Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tales from the Stairs

When I recall my childhood spent at my fraternal grandmother's house the imposing stairs that greeted anyone that entered the house looms over my memory. It was shiny with banisters on both sides almost a foot wide and it was made of narra with a rich patina. Its steps were not steep and numbering about twenty of them with one serving as a landing in the middle. I would estimate the width of the staircase to be about an adult arms length which frustrated me as a child since I could not reach both banisters as I walked down this stairs. In this post I am recalling childhood tales related to my mother I could not forget that have this stairs as the backdrop.

We lived upstairs of my grandmother's house and my mother stayed practically all day up there.  She was a full time housewife raising a family that grew to a total of six children in the twelve years my family lived there. When I asked my mother why she decided to have many children her answer was "I enjoyed having and raising you all".  I found this hard to believe then since I viewed her life to be boring at this house with her in her duster swaying her latest baby to sleep in her arms as the highlight of her day. She must have indeed relished her role as a mother since she could have instead continued to teach biology in high school which she did unto her first year of marriage but gave up when the first of her six children, my sister, was born.

When I was in high school, a classmate of mine quoted to me something my mother said during the talk she gave to a group of young teenagers attending a cursillo, a popular religious group in the sixties. My classmate said, "Ondes, your mother mentioned that she would not even allow a single fly to touch her children and would watch over them in the duyan or hammock that she swung while driving flies away with a light towel". This impressed my classmate apparently and she wanted me to know how much devoted my mother was to us.

One thing my mother loved doing during our first day of school was to make sure that my sister's and my hair were properly combed and usually bedecked with a large ribbon for that day. I remember this particular incident during one of this first day of school. She had just dipped a comb in a glass of water and was parting my hair to one side while my youngest brother who must have been two years old at that time was marching while singing his favorite song.  At the corner of my eye while my mother was combing my hair I saw him put one compartment of the three tiered metal lunch pail (piyambiera) on his head to simulate a soldier's hat and started marching around the house and then towards the top of the stairs with his eyes covered by the pail.  Before we knew it, we saw him rolling down the stairs and my mother screaming in horror.  The landing did not stop his travel down the stairs.  Fortunately my father was sitting in the easy chair in front of the house and heard my mother's voice and caught my brother as he rolled from the last step.

The house had another set of stairs made of white marble before you get to the main door of the house. The house had to be raised from the ground since we lived by the Malabon River which could overflow during heavy rain.  It had a wide landing at the top with a corner big enough for a large easy chair to be placed. My grandmother loved to spend her afternoon in this easy chair looking at what was going on in the fish sauce factory her family owned which was located on the same grounds as her house. When the drivers of the fish sauce delivery trucks came back to Malabon from their travel around the country, they would sometimes come and visit my grandmother. A memorable incident that I remember was when my mother panicking ran down the stairs from our living quarters into the group of drivers visiting my grandmother for help. My oldest brother swallowed a large hard candy and was choking. Somebody did dislodge it and one could see a red color liquid coming out with the hard candy which my mother was so worried was blood.  I remember one of the drivers, Mang Ico, assuring her it was just the dye from the red hard candy my brother swallowed.

These two incidents with the stairs as a backdrop were funny to recall now and which I and my siblings loved to tell among ourselves and our own children once in a while. However, one particular memorable thing I remember was more poignant and sad. I remember my mother going up the stairs sobbing after she answered a phone call at the adjoining office by the house, telling her that one of my uncles, her brother, had a nervous breakdown. I remember her saying," He just lost his mind".  My uncle was single and lived with his other sisters who happened to be single too with my maternal grandmother at their house in Quezon City. His ambition to be recognized and allowed to be one of the council's candidates was not fulfilled and he got despondent. He fortunately recovered after a short stay in a place in Mandaluyong.

In a way the stairs was a metaphor for the life I witnessed especially with regards to my mother in my grandmother's house. It has its ups and downs, funny and sad tales and at its center the heart of a loving, caring mother whose goal was to protect her children from any harm including a tiny fly to touch them.

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