Just a few minutes stroll through the city from the main entrance to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Area is Mama’s house. It is not really a house and it is not really hers; it is a tiny, yet comfortable, apartment and she rents it. But as long as I remembered, she had lived there. Daily, after each grueling Catholic instruction, I would drop in for my share of kisses and hugs from Mama.
Mama is the oldest of my maternal grandmother’s children (and therefore my oldest aunt) and the widow of a United States Navy sailor. From the day that she could, she was the glue that held her fractured family together. She is the matriarch of the family, the link that binds all my aunts and my cousins to the Philippines. Even if we stray far from our mothers’ homeland and build lives far removed from any them, we know in our hearts that we would always find welcome in Mama’s house.
It is not only her kin that she welcomes in her home, but any child she grows attached to. Eddie Boy, Jianne, Azizi, and many others have come to love and fear Mama. Her verdicts were not usually overruled by their own mothers, but then I never knew her punishments to be unjust. All that calls her Mama, she is exactly that to them. She is the caring, the loving, the sometimes strict provider to many children when their own parents were unable to assume that role, whether by circumstance or by choice, for them.
I fondly remember the days spent in Mama’s house. Sleeping in her beds, sharing meals with my cousins, and getting into trouble with them. I remember other times, too: of mourning the death of her beloved husband, my uncle Eddie James; of counting the Hail Marys prayed with a rosary; of kneeling on hard floors for hours on end; of being afraid of the palpable sense of grief that hung in that house many days afterwards.
Mama cooks. In fact, she cooks too much. My own mother is the same way. They get carried away in the cooking and the joy they bring to their family through it. I suppose it becomes addicting, seeing how much pleasure they bring to their families day after day. We feasted on my favorite sinigang, roasted lechon, pork chops, sweet adobo, and the delicious kare-kare. And my cousins and I, the audience of this daily, but never routine culinary performance, did not complain.