I talk to my mom at least once a week, sometimes two. She either makes time to call me or I call her. And when I am unable to pick up the phone for one reason or the other, we just call back where we left off. Maybe because I live farther than the rest of the family or maybe that’s just the way she is. She talks to her kids whether one is on holiday in Manila, in Kansas, in California or Canada.
Our usual conversation revolves around family, like her health or dad’s ongoing battle with gout. “When he’s out of commission, I am usually in an okay state,’ she says, a bit of humour in her voice. We always end up feeling grateful that this is all they have.
I called her yesterday, as I hadn’t spoken to her the whole week. Like most calls, we talk innuendo, about her well-tended garden, or about her newly styled and painted kitchen, which she ended up burning accidentally a few weeks ago, or how my three year old nephew, whom she baby-sits, is acting up spoiled and rotten. I say out of the blue, “Cory Aquino is dead, mom.” She says she knows, and adds that Cory Aquino may not have known she was sick, because when they found out the cancer, it was already in advanced stage. “Apparently it runs in their family,” my mom says.
Like most of our conversations, we jump from one topic to the next, till she gets tired, or have to fix dad his lunch, or go to bed, or when I call her when she is in the middle of lunch. “You have good timing, ano?” she says, Sometimes, our talk lasts 10 minutes, sometimes an hour. Our conversation centers on Cory. I’ve known that Cory was dad’s classmate at FEU (Far Eastern University) back in the 1950s when he was taking up law there. “She didn’t continue on to law,” mom says, of Cory. Back in the day, she has mentioned this little bit of history, how dad and his friends used to study at Cory’s home near Roxas Boulevard, how some of their friends actually knew Cory. I also knew that my mom and Cory were both in the Corps Sponsors, meaning they were some of the prettiest girls on campus. Some of these old history footnotes in the family have trickled to us over the years, but she is letting me know more tidbits. Interesting, I note, something to remember for next time. I like listening to my mom talk of her youth, always picturing her as the girl in the billowy skirts, like in the old TCM movies I find fascinating, which I watch not so much for the plot, but for the retro furniture, the old elegance, the formality of it all. The women always dressed as if they were going out to dinner, even when they were baking a cake and still wearing stilettos.
“Dad and Cory were members of the SCA,” my mom now tells me now. This is new to me. I didn’t know dad was a member of the Student Catholic Action. “We were invited to Cory and Ninoy’s wedding, did you know that?” Well, that one I certainly didn’t know till today. “Did you go?” I ask. She laughs. “Your dad always said I was the reason we were unable to go,” I don’t catch the reason. I don’t wait to hear it. “Sayang, mom,” I say, in our language.
The Cory my mom remembers was not pretty-pretty, but charming. “She was very fair, and maybe just a little taller than me,” she remembers. Ninoy, my mom says, was from Pampanga. Where Cory was from the melting pot of Tarlac, Ninoy Aquino was pure Pampango (a province in the central Luzon area of the Philippines). “He was quite a looker,” my mom remarks.
I don’t know how we switched stories, but now we’re going further. Like I didn’t know mom went to FEU for high school. I knew Nida Blanca (the late Philippine actress famous for being Marsha to Dolphy’s John in the 1970s) was her classmate, but I thought that was in college. “No. We were members of the cheerleading group,” mom explains. Nida, my mom says, was American mestiza (half American). “But she was such a tomboy,” mom relates. We don’t delve on how she became an actress. Maybe mom should have been an actress. She looked a lot like Tita Duran (Pancho Magalona’s wife) who was also an actress of the 1950s. And then there was that French actress Julie Delpy.
My brother, Verns, was the one who noted the similarity. Mom was the prettiest in her family. Like my dad was the brightest. “Your dad wanted to be a doctor,” she says. But it wasn’t to be, as dad’s family was already putting through college several of his siblings. “He had to work early. We were both working students,” mom now recalls, well placed in the 1950s in her mind. She also tells me now, that she worked five years at Camp Crame, a military base in the Philippines when she was barely 18. “I only stopped when I was pregnant with you. I was always absent.” Of course, with three kids and not yet a day past 25, she would have her hands full of kids. And now there are all 12 of us. Your quintessential Filipino family.
It’s been a long phone call. And mom is not the sort of mother who demonstrated her love for her children by hugging or constantly touching them. She’s not like that. There was a time, early in our phone-relationship, that I would remind her I loved her. She would do the same. These days, she would just say, “O, this is getting long, sige na,” And that was the end of one conversation. That’s my mom, and I love her. Till next time.