in a small rented apartment but the few ornaments  were delicate porcelain figurines and the finest crystals. My daughters used to love to visit their Lola Ana and listen to the musical Lladro figurines. She also had a way with dish gardens. Instead of planting a small garden, she turned the 10- 12 sq meter space in front of her apartment into a beautifully arranged display of her dish gardens. Her sense of proportion was faultless and her attention to the most minute detail, remarkable.  On the other hand, having borne seven streetwise sons, she could cuss like the best of “kanto boys”, a habit I had to train my husband to unlearn.

I was to find that sensibility is an innate quality of the mind, a cultivation of proper feelings, a control of the senses that is not, necessarily, learned in school nor derived from ones upbringing. Schooling and upbringing could, of course, help in increasing and refining it. But  it is ultimately a product of one’s heritage. People coming  from  a long line of “buenas familias”, I must concede, have a better claim to refinement than most. My grandmother used to say that, “It takes three generations (of good genes, careful upbringing, and education) to make a lady”, keeping her fingers crossed, I imagine, that she had, perhaps engendered a gentlewoman in me.

I also find that sense and sensibility are not mutually exclusive.  Everybody has both in varying proportions. “Aristrocrats” may not necessarily have a larger share of sensibility than sense.  And the common tao is not always just commonsensical.

Manny inherited his mother’s fine aesthetics and used it with practical sense in setting up an advertising art studio that generously provided for me and my two daughters. The girls trust their father”s taste and share his love for things that are exquisitely designed and well made. They prefer to have him with them when shopping, especially for shoes. I do too. But I always find the best buys, fine things at more reasonable prices.

I am not very good with ornaments (I hate clutter!) so I keep a very simple and practical home with emphasis on the good use of space.  The few ornaments in the house are gifts or Manny’s acquisition. And t was Manny’s best friend Onib Olmedo who provided most the many wonderful paintings that have filled the walls of our house . Perhaps after all, Manny has the greater share of sensibility and I have the more practical sense. It really doesn’t matter.

Because after all is said and done and having been married for almost 45 years, I am truly grateful  that he had enough sensibility to love me, and even gladder,  that I had enough good sense to marry him.

John Lennon’s Dead, Dad

Scene: My parents (my 68-year old mom and 73-year old dad) and sister are having lunch at a Japanese restaurant named “John & Yoko” (in Alabang, Muntinlupa City).

Mom (to no one in particular): Do John Lennon and Yoko Ono, you think, know their names were used for this restaurant?

Sister (ever sarcastic): I’m sure John Lennon doesn’t. ‘Coz he’s dead.

Mom:  JOHN LENNON’S DEAD?!

Sister: Last I heard. Really, mom?

Mom (to Dad): Did you know that John Lennon’s dead?

Dad:  John Lennon?

Mom: Yes. Dead.

Dad (shaking his head sadly):  And I just saw him on tv the other day, offering flowers at Whitney Houston’s memorial…