I found this old photo the other day. From left to right, meet Agnes (my mom), Ana (my great-grandmother), Alicia (my grandmother) and Maria (yours truly). I think it was taken when I was around fifteen or sixteen.
It's not often a woman can literally see the generations of women who went before her. I've been keeping this photo close by these past few days, reflecting a lot on each woman in turn, and seeing all sorts of interesting parallels between us that I never saw before.
Lola Anita, as we called my great-grandmother, was an only child. My grandmother is the oldest of three daughters. So is my mother. So am I. We're a family of women, of first-born girls who had a lot of family responsibility put on their shoulders.
Another thing I've realized anew is how extremely blessed I was to be able to know my great-grandmother personally. I remember family visits to Lola Anita, with all of us crowded into her room because she couldn't easily come down the stairs. I remember sitting on her bed, touching her fluffy white hair and her papery soft skin, catching glimpses of her gold teeth when she laughed, and trying to imagine her as the young woman she had been, elegant and dressy, with a different outfit for every day of the year.
Even as a child I was never bored in the company of older people. I would sit for hours and listen to them telling stories.
Lola Anita and my grandmother had especially interesting stories about living in occupied Manila during World War II. Their house was used as a conduit for supplies being brought into the city by guerrillas. One day their house was searched by Japanese soldiers. Only that morning, their garage had been packed to the rafters with bags of rice, which had been taken away in the wee hours. Had the rice still been there, the family would likely have been killed. As it was, Lola Anita found herself stuck with a box of matches the guerrillas had given her. The box was decorated with an image of MacArthur and his famous line, "I shall return." With the Japanese soldiers on her doorstep, not knowing where to hide the matches, she ate them - down to the last stick.
My grandmother was about nine years old then. Her memories of the occupation included unravelling socks for thread ... lying on the roof with her sisters and her father at night to watch war plane dogfights overhead (with Lola Anita trying in vain to make them come down - "You'll all be killed!") ... refusing to eat the pet chicken that had been slaughtered for a special meal, even though she was sick of the cabbage, rice and salted black beans they had to eat every day ... and, in the end, dodging bullets, cannon fire, and dead bodies as the family fled across the city before the advancing American forces.
In my next post...memories of my grandmother, and the love story we never found out about until after she died.