Inay always possessed this innate simplicity, coming from her humble origins, which even years of living in the relatively prosperous town of Marikina could not erase. Actually she was better off than most of her contemporaries many of whom did not even have the chance of learning how to read and write, so preoccupied in the daily struggle of living in a small farming community.
It always seemed to amaze her, every time the matter came up, that my father would actually choose to love and eventually marry her. So convinced she was that no one, especially someone as popular as my father was, would want anyone as plain as she claimed to be.
I suppose she would have been happy enough to have remained in Pook, having babies and looking after a large brood (she would have eleven children of her own, but three died at childbirth). However, this was not meant to be, as her medical necessities compelled my father to move his growing family to move and seek their chances someplace better. Many years and may children later, Inay would develop a keen enough sense of business to actually run her own dry goods store in the public market of Sta. Elena, but the sense of self-effacing humility never really left her for a moment.
She was also, very much, a creature of habit. She would get up around six in the morning, and would have the store open by seven o’clock. Breakfast would follow later at around nine, and it was always the same: instant coffee (did she take it black or with milk and sugar? This is the one detail that I am not sure of any longer, after all these years) and three pandesal, sometimes with Star margarine, or later after we got a refrigerator, the more middle class Dairy Crème. Every now and again, when there too many day-old pandesal left over, this simple breakfast menu would vary: then it would be pandesal split in half, spread with margarine, lightly dusted with sugar and toasted in a frying pan.
Lunch would be around one o’clock, and Inay always preferred dishes she grew up with in the province than the dishes the rest of the family ate. She could eat sinigang na galunggong, flavoured with green sour tamarind for days on end and oftentimes she did, claiming it tasted better after a few days had passed, and especially if it was cooked and stayed in the traditional clay pot. Variations to this would be pinais na dulong, small anchovy-like fish bundled and cooked in banana leaves, or better yet, sinaing na tambakol flavoured with dried kalamyas.
A bath would follow lunch around two, except on Fridays when for some religious reason that to this day is unclear to me, she didn’t. The days she bathed she would always use Lifebouy soap on her body, and gugo, the native tree bark to wash her hair with. You can always tell when she just stepped out of the bath, as immediately the next thing she would pick up was coconut oil which in the old days she used to groom her hair; this she would eventually outgrow in favour of the commercially bottled Suave hair conditioner.
An hour’s nap later, and she would then be back at the store where apart from dealing with customers, she would spend the rest of the day, until the late evening tidying up. One would always find her at the front of the store, meticulously wiping the dust off leather shoes and slippers for hours, until it was time to close shop.
She always took a late supper with my father, and then came the chore of doing the dishes and scrubbing the kitchen clean, especially her white enamel stovetop propane oven, her pride and joy which was a marked improvement from the days of the kerosene burner, or the much much older wood burning hearth. Most nights she never went to bed until well close to midnight; with all the children, the store and her usual fragile health, I never knew where she found the energy to accomplish all that.
All these she would continue to do until many years later when we moved to our very own split-level bungalow, and she eventually semi-retired after passing the store on to one of my sisters. But how she missed that old routine, and soon enough would be complaining of boredom in her own house, and inevitably return to the store in the afternoons, contentedly shuttling back and forth between home and the market for many years until she retired.
© August 2007