An Extraordinary Woman...That I Am Not

I have published this before, in fact it was last year that I did so, on January 23, 2011. I can't remember what prompted me to write this aside from the obvious. I think I may have been longing for perfection. I am not doing that now. I know I can never be my mother. I think this time it is from melancholy; from the realization that I think I really stink at motherhood and being a wife and to remind myself to keep trying.

Elma, The Mother Hen. Pen and Ink on 9"x12" Bristol Board.

Dedicated To My Brothers and Sisters, Nieces, Nephew and my Son and Daughter:

There she is, I see her now. She is reading. She peers through her reading glasses and later in life, through a magnifying glass. She is reading National Geographic.

My mother read history books, detective stories, murder investigations, romance magazines, Life, Time, Newsweek, Reader's Digest, House Beautiful... she read comic books., biographies, poetry, short stories, the classics, the philosophers. She also read the newspapers even when they were used to wrap goods from the market. As she unfolded the newspapers used by vendors to wrap vegetables and meats, she read the wrapping paper, a trait my brothers and I learned, sometimes to the detriment of fresh produce and our chores. The afternoon was her favorite time of the day, after she had labored on her chores from the break of dawn until lunch was served. She would have cooked breakfast, gone to the market, done laundry or sew, solved problems, helped my father in the studio, cooked lunch, served lunch... she was a most industrious woman. At around two o'clock in the afternoon, she sat in her favorite spot in the covered patio directly outside the dining room and kitchen. She labored quietly, although she hardly complained, I knew she was not really settled on being a housewife.

My Mother was many things to many people.

The Banana Grove at Movie Snap.

She was a fascinating woman with a very interesting outlook and philosophy. Her life was not very easy, almost tragic. She was born to a wealthy family but when my grandmother died, my grandfather remarried and my mother and her older sister were sent to live with relatives. The relatives treated them like help and did not send them to school. My mother was only ten years old. She never lost her courage nor her dignity. Never pretentious, she valued industry, hard work, self-reliance and the formal education that she was denied. This is also why my mother treated our help with care and love. She encouraged them to go to school and if they wanted, to college.

My mother was a beautiful woman. She had a very dignified look about her.

There she is! Reading.

One afternoon, I sat down beside her and asked her if she was happy. She gave me a lengthy discourse on happiness. For someone who was did not go to school, she was a learned woman. She self studied philosophy, history, politics, art, sciences and the learned many trades. She was a skillful dressmaker and she fluently and eloquently spoke English, Spanish and several Philippine languages. When I complained about a friend who turned out to be a traitor, she cited Aristotle and discussed amity and friendship, then told me to be a better judge of character. She abhorred gossip.

She was stoic. She did not announce her suffering. I never heard her complain.

The evil of humanity. This drawing depicted some scenes my mother described during the Japanese occupation.
The atrocities they committed during the war were too painful for her to recall. I could not draw some of the scenes. They made me cry.

She talked about art and kitsch. She once surprised me when she mentioned that she loved Jan Van Eyk and discussed the Marriage of Arnolfini. I was shocked! She liked Pieter Breughel and Bosch and preferred Michelangelo and the Hudson River painters' realistic style to Picasso's later abstract style; how she saw Gaudi's designs as gaudy and discussed Dali's surrealistic style. Most of all I was very surprised how she knew the biographies of the masters from Fra Angelico to El Greco to Picasso. She knew so much history. How could she have learned it all? She discussed the holocaust, the Japanese occupation of our country. She told us about her experiences during the war. She talked about war and the liberation of our country by the Americans. She told us about our ancestors, her parents and most especially my grandmother.

Some oil paintings inspired by my mother. She told me that going to art school would limit my potential. She thought I would be happier with a profession that stimulated my intellectual ability and served people at the same time. "You are very sociable, you enjoy being with people, and you can always paint and draw if you wanted to do so." she said. I think, she just did not want me to be financially dependent on my sisters and brothers. Plus she said, I gave away things.

One day she told me: "Learn something that will make you a part of the solution and improve humanity." I told her I can do that with being a street sweeper or laundry woman, thereupon she replied, "if it will make you happy, so be it. Is that what you want to be?"She was very strict.

She was frugal and unpretentious, dressed simply, yet looked elegant.

She expected all of us to be polite and courteous, to be respectful especially of the poor and down-trodden. She told us that the true measure of success is not how we achieve greatness but how we face adversity. She reminded all of us never to abandon those we love. She nurtured that spirit since we were young. She told us that our wealth and success are meaningless if someone we loved was left behind and faltering. She taught us the value of quiet altruism. She thought it rather scandalous to do good deeds and help others and then announce it to the whole world.

She was spiritual. When I was a little girl, she lightheartedly called me an "herejes" because I refused to go to church or kneel. She was religious but forbade us to kiss the cross because it was full of germs.

The Bamboo Grove Along Earl Caroll Avenue.

She was generous and hospitable. She was a true example of altruism. She provided refuge to the Aetas and pygmies who descended from the mountains to the cities to beg and were stoned by children because they looked different. She encouraged them to barter by bringing herbs and plants while she gave them provisions. She told us that allowed them to be equal, not beggars and in long term deals with those in need, it is best to give them the ability to retain their dignity and provide them the opportunity to self-sufficiency. She taught me that charity and welfare have a good purpose but can also create divisions and classes. If you want your help to last, give someone the opportunity to be self-sufficient. When neighbors came to ask for vegetables, she would give it to them first. When they came back, she gave them cuttings and seedlings to plant along with the vegetables and fruits. If they kept coming back, she asked them to pay the measly amount of ten centavos. When my husband asked why she charged so little, she explained that it was purely symbolic, that people should stop expecting things in life for free and entitlements are usually paid by some one's toil.

Anomie depicts a lot of lessons she imparted.

One day she scolded me for considering how some beggars may be pretending. She told me either to give alms or not at all, but not to think such matter. She said that no man would stoop so low so as to receive measly tokens. Embarrassed, I got out of the car and gave the beggar twenty pesos.

She taught me about phototroprism.

She cooked and shared food with the neighbors. She was a very good cook. Even when photographing parties and celebrations with food, my father did not eat at the events, he always went home to eat my mother's cooking.

My father respected and loved my mother dearly. It was very obvious.

My mother and father opened our house to battered women for refuge, sometimes in the middle of the night. Mother despised the men who beat their wives and parents who slapped and beat their children. She advised the women to be strong , to gain financial independence from their husbands. I don't know how she handled that well, there is no divorce in the Philippines and many women are trapped in abusive relationships, and the men know it. She despised philanderers. She told us to be well versed in laws no matter where we lived.

Planting fruit trees (left) and our neighbor who beat his wife.

Mother knew a lot about herbs and plants. She treated us with herbal medicine, prayer and science. She had a plant hospital where she cared for ailing plants. She recycled and composted. We hardly had any garbage. She did not buy many useless things. Our house hardly had any decorations, kitschy stuff or "nick knacks." We had pictures and original paintings on the walls, our diplomas in the family room, some wood carvings and books and magazines, music boxes. That's all.

Moleskine drawings depicting scenes in my mother's garden.

She played hide and seek with us when we were little. We played baseball and she ran around the bases. She cut out papers and made paper dolls. She sewed dresses for our dolls.

She spent a lot of time in the garden. She converted our bare plots to a jungle in a couple of years. Our house was barely visible from the street. She knew every plant and tree and how they were propagated. She planted four mango trees, a dozen coconut trees, avocado, santol, star apple, trees, sugarcane, papaya, banana, cassava, sweet potatoes, peppers, roses, margaritas, orchids, cacti, elephant tusks, corn... She made us cling to her every time she planted a fruit tree. She said it would make the tree bear fruits in abundance. We smiled and did it, knowing that everything she touched grew, thanks to the rich volcanic soil too.

My self-portrait in my mother's garden.

She was very funny. She laughed a lot. She sang songs to us. She told us jokes and made us laugh. She played with us, got down on her knees sometimes and joined us in our blanket tents. She covered herself with sheets and pretended to be a ghost.

Our house was very noisy. There were so many discussions going on and pockets of activities everywhere. Arts and crafts was a part of our lives. We sang songs, learned dance steps, studied vocabulary as much as poetry. Mother played with words. She made up words and she told us stories using the word substitutions. We were to follow the story with the new words. We had family gatherings were we recited poetry, read passages and short stories. My siblings and I relished these moments. There was so much discussion and argument and even the youngest of us were allowed to speak and be heard. As much as we respected our parents they did not expect us to accept edicts unquestioningly. We did not have a lot of money but my mother and father managed to send all of us children to the best universities in the country. My parents always reminded us that wealth was temporary but knowledge is forever. I think the happiest moments in their lives were during graduations when we received our diplomas with recognition. I did not have honors in college but my brothers and sisters gave them enough cause for celebration. I think when my younger sister graduated from medical school, they must have been very happy. I learned a lot from school but the greatest thing I learned from my parents, they raised us to be critical thinkers.

The acacia lined Libertad Street (left) and the house where I spent my teenage years (right).

She told us to always celebrate our birthdays, to give thanks for life and celebrate those we love.

When my cousin Elmo and my aunt (my mother's only sister) came to visit and gave us a hen, we named the chicken Elma. She would have provided us a good meal but mother thought it best to raise her and give us eggs and chickens. I don't remember my mother ever buying chickens from the market. For years Elma and her chickens gave us eggs and and chickens. I learned how to slaughter a chicken, clean and dress it. It taught me to appreciate the proper value of food and eat just enough.

My children only met my parents once, when my husband and I brought them home to be baptized. I will cherish that picture in my memory of my three year old son talking to my father who then just had a stroke and my mother holding my one year old daughter sound asleep on her lap, in Mother's favorite spot in the patio.

My mother was honest, sometimes brutally. When I told her that I moved to Texas to find a job and to plan my wedding with my boyfriend, she cried over the phone. She asked where I was staying and when she found out that I was staying with my boyfriend she did not hide her displeasure. After our conversation, I roused my boyfriend who was sleeping in the couch and told him "Wake up! Mother said we have to get married today." We did. I called my mother back after the civil ceremony. I thought she would be happy. She said "Well, you're not really married. You still have to get married in church." For a daughter who grew up defiant and disobedient, I did everything she asked. I did not have the heart to make her sad.

My husband and I went home to my parents and we got married in church. It was humid and The Viking was perspiring profusely when we arrived at my childhood home after a total of twenty-four hours of flying. My mother was sitting in her favorite spot. I introduced her to my husband. Without arising, she smiled as she looked at him and said "You don't have much hair."

My mother loved my husband and she was pleased that I married a good man. She said "He is a good man. You must love him and serve him." I opened my mouth to protest and went on a tirade about subservience and equality. She said "Love has nothing to do with equality." She continued as she urged me to look at my husband from afar. "Look at him" she said. "He loves you very much and will do anything to make you happy." I asked her how sure she was of that. She replied, "He's the only man I know who was awakened from a nap and told to get dressed and get married right away and he obliged."

She was always right.

I miss my mother.

(P.S. My husband and I are celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary in May.)

In my Mother's Garden

Mother's Garden
She used every available space
for planting leaving narrow curved paths.
For years I, my Father, five sisters and two brothers
and even the maids
all took refuge in her garden,
verdant with leaves and fruits.
Its canopy shaded us from
the hot tropical sun
and cooled the breeze that set
the tone for lively fiery discussions
and debates ranging from history,
geography, arts, literature, education
and whether my lipstick was too red.
When she came to join us
in the canopied swing
it was perfect bliss.


dosankodebbie said...

What a lovely tribute to your mother. My mother passed away a long time ago, and so did my husband's mother, but I was just about to start on designing Mother's Day cards when I read this post. You've given lots to think about.

Rick Forrestal said...

A wonderful post . . . and a fitting tribute to your mother, your family, your values.

This pen/ink drawing should be hanging somewhere special in your home.
And a 26-year anniversary should be celebrated long and hard. Great job you two.

Andrew Finnie said...

Whaoa Ces, how beautiful....

You know, I have someone waiting for me and should go, but I just wanted to say that, as you see your mother with your eyes, I am sure that others see yourself in much the same way - as a good woman, unafraid of anything, bringing joy to others and making your way through the world in the best way you can.

We never see the truth about ourselves - only others can do that

Andrew Finnie said...

be back in a day or two

martinealison said...

Ma chère ces, j'ai lu et relu plusieurs fois cette magnifique hommage que tu as fait à ta maman... j'en suis encore toute bouleversée.
Ce fut une belle et généreuse femme... une femme belle.
Tu peux être fière d'elle et je sais que ton anniversaire de mariage sera aussi une célébration particulière...
Je te fais de gros bisous... tes dessins sont si beaux.

Steve E said...

As I finished reading in an entranced state these words, and opened up the drawings and paintings, one thought alone came to me--I wanted more. When--so close--at the top--all those headings/links--is MORE! A wealth of your life-story, your work and your art you have left.

Respectfully admiring it all,
thank you.
Steve in Naples

Steve E said...

Double-dip allowed?

Anna and I celebrate 21 years in May and we each Gemini on top of that!
Peace upon your Anniversary #26

Jack Foster said...

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Ces for an inspiring post. You have so unselfishly shared your artwork and your heart with us! Wonderful tribute to your beautiful mom and to all your loved ones! God bless.

k.h.whitaker said...

She sounds like an incredible woman Ces. I could feel your love for her as I read this. I love the part about your husband being awoken from a nap to get married. And here you are about to celebrate 26 years. My husband and I celebrated 26 years in January. Thank you for sharing this Ces. :)


Bella Sinclair said...

The love of literature, playing in tents, wisdom, charity, generosity, intellect, industry. I see so much of your mother in you. I would love to read what your Epsilons write about you one day. I'm sure it will be filled with just as much love and respect, if not more.

Tsup Tsup Tsup

Anonymous said...

What a lovely dedication to your mother!
Con gratulations to the many years with your husband! I wish you a pleasant week now, filled with joy! :-)

Sarah Melling said...

Hi Ces...we both posted chickens this week! Thank you for sharing such a lovely tribute to your mother. I think that Andrew said it well: I'm sure others see you in a similarly loved way!

illustration poetry said...


i dont know... just wanted to share.

ps: i know you love her.

illustration poetry said...

tomorrow is my mother's birthday
she would have been 65.

My Dog Has No Nose said...

Hey I came here to look at Evian Babies - but I found something better

signed subscapularis defect :)

Colleen said...

Your mother sounds like she was quite the Renaissance woman with a very strong spirit and sense of ethics. Beautiful story and pictures, I'm sure she is so proud of you.:)

Ces said...

Mita, Noooooooo!!! I do not like her at all. I cannot stand her. Her antics outshine her talent. She has a beautiful voice but she does not look clean, act clean and is not clean.

Ces said...

I hope you celebrated it with fond and loving remembrance. Tsup!

Ces said...

Sorry No-Nose. That was just for a short while. It has reached its intended audience and so I pulled it out. Hehehhe. I hope your shoulder heals soon. Tsup!

Ces said...

Thank you, Colleen.