Domestic affairs | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

It must be in the water, my father would mutter to himself, each time another domestic affair broke out in the open in my parents’ house. The servants seemed given to bouts of romance, coupling in lust or falling in true and genuine love, making marriages which outlasted their usefulness around the house.

My memory is filled with their stories, some scandalous incidents, engagements and lover’s quarrels coming to light after much whispering, touched by copious weeping, punctuated by fits of rage or jealousy, ending in tearful confessionals to Nanang, in hurried elopements to the province, or in swift departures of rejected suitors.

Later, after I had left home, I would say when I heard more of these stories that it wasn’t the water, it was the house and the spirit it fostered. For one, it had so many rooms, so many corners. It was described by one precocious grandchild as a “warren of rooms,” a place ideal for playing hide and seek. The yard was large, with trees and vines and shrubbery screening secluded workplaces that served the needs for pairing and private trysting.

It was also a house of great activity, the family hosting a great stream of relatives, friends and guests. Aside from frequent parties, the slightest excuse would cause a feast to be served. Mother kept active with many projects, and each activity engaged a great many hands.

She would have them working on whatever it was she fancied at the time, changing drapes and curtains, making polvoron and other sweets, building a fountain that sprinkled into a fishpond, planting cabbages with roses, raising poultry in the backyard, hanging her orchids on a trellis by the wall.

New love

Her pleasure at these tasks was catching, and the work would be finished only after much talking among her helpers, much joking and laughter; and another new love would blossom right under her supervising nose.

Perhaps, the house and its joyful activities generated a kind of electricity for those who worked there. Or so it seemed, as the cooks and nannies, the drivers, houseboys and gardeners, the handymen and carpenters staying in for seasonal work made easy friends among themselves—and then some. Their meals in the kitchen took about as long as ours in the dining room, and the washing of dishes was an extended chattering and clattering affair.

Gerardo, a driver, fell in love with Lilia, a lovely lass from Leyte, and they married and made their first home in the room adjoining the garage. Poldo, the houseboy, stayed long enough to learn to drive. When it was his turn to drive us to school, yaya Erming tagged along with the first grandson for the daily ride. Soon enough, Poldo had himself a wife.

Mother’s young ward Mameng got pregnant by a visiting relative from the province. Because she slept in the children’s room, I heard of her predicament, although I could not know what it was about. I knew only that something was wrong, as I awoke to the sound of her whispering, her secret shared with another yaya in the darkened nursery.

And then there was Rosy, the gifted young cook who fell in love with the gardener Benito. We were all dismayed because we thought she deserved better. But, obviously, we were also afraid she would leave us and run off with him to Bicol.

Of these matches, the most remarkable was Salustiano’s courtship of the quiet, colorless Pacing. Salus was my mother’s special assistant. He could cook, he could clean, he could crochet and sew. He also played the piano. He was always willing to hold up swathes of cloth from the rods on the high windows so my mother could test the colors in the changing light.

Once, when my mother wanted to stand a rather large statue of Jesus Christ against some tapestry, Salus willingly stood in its place with his arms outstretched so we could all see the effect. He liked trying out new recipes and comparing notes with other women in the house about a design for a bedspread or a curtain he wanted to crochet. I don’t remember anyone ever calling him “gay”; perhaps because he wasn’t flamboyant like the beautician who would come to do my mother’s hair from time to time.

He was obviously schooled, doing office errands for my father, paying bills, and following up paperwork around the city. But he was more my mother’s helper. He was clean, courteous and charming. In a grander house, he would have been promoted to the station of the butler.

Devoted and loving

To everyone’s surprise, he began courting a maid who was so soft-spoken we all just stopped trying to make conversation with her. We all thought he could have done better. But he proved a devoted and loving husband, taking her meals to their room when she was ill with morning sickness and heating up her bath water when she came home from delivering their first baby.

My mother thought he was spoiling her. And this displeasure might have been passed on to him in the kitchen talk. Soon, he spoke to mother about his plans to set up a business. Many years after they left the house, they came to visit us one Christmas season. They had three girls in identical crocheted dresses. Made by Salus, of course.

In my much smaller home, only female help can stay in. But even with these constraints, I have had to counsel a love-struck Rosela against running off with Joel, the part-time driver. Amang, who had driven for my father and then moved over to our household, fell in love with Vising and made her his wife and then fell in love with Ising and made her his mistress.

The scandal caused our various households to talk, which forced him to leave his job in shame. Then Aling Lilia, a widow in her 50s who washed and ironed clothes, was rumored to have started seeing the long-married carpenter Mang Ben; although he came only to do temp work—painting and carpentry—in the house.

It was not the water, or my mothers’ loving and open spirit, or her house of many rooms and corners after all. Domestic love thrives wherever men and women work in service. It is love like any other, without limits, without bounds.

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