My grandmother, whom we called Lola (her married name was Felisa Limjoco) was a regal presence who was somewhat remote but loving nontheless. She and her family had survived the Japanese Occupation of WWII in Manila, but she came out of it with her dignity intact. And it was a brutal, relentlessly dire occupation. How they all suffered. Often I'd see Lola far away (across the garden, or leaving the house going down our front, grand (outside) stairs to a waiting car, dressed in the traditional "terno" with the butterfly wings at the top of the arms, a style we'd inherited from the Spaniards, who'd occupied us previously. She was so smart, and so compassionate. If someone was crying or in trouble she intervened, but always with a minimum of fuss. Everyone counted on her, and she never forgot to send you Christmas or birthday cards. So you knew. When she died I was in the second grade, and had been picked up by the family chauffeur per usual and we were going down the wide, stately street in front of the Malacanang Palace when the driver quietly (and casually, although he must have been instructed to do so) informed me that Lola had died. The Pasig River was flowing to my left, flowing on, lily pads beautiful as always, but the sun tilted. I had no way to receive this information, so said nothing. The funeral was at my mother's hometown of Lian, a few hours away by the China Sea. You drove up a long highway lined with coconut trees on either side (I dream of this many times); get to Tagaytay - a mostly extinct volcano, where people live in the caldera below - and make a right. Winding down, you begin to pass cane fields, and within an hour you've arrived at a very small town with a cane refinery, ice plant (which my grandfather owned), bank, and of course Spanish cathedral. Lian is very close to the China Sea, where we swam much more than we did in the ocean around Manila. People walked to the cemetery and there were a lot of them, holding up umbrellas and kerchiefs over their mouths because it was so dusty. There was no road per se - just a small path through the cane, but us kids got to ride in a car through it anyway. No matter what I did, I couldn't breathe. The dust was so thick it seemed to be almost living, and I became somewhat afraid. That seemed to sum up, really, how I felt about the reality of my grandmother's death. It took everyone's real breath away, there was no more coolness, just an oppressive sense that we had lost the only thing that made sense after this chaotic, completely mindless conflict that had engulfed everyone and that somehow I had been born out of. How I miss her. I try to be as wise and kind as I imagine she'd be, but those are big shoes to fill, for I'm always still looking up to her. I'm convinced that when I die, she will be there to explain everything and gently lead me on. I told my mother that the year before she passed away and she didn't say much, but I know she heard me. Maybe she'll be there too.
June is on of the member of The Fanny and the co founder of IMA
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
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