Writer remembers her mother as a “hardheaded woman”

Toronto, Ontario

Hardheaded Woman

My mother, in her prime, was a straightshooter; she wouldn’t mince words if she felt that it was needed.

So, when Joe R and I decided to get married in the early seventies and asked for my parents’ permission and blessing, she told Joe R right off the bat and without conferring with my father who was seated with her in the solid narra sofa in our old house in La Loma:

Alam mo ba? Matigas ang ulo niyan?” Did he know I was stubborn as a mule.

The author with her husband Joe Rivera, while visiting New York City in 1988. (Photo by Cindy Schmidt)

Joe R. unfazed, laughed it off and replied with a smile: “Huwag ho kayong mag-alala, matigas din ho ang ulo ko (Please don’t worry about it, I am also hardheaded).”

Of course, he didn’t let on what he said to himself afterwards (and to me later on, in jest): “Pag walang mangyari, mag-uumpugan na lang ho kami ng ulo (If it doesn’t work, we’ll just bump heads).”

What mom would have said what my mother blurted out as a cautionary advice to her future son-in-law?

Did she feel it would keep him from marrying her daughter? Or did she say it out of frustration with a strong-willed child who defied every definition she had of a good daughter?

I remember my childhood, which peaked at the age of twelve, when I thought I had more discernment of what I wanted in life than I did.

Being the middle child, I questioned why I had to do the dishes after supper day in and day out while the other members of the family went scot-free and on their merry ways: my older brothers and sister with the excuse of “studies and homework”; it was my younger brother and sisters’ their playtime and because they were too young to handle the dirty dishes. In the end, a compromise was agreed: I would still do the dishes, but we would schedule a different sibling to do the work each week.

Or my mother still probably recalled the day when I was four years old, and my parents were invited to a wedding feast in a barrio where constituents of my father (who was then town mayor) lived.

While my parents were offered the choicest seats (together with the bride and groom), I was packed off to sit at the low table with the children. Instead of acting like Jesus did in the Biblical parable, I protested. I bawled, howled and cried my eyes off, raising a tantrum at the worst of times and places—in public—misbehaving and putting my father—the honorable mayor—to shame.

I refused to sit with the children, feeling that I should be seated as an honored guest like my parents at the head table. Talk about children’s rights, I had the concept ingrained hard in my head that early.

My father would hear none of it. Got up and quickly sat me straight on WHO WAS THE BOSS. He was. He promptly dried my tears with his handkerchief, and with a firm command asked me to stop crying and told me not to worry, we the children would be served the same fare as the adults.

There would be times when my mother asked me to behave by giving me little pinches on occasions when I had been disrespectful or fought with my siblings. Those were times I would spend hiding in the stairway, praying to God to give me a d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-t mother: a sweet, doting, and loving mom who did not punish misbehavior with pinches!

Since we were brought up not to question our parents, I kept my grudges to myself. Then I would count every meal I ate and owed to my parents because I was determined to pay back all the meals I had eaten in our house. Yes, from day one. That was the only way I could tell them I owed them nothing, did not owe them utang na loob, a debt of gratitude, for raising me into the world. Then I could be free to chart my own life. Run away. Away from home! Forever.

I would think of ways I could live without parental support. Maybe I would inherit huge wealth from a long-lost aunt or fairy godmother. Maybe my grandparents had some hidden stash of gold they kept in a vault on the ground somewhere. But Gapan and Peñaranda, Nueva Ecija, in Central Luzon—the towns where my parents came from—were more than a hundred kilometers away from Quezon City where we lived.

During those mornings or afternoons by the stairwell, when I was off-school, I would chart my escape-from-home-to-freedom routes.

Count all the meals: 3 meals a day X 365 days X 12 years. A total of 13,140 meals. Add three extra days for leap years.

Also, the snacks in-between: 2 snacks a day X 365 days X 12 years. The in-between repasts would total: 8,760 snacks.

“I would count every meal I ate and owed to my parents because I was determined to pay back all the meals I had eaten in our house.”

I could not count those figures by hand or from memory then, with my poor math skills. It is only now with the Google calculator that I would know, I could not have repaid them those meals during those years of my callow youth. Or even now. Because those were times past retrieving, past getting back to. My debt of gratitude to my parents written hard in stone. Stone, the hard rock that I would learn later was the basis for my mother’s name, Petra.

Petra, meaning rock in Greek or Πέτρα, was an ancient Arab kingdom in Hellenistic and Roman times. Its ruins are in present-day Jordan. According to historians, Petra was built on a terrace, pierced from east to west by the Wadi Mūsā or the Valley of Moses—one of the places where the Biblical Moses struck a rock and water gushed forth.

If I were to time-travel correctly, I guess it would probably be my mother who had passed on this indomitable will, the gung-ho spirit of the Nabatean traders who carved their rose city of stone in 300 B.C.—and now one of the seven wonders of the world—to her recalcitrant and muleheaded daughter.

(This article first appeared in the U.S.-based Positively Filipino)

Patria Cabatuando-Rivera is a writer in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is co-editor of the upcoming ‘Magdaragat: An Anthology of Filipino-Canadian Writing’ with Teodoro Alcuitas and C.E. Gatchalian to be published this summer by Cormorant Publishers.

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