Dear Charlie and Jack,

(I know this is late but) For Mother’s Day, I thought I would tell you about my mother, your Lola.

Yes, your Lola. The one who cooks your favorite sabaw (misua), slices your carrots and broccoli and pipino and mixes them with just the right amount of salt and white suka. Your Lola who worries when you’re in the backyard without shoes, is convinced that you will step on a rusty nail. Your Lola who chases you when you run around without your underwear, warns you that snakes would crawl up your legs and bite your little pakoykoy. Your Lola who frets when she sees you two punching and kicking each other. Your Lola whose constant refrain is, “Where’s Charlie? Who’s watching Jack? Watch them or somebody might kidnap them!”

IMG_7523(Your Lola being fitted for a zipline harness at Dahilayan, May 2014)

You think your Lola is no fun? Let me tell you a little story about your Lola.

A long time ago, when your Lola was Charlie’s age, she was her Nanay’s constant companion. Every morning, her Nanay would hold your Lola’s hand and together they would weave through the chaos of the open market in Quiapo, Manila to go to the Black Nazarene Church. “Never let go of my hand or else…” her Nanay would tell your Lola the moment they stepped out of their house.

(Let me pause right here to give you a little background. Like today, Quiapo then was the king of all open markets. If anybody needed herbal potions to make somebody fall in love with them, or if they needed kilos of crystal deodorant, or whatever, Quiapo was their best bet. (See link for info on Quiapo church.

Your Lola’s Nanay had a drawn out daily church ritual. First, she would make the sign of the cross at the church entrance and then proceed to kneel her way to the altar while saying her rosary prayers. Then she would light her candles, offer up prayers for her departed loved ones, and pray some more. The whole process took a long time. But your Lola didn’t mind. She enjoyed having the time to sit in a dark corner of the church while looking around for girls her age. When she spotted one, she would sidle up next to the unsuspecting girl and pinch the girl’s arm as hard as she could. Before the girl could respond in any way, your Lola would bolt away with a grin and disappear in the church shadows. Only the echo of the girl’s howling would remain. That was the thing your Lola loved to do and she enjoyed every pinch she meted out.

One day, while your Lola and her Nanay were weaving through the chaos of the Quiapo open market, your Lola saw a plump girl standing next to a stall of herbs and potions. Your Lola’s palms and fingers itched. She knew she was not supposed to go off on her own while out in the open market but she just could not let that one girl get away. She agonized over the decision for a few seconds…and then decided to let go of her Nanay’s hand for the first time.

As soon as she did, the crowd swallowed her. Strangers swirled around her, pushed her this way and that. All she could see were floral skirts and dusty legs and rubber slippered feet and swinging baskets full of vegetables. She couldn’t breathe. She did the only thing that felt right to do: she bawled.

A stranger took pity on her, grabbed her hand. and started shouting if anybody was missing a child. It felt like forever but your Lola was eventually reunited with her Nanay who then pinched your Lola’s arm for letting go and venturing out on her own. Your Lola didn’t even feel the pain of the pinch. She was just glad to see her Nanay again and she was really sorry for what she had done. After that, she never dared stray away from her Nanay ever again. She also stopped pinching girls.

Why do I tell you this story?  What does it matter, you ask?  True, maybe this particular story is not much of a story to the rest of the world- nothing earth shattering happens, there is neither a great lesson learned or mystery solved, it’s just about a little girl who lets go of her mother’s hand.


I tell you this story because this is your Lola’s earliest and most vivid childhood memory. Over sixty years have passed since and even now your Lola still remembers the moment of letting go, the terror, the remorse, as clearly as if everything just happened yesterday. Time erases a lot of memories which is why it’s good to tell, listen to, and write about these stories while we still can.

I tell you this story because I want you to know how your Lola was like when she was five and, like you, wandered around, did naughty things, and learned her lessons.

I tell you this story simply because this is a story about your Lola.  Your Lola who is inescapably part of you.  And in the end, that’s why it matters.