THEY don’t make women like Lola anymore.
My maternal grandmother passed away recently. She was 97. These past five nights have been surreal. Except for the fact that my grandmother lies inside a white coffin and the smell of flowers is heavy and cloying, her wake could have been one of her parties.
Since I was a child, I can count the number of times I saw my lola eat during family reunions with all the fingers of one hand. She greeted arrivals with a request that was also a command: “Kaon na (do eat).”
She would repeat the phrase an hour later when she passed us again. Even though we were thoroughly stuffed, our lips still shiny from “bam-i,” “dugo-dugo” and lechon, Lola would urge us again, “Kaon na”.
Moving from room to room, she made sure platters were refilled, the dessert taken out of the fridge just as everybody was ready to tackle it. As the years stooped her profile, children and grandchildren pressed her to slow down or took over the organizing.
Yet, even if she had a plate where she pushed around the food, her eyes never tired of scanning the plates of those around her. In making the family her life’s work, Lola turned to food as her secret fixative: a family that eats together shares more than the same gluttonies.
The privileges of being the oldest batch of grandchildren were manifold. Lost forever, too, I realized whenever I greeted her these past nights. The ivory dress they dressed her in reminds me of the hue of her unforgettable meringue, crunchy on the outside, chewy at the core.
Ivory with flecks of gold was her favorite walnut-sprinkled icing for the lightest, spongiest chiffon cakes created. Ordinarily gluttons for play, my cousins and I competed to assist her baking for the singular privilege of later licking off the icing from the spatula or egg beater.
So we heard her on a few occasions testily tell no one in particular that she was tired of cooking, even on her birthdays. Either due to my youth or haste to reach and lick that last unreachable spot of icing, I did not realize the terrible possibilities if my grandmother had acted on a moment’s weakness.
The complacency of youth assumes the inexhaustibility and constancy of love. Children assume families run on some infallible power that patches and sorts conflicts like laundry. The rituals of keeping together require deprivations and sacrifices made savory by a family heirloom recipe, a harvest of memories.
On the last night of the wake, my aunt, 92, asked me for the cause of Lola’s death. Without waiting for a reply, my aunt recalled how my grandparents met in Zamboanga.
A doctor, Lolo was infatuated with a woman in Cebu City who frequented cockfights. My great grandfather arranged for Lolo’s transfer to Zamboanga, where he met my grandmother, a nursing student.
Though nearly blind, my aunt remains our family’s storyteller. In her retelling, I saw again Lola teaching my cousins and I how to whip the eggs in the same direction. Repetitive, tiring, and monotonous, correct egg-beating may have been the secret behind Lola’s meringue and chiffon cake.
Though there is no shadow of that Zamboanga student in the ivory-dressed figure in the coffin, I am grateful, Avelina C. Solon. For sacrifice without stint, for love without end.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 18, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”