Friday, February 3, 2017

Mami Aka Lola May

She came to our family when she was only eighteen or nineteen years old through our relative's agency for obtaining maids or household helpers. She was hired to help my mother take care of my parents' oldest child, my sister.  She was given the nickname Mami for Mommy since she was our lived in nanny or yaya in Tagalog and that name stuck for decades until grandchildren were born, our own children who referred to her as Lola May. Lola stands for grandma in the Philippines. She was referred to most of the time as Lola May until her death and also at times as her original moniker, Mami.

Though she helped took care of all of us six children, I observe that the even numbered children namely the second, fourth and sixth of us siblings were more attached to her when we were young than the odd numbered ones, first, third and fifth. Could it be because my mother was still busy nursing an odd numbered child when an even numbered one arrived and passed on the latter mostly to Mami's care? That might be the case since there are only two years in between the six children, actually only one and half between the eldest and myself the second child.

Mami, to the chagrin of my relative who had the agency for household helpers, imported all her brother and sisters as helpers from her province of Negros Occidental in the southern part of the Philippines, miles away from Malabon where we lived.  She passed them on to my uncles and aunts as nannies or maids or workers in the fish factory my grandmother owned. Mami's mother and some of her siblings were able to put up a nipa house in Caloocan, a nearby town beside Malabon where I lived. On her day off, she would visit her relatives.

I, the second child, was one of those who had strong attachment to Mami. One thing I remember vividly to show how attached I was to Mami was when I would insist on accompanying her when she visited her mother and other siblings in Caloocan.  I would cry and cry until she would just take me along on supposedly her day off. Well little did I know they had a monkey for a pet which they let walk on a sort of narrow catwalk around outside their nipa house in Caloocan.  Of course I was scared but I wanted to be with Mami.  I clung to her skirt as she listened together with the rest of the neighbors to that big radio blaring the dialogue in the soap opera that people in the Philippines at that time referred to as "drama".  That was the only radio in the neighborhood and they purposely and generously let the volume be as high as possible for all to hear.  The whole time I was petrified of the monkey as it walked around that narrow walkway provided for him. No wonder the whole scene stayed with me up to now.

The fourth child in the family, the second eldest brother, I would say was the most attached to Lola May. We referred to this brother as having Toyo or soy sauce in his brain since he had terrible tantrums as a child. He would specially throw these tantrum fits at night.  He would not let Mami out of his sight and he would insist that she slept on the floor beside his bed until he fell asleep.

The sixth and last child, my youngest sister, was the last one that was in the care of Mami. Their bonding was interrupted by the time when Mami fell in love and lived with a security guard who worked in the compound where our house we moved to when I was ten was located. I was in college and out of town when Mami left.  I heard the story of how they had to hide my youngest sister when Mami packed her bags. I could just imagine how sad and heartbroken my youngest sister was. The romance between Mami and the security guard was short lived and when it ended she was back with my family.

All of us eventually grew up and Mami's role in the family was to be our cook and she was really good at it as she was as our nanny or yaya. Her pancit Malabon, a famous Filipino dish and biko, another iconic Filipino sweet delicacy were legendary.

When my father died, there was another person who became very attached and dependent on Mami, my mother. At about that time Mami's name switched to Lola May since we were having children of our own. My mother and Mami were inseparable. When my mother came to the United States to stay with my sister, Mami or Lola May came with her.  After my mother passed away, every year on my mother's birthday, I heard the story that a beautiful bird would appear in the garden and perch on Lola May's shoulder. They said it must be my mother visiting her.

Lola May without my mother to take care of found a lot of free time to go back to and indulge in her love of drama or soap opera.  She loved to watch them in the Filipino TV channels. Her health started deteriorating to the point my youngest sister with whom she was living with could not take care of her. My siblings decided that Lola May was better off staying with my oldest sister's son in the Philippines.

It was a summer day when she left Los Angeles and all the memories she had there especially with my mother. With tears in her eyes, she bid goodbye and we left for the airport.  I was the one who accompanied her on the trip to the Philippines.  I was worried the whole time how I would be taking care of her as she was in a wheelchair and also I had to change her diaper in the middle of the 24 hour flight.  All went well. In fact the passengers just nodded in understanding as I did the dreaded task right while she was in her seat.

I stayed in the Philippines with my brother for a couple more weeks after we arrived.  At that time, the internet was not easily accessible and I had to go to my nephew's house where Lola May was staying which had an internet cafe to send emails to my husband. During this time I would order every morning sago or bubble tea and arroz caldo or chicken porridge.  I could not finish them and I would share them with Lola May.

Lola May was able to have time to be visited by her relatives and friends who were very excited she was back. After only a few months of her arrival in the Philippines Lola May passed away. She was cremated and her ashes is now in an urn on the altar in the house of my brother, the one who insisted she slept beside his bed when he was young. He never let go of that attachment. She is now with him at the altar of his house a place of honor she well deserved.

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