by Red Gozar
That’s why, I guess, I will never forget March 22, 2010.
It was a day before my graduation. God knows. Everyone knows how happy and excited I am to finally graduate from college. I worked hard for it, hell yeah! I make it a point that every moment of it was captured—from filing of graduation application to graduation picture, graduation ball, and yearbook. Captured. Hindi pa man dumarating ang March 23, super excited na ako. I was happy, actually, overwhelmed.
Until March 22 came. It was our baccalaureate mass. I scheduled myself to leave home by 10am to reach PNU just in time for the brief practice. Mama went at the market for her usual errand and returned home just before I was about to leave but brought with her a news that changed my celebratory atmosphere.
Nanay Rosita passed away. I couldn’t cry. I was shocked and speechless. Time is running out. It’s almost ten o’clock. I had to leave home. Yes, I had to leave. I had to. As I boarded the bus to Manila, I couldn’t think. Frankly, I do not want to think. That day, I was happy. I kept telling myself. This is a happy day.
Until I reached BPS 101, I saw there my classmates getting ready for our practice. This is a happy day, I really kept telling myself. Until tears fell down my eyes. I cannot help it. I cannot control my tears not to be seen by my classmates. Soon enough, they knew. Some of them said their condolences, the others apathetically, said, it’s life’s natural course. Anyway, Nanay was 76 years old. Come to think of it, the average life expectancy rate of Filipinos is 65. Nanay was somehow fortunate enough to withstand many years after that I heard her doctor once said.
I am a good student- not to brag about it. I crave for learning so much especially cognitive knowledge. I love history. I wanted so much to know whatever happened then. That’s why, I was very excited every time Nanay would tell me of her first hand experiences during World War II. Nanay was born on 1932, (I guess?!) she was almost 13 years old then. She would tell me how she and Lolo Dadar would carry the bilao of bananas to the Poblacion in Quezon province and be halted to a stop by Japanese soldiers. She was not scared, she would always say, because she was very young then- brave and innocent.
She would tell me how they ran in all directions to escape the bombs released by kamikaze planes. She would jokingly narrate how her male neighbor slumped himself into an open pit of mud to cheat death covering his face and body with mud and tae ng kalabaw (carabao manure). And then I would laugh out of grossness. She said, they would hide in the silong, and their kasama sa bahay would ask her to close her eyes so as for her not to be traumatized by the horrors of war. But she said, stubborn as she was, would not close her eyes and would look at how the planes collide with each other and eventually burn and explode in the sky. Then I asked her about comfort women. She said that fortunate in their area not to have those kinds of abuse. Nanay, together with the rest of the women living there were left not abused. It was a fascination every time Nanay would tell her stories. For me, the stories are not bluff. Creative as they may sound, but they are real for me.
Nanay would tell her stories to us- her many grandchildren, every time we spend our holidays at home, being the introvert grandchildren that we are. But, as far as I can recall, I was the only one who would listen to her and remember her stories (no bragging intended.) Whether out of personal fascination or pity or just out of filial piety, I listened. Those storytelling time became my bonding moments with Nanay Rosita.
Well, I can proudly say na laki ako sa lola. Maybe that’s why, may soft spot sa puso ko ang mga matatanda. My family has been on an extended family concept on paternally ever since. Nanay was a witness to my growth (to onsets of puberty- struggles with menstruations and all.) Nanay told me tips on household chores, not to prepare me for marriage but simply to save myself, so I can cook for myself, so I can survive in this concrete jungle. Nanay taught me how to properly clean the fish (tilapia.) Nanay taught me how to cook rice and reminded me to leave the measuring cup inside the bigas (uncooked rice) dispenser always full with bigas so that our family will not get hungry. Nanay told me various pamahiin– of the tikbalang and the spirits.
My relatives said, I’m Nanay Rosita’s favorite granddaughter. Kaya daw kapag may pagkain at nasa school pa ako, ibibilin daw niya, “Oh, tirhan si Red para makatikim naman ng kinain natin.” Ako, naman, pag-uwi ko, I’m that innocent child na since tinirhan ako ng pagkain, kahit ano pa man iyon, eh, matutuwa na ako, kakain lang ako. I was not aware that Nanay Rosita was behind that spare food for me. I never felt any jealousy or envy on the part of my cousins. They’re just cool with it because somehow they know that I’m a good girl and perhaps, I deserve Nanay Rosita’s affection too.
Wala pa man ang graduation day, I already foresee that my life will change. Yes, my life did change. Right after my graduation, my life changed.
There were no longer World War II stories. There were no longer reminders of the pamahiins. I no longer have my Home Economics teacher. On my graduation day, I became my own teacher.
Red Gozar believes in forever.
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