It seems only yesterday that my older cousins and I made it out of the kitchen to the extra table for the six oldest grandchildren set up every Sunday lunch in lolo and lola’s main dining room, where they and our parents sat at the long narra dining table with kamagong legs.
The food was laid out on the buffet table with a low, wide mirror that reflected our happy faces, behind lolo’s cabezera seat, with lola to his right, from where she signaled the servers—serve, refill glasses, remove plates. We children were served ourselves, properly on our left and by order of seniority.
As the youngest group, we especially remembered “to be seen but not heard.” Thus we waited in silence for what we knew was coming—necks, backs and wings, the usual chicken parts left out of the first choices. That’s probably why to this day, if I can’t have the breast part, I’d rather not have chicken at all.
But, of course, with Sunday pochero, there were also slices of the ground pork and ham loaf called pelota, chorizo Bilbao, and softened beef parts with gelatinous fat, and assorted vegetables—cabbage, pechay, camote, potatoes, garbanzos, and saging saba (boiled separately on lola’s orders).
Pochero also came with a thick tomato-garlicky sauce and the mashed eggplant sauce with vinegar, black pepper, and mashed garlic. Twin cruets of olive oil and more vinegar stood by.
Sunday lunch was bonding time for all three Roces generations, albeit seated at separate tables.
Now at family get-togethers or at birthday lunches or dinners, my cousins and I gallantly step up to sit with the “olds,” filling the empty chairs of those who have passed on.
At the 96th birthday of my oldest living uncle, Peping, last month, most of those at his head table belonged in my generation. And why not, we’re in our mid-70s now!
Where has the time gone? And so fast, too, that some children themselves are having to step up to the head table before their time.
Last month my newly departed friend Nena’s children, about the same age as mine, early 50s and late or early 40s, found themselves orphaned; their dad, Louie, died two years ago, and now their mom, Nena.
Their youngest child and only daughter, Maita, playfully asked me, at her mom’s wake, if I would adopt her. Nena’s whole gang, in fact, would gladly take her up on it. I know it’s scary to move up to the head table.
On the 40th day of her mom’s passing, Maita handed me a little gift. It was a blouse she had bought for her mom for the Christmas she would miss—she had been in and out of the hospital before finally passing on.
“I want you to have it, tita,” Maita said, handing me the blouse in a little shop bag. I was quite touched, but I had to tell her, “Know what I’m afraid of? It might fit.” We both laughed. Her mom, before she got sick, had been overweight.
On Nena’s 40th-day dinner I realized we were ourselves at the head table of elders. In fact, any table we occupy henceforth will automatically become the one for the “olds.”
We were once very strong, sometimes obstinate, women, invincible survivors of whatever life had thrown our way. But now, between health problems, the loneliness of widowhood, the separation from children, and pangs of anxiety that come with age, we are feeling vulnerable. More than at any other time, we seem to need family and friends, and it’s not easy for ex-amazons to admit that.
None of us can deny life has been good. It has already given us the passing grade of 75; it can only get higher.
But, for all our wisdom and fortitude, we wonder if our children would take care of us, if it ever came to that. Gone are the likes of our beloved Tita Titik, who never married and took care of her mother, our Lola Menang (Roces-Legarda), who lived well into her late 90s.
But that was another era, when such sacrifices of daughters for parents were not uncommon, in fact almost expected.
I am quite sure our children will come around and give each of us the care and attention they can; some, of course, more than others. Whatever comes should be enough; better not expect and just be grateful for what comes.
If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that God has a way of evening and balancing out everything in one’s life.
Whatever may be lacking is made up for by the additional blessing.
In my own life, there’s my husband. And there, too, is our loyal kasambahay, Lani, who takes care of both of us. Having each other, and Lani, we are surely in good hands. We may require only minimal attention from our children. Although, like most mothers, I certainly won’t mind if mine poured it on thick.
Until I myself got to sit at the table for the “olds,” I hadn’t realized what the upgrade really meant—I’m in the last quarter of the game. I have every reason to feel vulnerable and sentimental. I cry easily. I’m touched by every little token of love, human and divine; I see it in fact every day, everywhere.
I love my children and grandchildren to death. I fall in love with every child I see. I only hope my children themselves realize how close anyone can be to stepping up to the head table where I now sit. From there, so soon after, it’s the heavenly table in the sky.[END]