Nanay, my first #SHEro

Renee Julienne M. Karunungan
Nanay, my first #SHEro
Like the character in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, in the middle of chaos that is life, Nanay's quiet strength has held our family together

My Nanay is turning 92. She has become forgetful and has become slower in her movements. There is now a cane in her hand where a gardening tool used to be. She has started looking for Tatay, who died 19 years ago. Sometimes, she looks at us for a long time before she could decide what name she should call us.

My lola (grandmother) is the Ursula Iguaran of our family. She has outlived some of her children, lived through World War II, has seen the development of technology – from black and white photos to her family having the first television in the neighborhood to cellular phones to iPads. And like the character in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, in the middle of chaos that is life, Nanay’s quiet strength has held our family together.

I’m a lola‘s girl. I grew up with her. When I was a child, I shared a bed with her. She told me stories every night: of how she wished to become a nurse during World War II but was forbidden by her father so she became a teacher instead; of how their family used to run a small soda company even before the big brands came; of the morning cartoons I asked her to watch everyday since going to school didn’t allow me to watch them; of how her students still remember to give her presents and cards during special occasions.

These stories fed my imagination every night, like a cartoon character with a dream cloud above her head, I’ve learned to imagine, vividly, scenes from the 1940s: a clean Pasig River Nanay’s family used to travel through, and  a young Nanay who chased after ducks and chickens in their backyard. 

I don’t remember the reason why, but maybe it was because I was afraid of the dark, that every night, after the stories were over, I would ask Nanay to hold my hand as I went to sleep. Which she did, very tightly. And though I would wake up every morning with her hand no longer in mine, I always woke up feeling loved and secure, and maybe even a little braver each time.

Nanay was always like that – selfless even in her little ways. She gave me all of her stories and reached out her hand every time I asked.

A lot of me is because of her. My life has revolved around stories. I grew up loving reading and writing. In college, I had this dream of becoming a teacher like her – which came true last year as I taught my first batch of students. And every time life comes in the way, I would always remember Nanay’s strong faith and how she always deals with life with a smile on her face.

FAMILY. The author and her family during 90th birthday celebration of her nanay.

Nanay is turning 92. My sister, who is in college, spends most of her days away from the house. I’ve lived in the city since I started working and only come home a few days a year. Sometimes, I feel a pang in my chest knowing Nanay is left alone at home on most days. The house which used to be the home for our family has become an empty space, leaving only traces of what once was, before Tatay died, before my parents separated, before my mom and my brother went to the US, before I started working, before my sister started college. But Nanay is still there, quietly sitting or walking around the house, still trying to give warmth to every empty space, preparing for the days when we come home. And she has succeeded, because despite everything, despite the empty spaces, home still feels like home.

Nanay is turning 92. Sometimes we forget this. Sometimes we get tired of questions which she has asked 10 times over and it is she who says, “Sorry, nakalimutan ko. Alam mo naman, matanda na (Sorry, I’ve forgotten. You know, I’ve gotten old).”

And I am writing this because I don’t want to forget, especially during times when I no longer want to go home or when I get tired of answering the same questions from her over and over again — Nanay is my first “shero.”

Nanay, my shero who taught me that a woman can be both soft and strong, can both arrange flowers and hold a family together. She taught me that a woman can also dream of big things, and can make them come true. She taught me that it is okay to say sorry but that you fight the good fight through life. But most of all, she taught me about a woman’s worth and how a woman deserves to be loved – selflessly – like how she gave me her hand every night, like how she gave me all of her stories, like how, at 92, she is still giving whatever fire there is left inside of her to give warmth to the home she built. –

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