Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Today is Emma's birthday. She's 84. What an incredible life she has had and she is still going strong (i hope). How does she do it? After ten children, a marriage which lasted almost thirty years till her husband left her for a younger woman, carrying on singlehandedly in raising the rest of her children that were still at home with her, surviving by making use of her culinary prowess to make both ends meet which included waking up at dawn to get the freshest produce from the market and then often seeking solace inside a movie theatre at the end of a hard day's work which sometimes ended up with her falling asleep for the entire duration of whatever film was shown that evening (the Chinese proprietor would wake her up to announce he was closing); then, to have a second wind to start an altogether new life in America as a 64 year-old nanny, living far away from her kin for twenty years and finding a second home with a family who have warmly welcomed her into their hearts, watching her two 'kids' grow from infants to students (the eldest is graduating from college in May), outliving the man she married and has always loved, as well as outliving two of her sons---i can only shake my head in awe and amazement at this bighearted octogenarian who is my mother.

It was a real pleasure to talk to her on the phone tonight and to hear her warm voice and reminish about the good ol' days. She still has such a good memory that she was even telling me stories about her old suitors, long before she married my dad, which made us both laugh. Sometimes she could still sound like a teenager. :) I also enjoy listening to her wartime stories as she vividly recounts tales of that period (my father and her got married when they were both 19 and got out of Manila where they went to college, which was occupied by the Japanese during that time, then took off by banca (an outrigger boat) slowly going from island to island till they reached Mindanao). I've also heard from her contemporaries that during her time she was popularly known as the 'Songbird'. In her generation, I suppose she would be a subtle version of the 'Music Star', clad in whatever garb women wore to perform in the late 30's. She won singing contests in our region, a feat that made my grandfather so proud he bought her a piano and she learned to play it by ear. (When i was growing up our house was filled with her music, sometimes we sang along or she would accompany us as my siblings and i took turns in singing solos which we picked up from watching musicals or whatever tunes fancied us then. Her piano playing inspired us all to sing.) To this day she still plays, but with wrinkled fingers that feel arthritis, and although the sound of her voice is not as forceful as it used to be, singing lifts her spirits and she still hits notes perfectly. Bless her. I hope and pray that she will continue to remain in good health.
Funny enough, i did not learn cooking from her, we devoured with gusto whatever meals she prepared for us. But i have inherited her musical genes, and so have my siblings! :)
I am eternally grateful to this wonderful woman for giving me the gift of life.


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