I finally got the chance to visit my step grandma (salamat sa friendster at nagkita kami ng apo niya), affectionately called ‘mommy’ by the entire Calle Bagtican neighborhood. This great lady has in so many ways showed me what a grandmother’s love is. I never had a living grandparent when I was a child. The Magcale was the royal family of Calle Bagtican. Mommy has always look after the neighborhood – She is the ‘undisputed queen of Bagtican’.
I was delighted to know that she still remembers me even with her faltering memory as a result of old age. I was more surprised that she can remember the things that we did together. “Gago ka kasi, tinuturuan ka hindi ka nakikinig” she told me yesterday when I boasted that I’m trying to learn Spanish. She did try to teach me when she took me as her step grandson (ampon kuno) but the child that I am, paid no attention.
It was her who also taught me to take on reading English literature. They once had a roomful of books (stacked as high as 6 feet or more). It was bigger than our elementary school library. I learned last night that all those books were disposed when their place was sold. How I wish I could’ve acquired them.
She speaks beautiful Spanish, she sings songs and recites poems in pure Castilian. She told me that Maria, her dearly beloved mother taught her how to be a Filipina. She was a fine lady according to Mommy. A mestiza, who taught her unica hija Spanish, the basics of education, even proper attire for different occasions and how to conduct oneself in public. This sophistication in culture is expected from them then, she was born in Calle Cabildo (in Intramuros), where speaking Spanish and being Catholic (a cerrado Catolico) was part of life.
Macati then according to her was home to rich families, who migrated to their vacation homes from their old residential houses in Manila after the war. Part of her childhood was spent in La Paz Iloilo, the provincial farm of his American father, a ranking US Marine officer. She inherited huge chunks of lands in Pasay (later sold to Chung Hua Chinese academy and portions to what we know now as Cartimar) and Makati.
I remember when I was a child that I would runaway when I see her coming, She’s probably the first white person (for me she was white!) I’ve ever met. I was afraid of her, and those piercing green (or were they blue?) eyes made me hide behind my Nanay’s saya. She’s always had a beer in hand, she was after all Irish (a brother told me she was part Swiss as well?), so this interest in drinking comes naturally I guess. After buying a bottle of cerveza at our small sari-sari store she would ask Nanay if she could bring me with her, the lady needed a drinking buddy, too bad I was a minor (but she was the one who taught me to drink beer later on!)! my Nanay busy with her store and her small carinderia would not mind of course. I was one less boy to worry about (we were four in the family, all male).
Mommy would engage me in this unending historical discussion that was too much for a child my age (most I never understood, how can I?) like when she explained why the atomic bombs that destroyed the two great cities of Japan was a great idea to end the war, I was in grade3 or 4 (while other kids were probably learning that Jose Rizal’s dog is named alipato) Every now and then she would become emotional over certain subjects, “Alam mo ang mga putang inang mga Hapon na iyan walang mga puso iyan, barbaro! animales!”. I laughed so hard when I told her that Samuel (my brother) married a Japanese woman, she said,“ay gago iyan si Samuel! hindi ba siya nagaral ng historia? alam niya ba nangyari sa familia ni Omeng (my father)?” she was still the same woman after all this years, it was very Doña Amparoesque!
She would request of me to recite poems in English and of course, talk about Philippine history and what I’ve learned so far, a subject that I would fall in love later on but not during those days, no, I was too young. I was very fortunate, I never got this education in our mababang paaralan (mababa nga!). I was privileged that I had her, she was God sent.
She would romanticize in her lovely stories the Spanish traditions and culture, for her its always about urbanidad and delicadeza and all those Catholic based tradition of the old days, this is the reason why I learned too see it differently than most of the educated youth whose introduction to history is Lapu-Lapu, the aborigines of the islands and the revolution of Rizal- mine was stories of how beautiful the culture was and why it is important that we embrace it.
She would always tell me, “We are Spanish hijo (of course the correct term is Hispanic but she uses Spanish often), right or wrong, if we want to change this truth, we should rewind, back to the days when Magallanes arrived, unite all the tribes and islands and fight the invaders but there was no army, no unity, no nation then. Wala hijo mga Españoles ang nagbigay sa atin ng nacion at unidad sa ayaw man natin o hindi.” And I knew that if she would have her way she’ll pick the Americans over the Spaniards but she reasons that its history not social science where theories can be accepted.
Though she was, in my eyes, a hispanist, a lover of that culture, she was still American. Very pro American I should say in her views. Her historical lessons would not be complete without glorifying that nation, “The Americans liberated us, they are our friends hijo, why are we expelling them out?”, referring to the on going US Base issue then. “Ingrato iyan mga putang inang politicos na yan, nagsipagaral pa naman sa UP, fondo ng mga Americano ang nagbigay sa kanila ng educacion! noong panahon ng Hapon nagsipagtago ang mga elitistang familia ng mga iyan, while Americans fought and drove the Japones away!”.
Make no mistake about it she’s one of the kindest soul one could ever meet. Mapagbigay masyado, even to the extent of offending some of her family members, “ano ba ang kailangan niya?” she would ask me if a neighbors would show up in her house. “Binigyan ko na iyan locarit na iyan ah”, in the end her generous spirit would always overcome her reasons. “vale,vale, heto! por Dios sabihin mo kay __ maghanap ng trabaho!”. She was really a Mommy to all. This is why, last night, tears begun to fall when I was told that no one among those she helped, the old Bagtican dwellers even comes to visit her for almost a decade. I felt guilty that I was, in a way like them – I should’ve visited her earlier, when she was stronger. She no longer could see because of an eye condition. Thank heavens that his youngest grandson (James) takes good care of her. He was the one who inherited her intelligence and her generous spirit!
Old age has gotten into her, she use to be so sharp and witty. It was painful for me to see her that way, blind and incapable of moving around. The last time we were together she was eating oysters, smoking and drinking her favorite San Miguel beer (in a bottle, never cans).
When I told her that I will visit her again she said, “Kung ang paa mo ay sipagin sige, kung hindi naman ok lang din.” I found it hard to say good bye because of what she whispered to me, “my time is almost up hijo”, I did not know how to react. I guess that’s life, its that beautiful cycle and we’ll all end up like this great lady. In her life she always made sure she shared her blessings. I now feel that this is what we should aim for, that we share more than we take.
I could go on and on with what I learned from this amazing lady, Doña Amparo, I could never thank her enough, words just won’t do it but I believe living my life the way she taught me how, with love, honor, gratitude and care for the people around me is the greatest tribute I could ever give her.