I never knew my grandmothers. They had been dead many years before I was born, and in fact, I don’t even know their names, or what they looked like. All I know is that my father’s mother died when he was very young, and my mother’s mother was from a family comparatively wealthier than my father’s side of the family.
The closest I can remember to a grandmother was my father’s aunt Nanay Ula. Just like my father, she was an energetic woman, not unused to hard physical labour and indeed made a living when she first came to my consciousness peddling kulambo, or mosquito nets, on foot, traveling from one town to another.
A more fit woman I have never known, quite possibly from all that exercise, or maybe it was just the luck of having inherited good genes from her side of the family, so unlike my mother’s, but of course all that walking would have helped a lot. I am not sure how much money she would have earned selling those mosquito nets, but I supposed it would have been enough to give her money to live on, and maybe even send some back to her children in the province. Every now and again during her itinerant peddling she would pass by our town, and spend the night with us, catching up on stories and visiting with Tatay and Inay. I am not so sure where she stayed overnight the times she wasn’t with us, but then again with our family scattered all over the place, she would have managed quite well enough.
She would show up at our doorstep, unannounced, as it always was for close members of our family, looking always the same as I remember her: plain, nondescript brown dress, silver hair tightly gathered in a bun, straight back expertly balancing the head which carries her wares: two or three mosquito nets or the occasional cotton blanket as well.
She had a very cheerful disposition, which, not having known my own grandmothers, made me instantly drawn to her. She had that old grandmother smell about her, not in an unpleasant way, but definitely not the rose and lilac scent either. Her teeth were all intact, which was part of my fascination, and her skin brown and weathered from all that time outdoors. Her visits were all too brief and sporadic: she would come at the end of the day in time for supper, socialize with whichever relative was around, and would be gone right after breakfast the next morning.
Eventually as she grew older, she put down her roots and stayed in our town, although not with us.. From peddling her kulambo she switched to a spot in the public market right across from my mom’s dry goods store, and sold rock salt from a wide bilao, or bamboo tray. This she did for many more years, and I recall my mother would sometimes give her upo, those hairy elongated watery squashes which my mother grew in the back of our very first house, to supplement whatever meager income she made selling salt.
It would be many years later that I will see her again, and by then she had returned home to live with one of her own children in her hometown of Ilat. Bedridden then as she was, she looked distinctly the same as I remember her, although the silvery hair in a bun had grown wispy with age, and was loose and flowing past her stooped shoulders.
© August 2007