My parents always told me that it takes a village to raise a child. Many people I know disagree, saying that it only takes the dedication of a mother and a father. However I agree with my parents. I am the product of a village raising a child, and a big part of that village were my grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles. (For the sake of tradition and my heritage and respect for them, they were/are my Lolas and Lolos.)
Whether by blood or by extension, I have my elders to thank for my near obsession with history, respect for my elders, patience with the elderly, and for some part, my writing. It may revolve around the fact that my grandparents survived a very hardcore era in history: World War II. My maternal grandfather escaped the Bataan Death March, while my godfather’s dad had to march and live through the entire nightmare.
My paternal grandfather, along with his brothers, witnessed the murder of their cousin when the Japanese took over Manila. My paternal grandmother and her sisters were part of the Guerrilla warfare in the mountains of the Philippines. Even some of my extended grandparents participated in the same war but on the European front. George Weidhaas practically adopted my family into his and he and his wife took care of me when my parents worked late. He was part of the concentration camp liberation team and was a prison guard and escort during the Nuremberg Trials after the War.
My elders reinforced virtues in me that my parents tried and (may have) failed to instill. I remember when I was younger, I struggled to sit still for long periods of time and listen to lectures/sermons/stories. That’s when my family started telling me stories of their past. My paternal Lola told me some of her adventures as a student at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and showed me pictures and souvenirs from her students during her tenure as a biochemistry professor at the University of Santo Tomas (where my Papa is currently teaching, along with my uncle, and where my three younger cousins are attending for medicine). She would always stop her story on a cliff-hanger just to make me wait for the next history telling, extending and expanding my virtue of patience.
George targeted my acceptance of others, along with my understanding of American culture(s), as he patiently told me what he encountered in Germany and France, about the little curly blonde haired four-year-old German girl he gave chocolates to, how Nazi SS guard turn prisoner would try to bribe him with cigarettes and silver for news about his family, and how Nazi embossed items like dishes, cups, and silverware would be found in the hands of American soldiers as “souvenirs” to pass down to their kids. He would tell me stories about his upbringing and how he met his wife, Eleanor, while I was learning how to make fresh blueberry muffins in the kitchen with Eleanor, while bird watching off their deck, or during commercials of episodes of Andy Griffith.
My Lolo Eding took forever to tell me his past of living on the island of Corregidor before the World War II and being an extremely young ship captain. How he would swim across Manila Bay from Corregidor to Bataan or to Manila, and how he really could swim like a fish. He told me the reasons behind his undying love for Lola Goyang, and what made him fall for her. He even expressed his regrets of leaving his mother and brother behind on Corregidor and never having gone back to the small tadpole-shaped island after the War. I guess he’s the biggest reasons why I went to the island when I did. He was the one person who kept telling me that I was “too young” to hear about his past, and I would try to nag him every time I saw him to tell me “a story”. Only to have him redirect me to a different topic or to have me run an errand. I’m fortunate to have heard his history before he passed.
My Lolas and Lolos told me stories of their childhood and young adulthood, trying to keep me entertained and occupied while other things happened around me. One story after the another only fueled my hunger for more knowledge of how they lived. My Lola Naty would never tell me stories about herself. She always wanted to talk about the Mangyans (an indigenous Filipino tribe on the island of Mindoro) and how they’ve lived and are living. It took my Lola Emy (paternal grandmother, her sister) years to approve my going to Mindoro to experience the Mangyans for myself. Even then, she wouldn’t let me go unless I had both parents with me, who had gone up to the Mangyan village before in the 1970s.
Lola Naty would tell me my parents’ adventures (as did he) visiting the village. How he had drank straight from the mountain spring before doing a rough filter to get the little fish out of the water. My mom would retell her stories of how the villagers stared at my mom using shampoo and soap while bathing in the river. I got to witness my Lola Naty speaking in not just Tagalog (the Philippine National Language) but also in Castilla (Old Spanish from Colonial Spain) and Mangyan, and I can’t forget the feeling of being completely out of shape at the ripe age of 15 as she (in her late 60’s) beat my parents and me in climbing the mountain, chatting to villagers along the way , and … still have full control of her breathing. My dad and I were fighting acid reflux and labored breathing halfway up to the first hut!
Lola Mina (another of my paternal Lola’s sisters) is the one to really sit and study. She’s the chef of the family, and you’ll always find her outside in the dirty kitchen or in the indoor kitchen of the old house in Naic, Cavite, Philippines. It’s because of her that the old house is missed and cherished by many people in the family and extended family. My godfather would tell his kids stories about “the food in Naic” with both him and my Papa drooling. The kids never understood it and would laugh. One of them, however, got to eat Lola Mina’s feast(s) and now understand why our dads would reminisce about the meals. My husband got to taste it during our honeymoon, as we celebrated Lola Goyang’s (another sister) 92nd birthday this May (2014), and he understands why I was so excited to go to Naic. Lola Mina doesn’t follow a cookbook, and everything she prepares is from recipes passed down from generation to generation. Thanks to her, I have an arsenal of recipes stored in my head, and I learned how to make a few things that my parents couldn’t get right when they first tried mimicking her cooking. However, for some reason, when I do try to cook dishes the way she would, my product is still not as good as when Lola Mina prepares it…. *sighs*
My Lolos and Lolas all had their bouts with acceptance, temptations, and other challenges that they used in their stories to teach me a lesson, a moral, and though it may seem as if I’ve forgotten a lot of them, as their years in this life are shrinking, memories come flooding in for me at the most perfect of timings. Their histories will never leave me, and I’ll tell their stories to my children. Without my elders, I would probably not have such a unique relationship with history and storytelling or with them.
Day 2 of my 30 Days of Thanksgiving, I’m extremely grateful for my time with my grandparents (blood or extended). There’s so many more individuals I’d love to talk about, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to publish this in time or do them justice.
Lolas: Emerita (paternal), Emma (maternal, RIP), Goyang, Mina, Paula (RIP), Eva, “Naty” (RIP), Eleanor (extended, RIP), “Charing”, Connie, Helena, Christina, and list goes on.
Lolos: Perpetuo “Jun” (paternal), “Pepot” (maternal, RIP), “Eding” (RIP), “Tinoy” (RIP), George (extended, RIP), Mario (RIP), “Ming” (RIP), and the list goes on.