Inay! (Mother!) Guilt. Regret. And Unconditional Love!

On Mother’s Day (and most days), with three children of my own, my mother always returns to my thoughts.

By Rizalina Guilatco Carr

Vancouver, B.C.

While I am jealous of the love and time my younger siblings afforded our mother, they didn’t know her the way I used to – before I had so many siblings. But then, none of us will ever really know our mothers completely. They had lives before we were born – and unless your mother authored many books, you will never know the full extent of her life.
The whirlpool of memories might have escaped my mother before she had the time or inclination to tell us. Or perhaps she just chose not to divulge many personal and sensitive matters.
My mother married young and, as was expected in my culture at that time, had children soon after. I was the fourth child. But it didn’t stop there. She had six more children after me. A family of ten children. Luckily, my father had a good job at “The Franklin Baker Company of the Philippines” – an American company in San Pablo City, as one of the accountants. The company (at that time) was the biggest supplier of coconut and its by-products in the Philippines and around the world.
Fond memories of my early youth still shine with clarity. I can see my mother leading me to the public market and showing me how to detect a “bad fish” that was no longer fresh. How to visually inspect for the most garden-fresh vegetables. Or how to smell and squeeze the endless varieties of fruit before selecting from them. She would take me to her “suki” (a dependable, favorite vendor), and explain why that honor was deserved. And after the lessons in marketing and finance (which had different meanings than from modern usage), came the choosing of the best restaurant in the market.
“Aling Vita” made the finest pansit palabok (noodles – so called because of its elaborate cooking procedures and many ingredients). My mother and I would enjoy a plate with a side order of rice cake. Sometimes, she would order extra for my other siblings. Often, she would purposely not finish her favorite pansit palabok – so her children could have more. My youngest sister, Maria Theresa (Maritess), asked why she didn’t have memories of the stories I sometimes relate to them. Because, my dear sister, you were born ten years later!
Due to my asthma, Inay would often take me places while my father was at work. Especially around our beautiful Sampaloc Lake, where the air was fresh and soothing for me. Those were formative times – when I was the center of her attention and caring love. When I was truly special.
I realize now that I was a well-travelled child – having seen much more of the southern provinces of Luzon (one of the largest islands of the Philippines) than most children in my town. Visiting the members of my parents’ huge extended family and friends (and my own as well) that were scattered throughout the area – mostly in Metro Manila – created memories I now cherish and constantly reflect on to keep them alive.
It is now a source of my amazement that so many of the children I grew up with are now scattered around the world in search of a better life for themselves and their own families. Our former neighbour, Patsy (who now lives in Toronto), came to Vancouver last year and stayed with us. I choked back my tears when she mentioned how poor they were back then, and how, by the kindness of our neighbors, rice would miraculously appear on their table. My mother was one of their benefactors. Inay’s kindness and generosity know no bounds!
Inay would write to me regularly after I came to Canada with my then-husband. Ah, the relief of receiving letters from home! Just when I felt the longing for familiarity and a lending ear. The excitement I felt getting those “snail mails” would soon be followed by my eyes welling up with tears from separation.
Inay would go on about our family, what the siblings were doing, and who was giving her a hard time. Because there were so many stories to tell, my mother would use thin, lightweight “onion paper,” written on both sides, to save on postage costs. Imagine the eye strain of trying to read eight or more pages when the writing on each side would bleed through the flimsy paper to the other side!
With my siblings and Inay : (left to right standing) Rosanna, Criselda, Rizalina. Seated (left) : Rosella, our mother, Bella Guilatco, and Maria Theresa. ( Photo provided) The author (far right standing)
One of her long letters contained recipes for the distinctive “Laguna dishes” (Laguna is the Philippine province I grew up in.) I had asked her how she made “kulawo” (eggplant made with smoked coconut cream), “burong mustasa” (pickled green-leafy mustard), “ube” (the famous purple sweet potato dessert and industry in my hometown), “minatamis na tubo” (the spongy seed inside a coconut and a specialty of the region), and so on. With a reminder – “it is the family recipe so keep it to yourself.” Whenever I visit my family in the Philippines, I look for them – but only really want how my mother used to make them.
In my youth, I went to confession every week. Every week! And I always confessed to the same “sin” – that I talked back to my mother. I didn’t know how to explain my thoughts and feelings at that time. My curiosity was never satisfied. My questioning of our religious faith and tradition did not make sense back then. My world was small but my questions were large. And my understanding of who my family was only began to make sense in my adulthood.
Inay would reveal some of her secrets in her old age, but there was much more to learn on my own. More of the facts emerged when a relative posted a “last will” online. Revelations provided many “aha” moments, giving meaning to seemingly random clips of memory. But that is another story.
On Mother’s Day (and most days), with three children of my own, my mother always returns to my thoughts. How did she do it? Ten children with strong personalities, clashing constantly. Those formative years that I spent with my mother are so precious, I carry them in my heart. The times when my mother was in her late 20s and early 30s. A different time for both of us. Nobody can take that away from me!
Happy Mother’s Day to All!
About Rizalina Guilatco Carr

3 thoughts on “Inay! (Mother!) Guilt. Regret. And Unconditional Love!”

  1. You have such meaningful memories and eloquent words to describe them. Your recollections and the way you recount them bring your readers a lot of joy and inspiration. Salut!

  2. Aurora Abril Ignacio

    Congratulations Lina! You are a gifted writer and story teller. The way you tell a story is so concise and in depth. I can’t even remember some of things I did during my high school days. I enjoy reading your stories. I’m so proud to know that you are my cousin and friend. Keep writing my cousin friend. Love you.❤️🌺🌹

  3. Aurora Abril Ignacio

    Congratulations!Lina you are an excellent writer and story teller. All your stories are concise , interesting, informative and in depth. I’m so proud that you are my cousin and friend. Keep writing my cousin friend. Love you. ❤️🌺👍

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