Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Family That Plays Together Stays Together

A Family That Plays Together Stays Together

The mantra in the poster above is patterned after the slogan with the more serious message, "The Family That Prays Together Stays Together". This sacred version was popularly used in the Philippines in the sixties and even decades later to motivate Filipinos to pray the rosary together every night.

My late mother heeded this message. In the eighties when I went home to visit my ailing father I remember praying part of the rosary kneeling on the hard marble floor every night with my two year old daughter. Thank God there were decades of the rosary when we could sit. We all gathered as a family, with some half asleep, in front of the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in our living room with my mother with her hair in rollers and cooling herself with a pamaypay or fan leading the rosary.

I remember after saying this form of prayer where you repeat the Hail Mary's over and over again we would then get up and we, the younger members, would then go to place my mother's hand on our forehead, a traditional gesture of respect for our elders in the Philippines called mano (hand).  We used this simple act as a form of greeting for our elders and also after Mass and prayers. During my visit, my father who was terminally ill of liver cancer was bedridden.  I remember a picture taken of my young daughter putting his hand on her forehead while my father was lying in bed after the rosary was said.

One more thing that kept our family together at certain times was playing mahjong.  Last week, I finally was able to play it with the Mahjong Group of an international club I just joined. Even though I have not played this game in decades, I actually remembered how to play it.  Mahjong is one of the most popular parlor games in the Philippines which can turn into a high stakes game played in some peoples homes.

At our house we did not pay for pesos but for small change, single centavos. We just enjoyed winning and shouting Mahjong victoriously when we had the right combinations especially those which gave the most points.  My mother was the expert when it came to counting the so called flowers and the assigned points to the more challenging combinations like the escalera or consecutive tiles of the same suit or siete pares or seven pairs.

I remember one particular summer, when we played mahjong in my brother's room every weekday after lunch.  He was the only sibling who did not have to sleep with another one and his air conditioned room could easily accommodate the card table where the mahjong tiles were set up into four double layered walls which the players picked from. We took turns picking a tile and throwing the unwanted one in the center space on the table. We arrange the tiles into combinations that fit what we had on hand sometimes aiming for ambitious ones. One could hear us occasionally shout the familiar words pung, chiao, cang during the game and the triumphant word Mahjong when one of us complete the winning combination.

Tables have been designed to have drawers for money and later on for the snacks served.  In some households, the players hardly got up and stayed in their seats the whole day.  Mahjong was that addictive.  In our case since we had a big family, we took turns and in between turns we partook of the snacks.  We of course had Pepsi over ice and if I remember right, fried hot dogs on toasted bread. With catsup of course. I am salivating just recalling this. I also recall, we also had greasy garlic toasted peanuts to snack on which we bought from a vendor at a nearby corner from our house.

My mother as I mentioned was the one who calculated the points and she stayed through all the games to perform this task.  When I recently played mahjong this past week after so many years, as I heard the mahjong tiles being shuffled on the table I could not help but be reminded of my mother's eager face as she played and her joy when she picked the tile to complete her combination especially if it was an ambitious one.  She would triumphantly place the tiles down as she shouted Mahjong to prove to us she got the winning tile and the correct line of tiles. Then she began the count of the points which she was an expert of.

I would admit these memories made me pretty homesick for home especially my late mother while I played this game recently. This homesickness stayed with me for days. They were beautiful wistful memories. This game mahjong did keep us together that one particular summer.

I could hardly wait to look for my mahjong set I have somewhere in our basement and play it with my own family now.  I have a lot to learn of the game especially how to count the points which my loving late mother enthusiastically did. I am looking forward to making memories as happy as those I had during that one memorable summer.

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