I am eight, and my mother is brushing my long hair, painstakingly braiding it (think Pocahontas), making sure every strand is in place.
Like me, she has long, black hair she likes to put up in a bun. It is early morning and I am still sleepy, trying to keep still in my green and white uniform.
This was our ritual from age 7 to 10, until I finally told my mother that I would no longer braid my hair because I was already being bullied in school. Braiding my hair, she said, was her way of showing her love for me.
“Huwag mong ibibisto ang edad ko!” This was mom’s reply when I told her I would be writing about her in time for her birthday. Her age, which we like to joke about, is a national secret known only to her eldest granddaughter (yes, not even to me) that will forever remain a mystery to the rest of her family and friends.
Three things stand out in these recollections—her sensitivity, humor and kindness. I suppose all three traits are what keep her ageless.
Director Joey Reyes says that when he started directing in 1990, mom was always one of his favorite TV actresses.
“When I did my very first movie, I made sure that Tita Caring was there. And what I always remembered best about her, especially when I was starting out, was how she unselfishly encouraged young people to not only do their best, but to pursue their dreams.
“She was always the morale booster, she still is. So much like the other greats of her generation—Nida Blanca, Gloria Romero, and Charito Solis. Acting for them was not merely work, but their very lives, their passion.
“And this passion, they expressed through unselfishness and infectious enthusiasm, even though the many decades they have spent on the set. I will never forget Tita Caring because she held my hands when I was starting out and there was not ever a trace of arrogance or condescension. And in a business so discolored by ruthless ambition, lethal insecurity, and superficial friendships, Tita Caring has been and will always be a sparkling exception to that rule.”
Jay Singson, now a very successful businessman, remembers how, when he was a young boy waiting to pick up his older sister from parties in our home, mom would always go out of the house and nudge him to go inside and mingle. “She would always go out of her way, seek me out in the car where I was waiting with the driver, and encourage me to go inside and attend the party, but I was too shy. So she would sit with me for a while and we would trade stories. I thought that was really very gracious.”
Writer Babeth Lolarga recalls how she would see mom sitting in the shade of trees on the St. Paul’s QC campus in New Manila in the early ‘70s, talking to other parents. “It seemed like she was always waiting patiently for a child to come out of school. And because she was already a popular actress then, we were all so in awe of that—that she would sit and just shoot the breeze with other waiting parents.”
I had never gone to school at St. Paul’s, and could not remember this time in my or my mother’s life, so I asked her about it. “Ano ka ba,” my mom told me one afternoon. “Hindi ba nagba-ballet ka noon kay Bonnie Weinstein and I would wait for you to finish?”
I was around six, and the doctors had suggested that I take ballet lessons. Thus, once or twice a week, we would go to SPCQC, then she would treat me to ice cream at the Magnolia Ice Cream parlor on Aurora Blvd.
I am 34 now, and have just delivered my youngest through C-section. Three days after delivery, I try to make my way to the bathroom, with my mother, still strong and sprightly in her 60s, guiding and helping me dress up. We walk back to the bed, and she takes out a brush and runs it through my now shoulder-length hair, then she ties it back.
I thank her for taking care of me, and once more seeing me through the delivery of another child. She smiles and says, “Hindi natatapos ang pagka-ina.”
Mom was always very-hands on. She drove me and picked me up from school every day, from first grade until I was done with school, except for those days when she had to work.
During those rides through Katipunan or the winding roads of Cinco Hermanos, rain or shine, she would share her stories and impart her wisdom. Always unconventional, she was strict but also very tolerant, indulgent and terribly fun.
Once or twice after school, she would drive slowly in front of my crush’s house and then look over at me, hiding in the back seat, and ask, “O, happy ka na? Uwi na tayo.”
Just last week, over merienda in her house one afternoon, I told her I was looking at a condominium close to an area that I frequented as a child. Without missing a beat, straight-faced, she said, “Oo, magandang area ‘yon. Siguraduhin mo lang doon ka sa floor na naabot ng bumbero.” Mommy’s wisdom, always witty and spot on.
Happy Birthday, Mommy! We love you! Here’s to many more years of love and laughter together.