She came to this country when I was 3. I remember being picked up from my babysitter’s house one day, and in the car with my parents was this random old lady sitting in the back seat. “Rachel, this is your grandma,” my dad said. “I have a grandma?” was my response. Then a timid “Hi.”
I stopped going to my babysitter’s house. Instead my parents kept me home with Lola, because smart, and free, and family. Our first few days were frustrating for the both of us — I only spoke English, she only spoke Tagalog and Ilocano. We taught each other words like
She made me all of my new favorite things like avocado with milk and sugar, adobong pusit, and kare kare All the things I didn’t know I loved until I was asking for seconds. She was magic. During the day she would quietly and diligently do what she knew — laundry never sat in the hamper for more than a day. It was also starched and ironed immediately. The roses in the yard were somehow always in bloom and dinner was always hot and delicious. Like I said…. Magic.
My brother came along and because of her, English was not his first language. We went to the Philippines when he was 5 (I was 11) and he schooled me by speaking to all the adults in perfect Tagalog with all the hard 5 syllable adult words I had only heard in the movies my mom rented. RUDE.
As I got older, I learned her recipes and her stories. Her stories of working to the bone at a too young age, illiteracy, my Chinese and Filipino roots, running from the Japanese, World War II. I learned about my ridiculously large family, how my fathers only brother has 13 kids and they were all waiting to talk to me. Always.
As a young adult, on a day I was trippin over something trivial, she looked at me and said “Ne, you deserve more.” I looked at her with crazy eyes. Doesn’t she know this is what I want?! Doesn’t she know this is important?!?! She was right. But it took me years to figure it out.
In my life’s darkest days, her words always rang loud and true. Looking back, I have changed my whole life, more than once, with one thought– I deserve more.
My Lola was 105 when she left our worlds yesterday. It sounds like a lot of time to be alive… But it doesn’t feel like enough time with my Lola. I want more avocado shakes and lumpias and sinigang. I want more you.
I miss you too much already, Nay. Mahal na mahal kita.