I spent my earliest years with my father’s big sister. Her name is Tita, which is short for Teresita. She is my Auntie Tita. She had a house in Quezon City, but it’s not there anymore, sold many years ago to a Chinese businessman who wanted the land but not the house. The house was torn down to make way for a bodega. I’ve never gone back there since the last time my Aunt and I cleaned it out early in the 80s. I didn’t want to see a bodega instead of the house that I grew up in. But I’m getting ahead of my story.
I believe that it is our earliest memories that shape us, that define our basic selves. It is by our memories with which we relate to our current surroundings, it is by what we remember of our past that we adjust to our present, and prepare for our future. I remember how my Aunt took care of her house, of herself, and of me. My Aunt shared her bedroom with me while I was growing up, and because of that I was witness to the skills and intricacies involved in taking care of one’s self. My Aunt would leave the house looking beautiful, work for eight hours straight in a government agency while looking beautiful, and come home early in the evening to take care of me looking exactly the same way she did when she left. I was witness to what was involved in making such a feat possible, but I never had the opportunity to practice it, much to my regret today.
My Aunt had her own car—a powder blue Ford Taunus, and drove it herself. This was almost unheard of in the late sixties and early 70s, and it may have helped seal her reputation as a woman who had worked hard for herself and had something to show for it, and was therefore was out of reach to the average male. She had suitors, I suppose, I was too young back then to know the difference between men from her gang and the ones that had other agenda.
My Aunt had a large kitchen, with appliances that I as a child were not allowed to touch, but I was always the first to sample the products. She baked cakes with butter icing, made embutido con sinsal the way my grandmother—her mother—made them, she made fruit salad and buko salad and potato salad, and my favorite nilagang manok at baboy with potatoes, and ampalaya guisado which I hated.
Maybe I would have picked up all of that, if I had stayed with my Aunt through my teen-age years. But my Dad had picked up the family to move to Cebu three years before I had graduated from elementary school, and now that I was to begin high school I was to join them. A year after I flew to Cebu, my Aunt left for the U.S., with a side-trip to Germany to visit her half-sister who was living there at the time. In the U.S. my Aunt found work, a husband, and a house, in that order I suppose. She would come home to visit every few years, the last time was when one of her brothers passed on, almost 10 years ago.
I know she’s upset with me these days, as I have been remiss in a few of my obligations. I would like to tell her not to worry, I will catch up and make up.
Happy Birthday, Auntie Tita. And Happy Mother’s Day too!