Our grandmother, whom we call “Nanay,” is turning 92. She has become forgetful and slower in her movements. There is now a cane in her hand where there used to be gardening tools. She has started looking for Tatay, my grandfather, who died 19 years ago. And sometimes she looks at us for a long time before she can decide what name she should call us.
My lola is the Ursula Iguaran of our family. She has outlived some of her children, lived through World War II, and has witnessed the leaps of technology—from black-and-white photos, her family having the first television set in the neighborhood, mobile phones to iPads. And like the character in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, her quiet strength has held our family together in the middle of the chaos that is life.
I’m Nanay’s girl. I grew up with her. When I was a child, I shared a bed with her. She told me stories every night: of how she wished to become a nurse during the war but was forbidden by her father and so became a teacher instead; of how her family used to run a small soda company even
before the big brands came; of the morning cartoons I asked her to watch every day because my being in school prevented me from watching them; of how her students still remembered to give her presents and cards during special occasions.
These stories fed my imagination every night; like a cartoon character with a dream cloud constantly above her head, I learned to imagine, vividly, scenes from the 1940s—of a clean Pasig river on which Nanay’s family used to travel, of a young Nanay who chased after ducks and chickens in their backyard.
I don’t remember the reason, but maybe it was because I was afraid of the dark, why every night, after the stories were over, I would ask Nanay to hold my hand as I drifted off to sleep. She did, very tightly. And although I would wake up in the morning with her hand no longer in mine, I always woke up feeling loved and secure, and maybe even a little braver each time.
Nanay was always like that—selfless even in her little ways. She gave me all of her stories and held out her hand every time I asked.
A lot of me is because of her. My life has revolved around stories. I grew up loving reading and writing. In college I had this dream of becoming a teacher like her—a dream that came true last year as I taught my first batch of students. And every time life gets in the way, I would always remember Nanay and her strong faith, and how she always dealt with life with a smile on her face.
Nanay is turning 92. My sister, who is in college, spends most of her days away from the house. I’ve lived in the city since I started working and only come home a few days in a year. Sometimes, I feel a pang in my chest knowing that Nanay is left alone at home on most days. The house, which used to be the home for our family, has become an empty space, leaving only traces of what once was, before Tatay died, before my parents separated, before my mom and my brother went to the United States, before I started working, before my sister started college. But Nanay is still there, quietly sitting or walking around the house, still trying to give warmth to every empty space, preparing for the days when we come home. And she has succeeded, because despite everything, despite the empty spaces, home still feels like home.
Nanay is turning 92. Sometimes we forget this. Sometimes we get tired of the questions that she asks over and over—and then it is she who says, Sorry, I’ve forgotten. You know, I’ve gotten old.
And I am writing this because I don’t want to forget—especially during times when I no longer want to go home, or when I get tired of answering the same questions from her over and over—that Nanay is my first “shero.”
Nanay, my “shero,” taught me that a woman can be both soft and strong, can both arrange flowers and hold a family together. She taught me that a woman can dream of big things and make them come true. She taught me that it is okay to say sorry but that one has to fight the good fight throughout life. But most of all, she taught me about a
woman’s worth and how a woman deserves to be loved—selflessly, like how she gave me her hand every night, like how she gave me all of her stories, like how, at 92, she is still giving whatever fire there is left inside of her to give warmth to the home she built.
Originally published at Inquirer