Always on my mind

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - The Philippine Star
Always on my mind

One of the biggest changes in my life when Candida passed on — nine months ago — was my non-negotiable weekend. When she was still alive, she owned all my Saturdays and Sundays; those days were exclusively reserved for her by the city dweller in me.

No big weekend event in Manila mattered enough when going home was the order of the day to be with my mother. Always, always, those weekends were akin to going to Disneyland because my mother was my ultimate happy place, my happy pill, my happiness.

There was a jamboree in my heart when I traveled from Makati to Gulod on Saturday morning. My heart leaped out of my chest when I saw her waiting by the veranda of our humble home in her duster — with a smile as open as the sky, her face dusted with Johnson’s Baby Powder, her lips tinted with red lipistik.

I would simply melt in her arms. I miss the warmth of her embrace. It was in that embrace that I found joy and peace rolled into one. She barely cared about my pasalubong, though she would do a double take when she saw me alighting with a box of Costa Brava caramel cake. She made me feel that, modesty aside, I was the most important pasalubong for her — the only member of the family who worked in the city, since 1995.

From the time video calls became a norm, my mother would always call to check on me. Every day. And every day that we were huddled on a video call, I would always ask her to pose for a screenshot. She would always give me the biggest smile and, many times, a wacky shot. I have thousands of those screenshots on my phone. Not a day passes by without me looking at those pictures. I relive the memories. I even remember what we talked about in every frame.

When I am done looking at the pictures, I turn to my online journal. To read my journal is to relive the memories of Candida, to retain the patina of her love. I have written many entries in my journal and the things I wrote always bring me closer to her. Like this entry that I wrote on Feb. 25, 2022 (Friday):


Excited na ang Nanay na uuwi na ako bukas sa Gulod. Sampung araw na kaming ‘di nagkikita. Araw-araw kaming magka-video call.

Excited na rin akong makita siya. Nanay ang Energizer Bunny. Siya ang Pasko. Siya ang okasyon ng buhay. Siya ang buhay ko.

Nasa Gulod ang Nanay. Nasa Makati ako. Ang may kulang-kulang na 50 km. na layo namin sa isa’t-isa ay pinaglalapit ng tawag, ng tawanan, ng pagmamahal.

Parang doktor ang nanay — pinagagaling nya ang mga dalahin ng dibdib. Ngiti nya ang Biogesic ng nilalagnat na diwa. Halakhak niya ang Jovia na pumapawi ng lungkot. Himig niya ang Rivotril, kinakalma ang ligalig ng puso hanggang makatulog ako. Nanay ang gamot sa lahat.

Piyesta ang pakiramdam kapag pauwi ako sa Nanay. Magpapahanap siya bukas ng paborito kong matatabang ayungin, isasalab sa parilya, ihahain sa mesa.

Ang sawsawan ay nakikinita-kinita ko na: patis, kalamansi, sili. Sa sarap ng pagkain, yung double chin ko ay baka maging tatlo na. Pihado, taas ang paa ko sa silya habang hinihipan ang umuusok na kanin. Sa gilid ng mesa ay minatamis na saba.

Ang Nanay ang banda ng musiko kapag umuwi ako. Magiliw. Malambing. Masaya.

Ako ang majorette. Handa na ang baton.

Every time I was home for the weekend, Candida pampered me with love. I miss seeing the joy on her face as she led me to the kitchen where her freshly cooked, piping-hot batchoy Tagalog was waiting. Areglado lahat. Including patis with sili and calamansi and ripe latundan or sweetened saba.

(Always, always coming home is the hardest part ever since my brothers and I became total orphans. The gnawing feeling of coming home without Candida waiting for me is a struggle. The taste of home is missed because the food on the table all of a sudden taste differently. Even if the house is well-lighted, the brightest bulb is missing. No wonder mothers are said to be the ilaw ng tahanan (light of the home); when they’re gone, a certain kind of melancholy envelops the house no matter how many 100-watt light bulbs are on. There’s a Tagalog word for that feeling: mapanglaw.)

But memories are powerful; they are their own life. In moments when I feel the gloom, I bank on memories. I remember the sweet times of coming home to Candida on weekends. If I arrived home way past lunchtime or dinnertime, she would join me at the dining table and regale me with the updates about the neighborhood — our Marites moments.

When I would be finished eating, she would open the ref, unload the food she saved for me. The ice cream tubs in the freezer did not contain ice cream but ulam. Like a container of frozen hamonado, which was cooked on Wednesday; a tub of paksiw na pata with tahure and banana blossom, the food she prepared on Thursday; or a big tub of sinigang na baka, which was the family lunch on Friday.

My mother never failed to save me my share. That was classic Candida — every member of the family, whether or not my married brothers had their own food on their table, would have their own share of the fare she prepared.

The kitchen was her happy place because that was where she felt most useful. She would feed me with a fare only found at home. Her love language was sumptuous food — cooking the family’s favorite dishes only her kitchen wizardry could create. It was always a magical, mouthwatering experience. She proved that simple homecooked meal was better than any Michelin-starred fare.

And when I told her some of my life’s challenges, her embrace was comforting, insulating, nurturing. My concerns became minuscule when Candida opened her mouth to give me advice. She had the ability to simplify the complex and complicated things. The mundane became meaningful in her eyes.

I miss kissing her on a weekend and updating her about the going-ons in my life in the concrete jungle. She was always happy to listen, with childlike queries. She was never remiss in reminding me to keep my feet on the ground, believing that humility was life’s own coveted prize.

Now, I am most introspective on weekends, reliving memories that are beautiful and inspiring.

I miss her every day — extraordinarily so on weekends. *

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