A tribute to household help | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

I don’t know what came over me, but after years of retirement from kitchen duties, I found myself doing Pote Gallego for noche buena. And once I got started I felt driven to cook on.

It’s not something to be attempted by a retiree like me in a condominium kitchen like mine, too small to take more than one regular cook and more than one regular meal; as it happened, my ambition would grow to a two- or three-family feast. In fact, without Lani, my blessed all-around help, I wouldn’t have dared: She reduced my participation to virtually supervisory.

I watch her through a window we have opened between the kitchen and the dining space, itself a part of the living room. Supervision consists of standing up from my chair and walking a few steps over now and then to see how things are going, and giving the dish some minor flavor adjustment for a final touch, if at all.

No cook when she came, Lani once put onions in the adobo and froze the fruit salad. But she very seldom makes mistakes now; she has well learned how I want things done, in the kitchen or elsewhere. To her natural advantage, she’s neat and organized. No doubt, the longer she stays, the easier life is made for me and my husband.

One sudden signal from my husband that he’s playing tennis—time and disposition must allow for it—and she has packed for him even before he is himself ready. And when he comes home, things are disgorged from his bag for washing or airing.

Indeed, I’d wish a Lani in everyone’s life, especially in one’s senior years.

My mom had her own Tanching, who never ceased to amaze me. All Mom needed to tell her was what dress she wished to wear, and it was realized with the matching accessories—shoes, bag, scarf or shawl, and something for her hair. She was also Mom’s Lani in the kitchen.

When I started dating and couldn’t find another pair to double-date with, a standard propriety of the time, Tanching came along as my chaperone. She eventually fell in love herself, with the driver, and left with him. Mom had since hired and fired maids without ever finding another Tanching, and life was just never the same for her.

My cousin, Ninit, has Paeng, her driver of nearly three decades. It’s him I text to reach her. When we were more energetic and participated in Christmas bazaars, Paeng, a quick learner, set up our booth. He is also with us in every political rally, ready with portable chairs, umbrellas, and a cooler packed with drinks and sandwiches. In fact, he has become so politicized he sometimes can’t help inserting himself in our conversations while driving us. Paeng has a few driving years left in him, but he has asked for two additional days off in a month.

My daughter had Becky, who had been with her even before her children were born. She became yaya to the three children as each came without losing control over the help staff—maids, driver, cook. We thought her a godsend to my daughter, a working mother.

The children loved Becky, and she loved them back, and the house was well-run. But she started having problems with sick and aging parents, who had her visiting home more often, especially when her father died.

After 20 years she became less tolerant of new hires, driving off some of them and consequently forcing her to take up the slack. Also increasingly irritable, she one day lost control and just had to be let go. Replacements have been found, but no one compares with Becky in her early years.

Like all relationships, if they are not ended at the right time, they are bound to end badly. That’s why, while I am grateful for Lani, I have no illusions of being able to keep her forever.

Only Lola Enchay came close—with Sara, yaya to one of her younger sons, an uncle. When she outlived her usefulness, Lola made her a little home in the basement where she lived the rest of her life.

As kids we made fun of her deformed arthritic hands and prepared ourselves to get scared every time we peered through the basement windows. But there she was, always looking neat, if a bit over-powdered, wearing an apron, not a scare at all. She was always smiling her funny toothless smile, happy to indulge us at our silly game. It wasn’t hard to understand why Lola didn’t have the heart to let her go.

Surely, however these relationships end, there’s always much to be grateful for.

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