My parent’s bitter union blighted part of my childhood memories. I theorized, there might be a story how their odd relationships started and came about. Why did episodes of my mother’s distrust of my father lingered? And how my father could live off the distant reproach of my mother.
Through the years, as I saw how their lives unfold and pieced together the stories my mother told me, a pattern emerged: “Need” not “Love” hooked them together.
Tuberculosis killed my maternal grandmother when she was 10 years old. Her father, a USAFFE soldier, when the Second World War II became imminent, entrusted his four daughters to Catalina Lacson, “Ate Nance”, my mother called her. She was a neighbor at Fort Stotsenburg, home of the 26th U.S. Cavalry Regiment stationed at Sapang Bato, Angeles Pampanga. Her older brother, “Manong Vic,” conscripted into the army.
When the Japanese bombed Fort Stotsenburg, the families of the USAFFE soldiers evacuated to Munoz, Nueva Ecija. Mona Rustia, a native of Baliwag with a vast tract of farmland took my mother and her siblings along with other evacuees. My mother and her twin took charge of cleaning the vast expanse of Mango yard, which my mother said, they spent seven hours to sweep.
After the war, “Manong Vic” fetched his four sisters’ at Munoz and deposited them to the now widowed “Ate Nance,” in Caloocan. Then went to Illinois, USA, with Major Comby to fix their pension money. He visited his sisters again after fixing their pension, but he warned them if they get pregnant while single, he come back and kill them. And he abandoned them.
My mother found the house of “Ate Nance” too crowded for them. No way the house could give them with a homey atmosphere. “Ate Nance” was not a blood relative. So, it lacked the love and care of a real parent, and no male figure as well to look after them for protection.
As a sewer in a garment factory, when my mother was nineteen, she quivered walking home at night. Afraid to get mugged. She got no father figure to ease her fear, calm her nerves and assure of her safety.
“Ate Nance” had a sister named Kini whose boyfriend, Filo, was my father’s friend. Filo, and my father, aged 17 then, worked at ConCor Construction Company that rehabilitate the damages of war.
Every time Filo visited Kini, he tagged my father along, and they stayed at “Ate Nance’” house longer than necessary for suitors. That’s how my mother met my father.
My mother took notice of my father’s wardrobe – that of an overall Khaki uniform from work. Not once ever, he changed his attire when visiting. My father assessed my mother of her classy bearing. A fat fish, too, because she was a pensioner. It raised the barometer of my father’s respect. A woman with a stable income, unlike him, a perpetual poor guy.
People at “Ate Nance“ house teased and matched them up. The jokes crept up a life of its own inside them.
One evening, “Ate Nance” had a party. My mother was in the kitchen scooping soup from a pot to bring it to the dining table. While negotiating her way to the table, at a spot with weaker lights, my father surfaced from my mother’s behind and cupped her breast. My mother’s eyes bulged out and thought she died. The bowl of soup fell, it burned her feet. That’s when she realized she was still alive. People rushed to her, but my father disappeared.
My mother got so mad. She could not snuff out that weird sensation. Her brother’s threat aggravated her. She must find a solution to her pending impregnation!
Ate Nance didn’t want Filo and Kini’s relationship to prosper. So, she forced them to end it. Filo and my father stopped visiting. My mother got worried. No more of my father‘s appearances. My father could be her destiny. The man that can protect her and siblings under one roof.
Out of my mother’s intrinsic needs, and of fear to her brother, to salvage her lost virginity, she must find the father of her child and hold him accountable for his impishness.
My mother went to Baliwag. The first person she asked from alighting the bus, a vegetable hauler, knew my father. And he gave directions.
She found my father pumping water from an artesian well, besides a massive building of Spanish Architecture. My father was poor, how come their house was big…?
Naked, with only a rag towel wrapped around his waist, my mother noticed my father washing clothes. She spotted a green worn-out shirt, tattered black pants, and a discolored underwear hung from a wire tied between two poles being blown by the wind.
My father saw my mother’s coming. He stopped pumping and ran inside the mansion.
He’s avoiding me. It bruised her ego. A woman chasing men! A taboo for women then. But my mother must do her mission. Otherwise, she can get killed by her brother.
My paternal grandmother saw my mother. Surprised, she covered her mouth. She admired the nymph in front of her. My grandmother got used to seeing women looking for my father who look like crabs.
“Has my son kissed you, Hija?” asked my grandmother. Aghast at that so pointed question, that embarrassed my mother. She bowed her head.
My father appeared. My grandmother left them throwing a wink at my father, and a cheerful smile at my mother.
This time, my father didn’t wear a Khaki uniform. Instead, he donned the worn-out green polo shirt, a tattered black pants, and as my mother’s suspicion grew stronger, he even wore that underwear she saw earlier.
My father had only one civilian clothes, my mother thought. When it becomes dirty, he has nothing to replace them. Meanwhile, while washing, he’s covering his manhood with the towel. What if somebody pulled the towel? My mother laughed to herself.
My father took her at Dining’s Panciteria beside St. Augustine Church. And ordered Halo-Halo. It was a hot summer in March 1947. This was after he knew my mother has money to spare.
“I am pregnant;” my mother went right up to her mission of seeing my father.
The chunk of Halo-Halo on my father’s mouth was so refreshing, but when he heard what my mother said, he coughed it back to the glass, tasting curse. It was a joke though she delivered it with earnest intent. Is it something he should care about? Why was she confiding her secret? Does she think, he might help her find the man who got her pregnant?
“So…” my father said.
My mother stirred her Halo-Halo which made the grated ice overflow, cascaded to the table.
“You’re the father!” My mother shrilled. She paused, reached the napkin holder, snatched a bunch, and wiped the overflow ice on the table. She didn’t want to look at my father.
“Manong Vic, my older brother, can kill me if he knew this”.
My father fidgeted on his seat. “Wait, a minute! What the hell is this? How come? What are you talking?” My father blurted out. He checked around if his voice created a stir. Nobody noticed.
“You did something foolish”. My mother said, trying to tame her voice, but distinct. Then, she looked into my father’s eyes.
My father tossed his spoon. Slumped on his chair. Collected his thoughts. It’s impossible. He’s sure he never slept with my mother. There must be other men. He looked at my mother.
My mother’s eyes focused on the contents circling inside the glass. Quiet. My father appreciated my mother’s fear of her brother’s threat. He sensed, too, how earnest she was on her accusation. Untrue! This woman is nuts. Then, popped out of nowhere the mention of – he did something foolish. Getting her pregnant was not one of those—at least for now.
“Maybe we should get things straight here,” my father said. How did I make you pregnant?
Disturbed by my father’s insinuation she’s a liar, in a hissed tone, she said between her teeth, “You grabbed my breast. Is that not enough?” My father played dumb, and she hated it.
Now, my father remembered. The scene at “Ate Nance” house!
“That! That! Made you pregnant?” Sneered my father. People gawked at them.
My mother looked around and cried. “I can’t go home now. I can’t face “Ate Nance”. She knew. Someone had seen us that night.”
Pricked of my mother’s tears – he never seen yet a woman crying in front of him. But he weighed what she said. It’s pushing him to a quicksand of marriage! The pressure and desperation, her death-defying stunts to her trivial problem. He pitied my mother for her innocence and naivety. He was a two-year younger than my mother, but he was street smart ahead of her.
What if my mother met a loser? He’s a loser too, but better. At least, he has compassion.
My father was not afraid of marriage. For him, it could be one of his adventures; the way he treated his other life’s escapades. Marriage may be his break to change his luck. He has nothing to lose. He has no work. And my mother was a pensioner, He liked my mother’s stature. Never mind if he’s ambivalent of his feeling.
“All right! That’s no problem. Finished your Halo-Halo. Do you still have money? Maybe we should go someplace to discuss this thing further.”
Soothed with that thought, my mother nodded.
At the hotel in Malolos, they tried to make a woman pregnant.