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High blood

In June

The month of June throws me back to the many years when my parents prepared and put me and my seven other siblings through school. So I can empathize with Kris Aquino’s quivering anger at a communications assistant secretary for dishonoring the memory of her parents.

My folks may not have laid down their lives for their country in as heroic a manner as Ninoy Aquino Jr. and President Cory did, but their sacrifices for our education from kindergarten to college could never be belittled. They remain appreciated even now as I think of the smallest details they had to mind to make our schooling possible.

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Mom had the last word on the kind of education we would receive—a private one from Catholic schools. This meant that, apart from her office job, she had to moonlight to make ends meet. I recall an eskaparate (display case made of glass and wood) we had in our living room at our Sta. Ana, Manila, apartment where she sold assorted t-shirts and polo shirts to friends and neighbors.

In the house in Sta. Mesa, Manila, where we earlier lived, she admitted daytime boarders, mostly interns and residents from the nearby University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Hospital, who’d take their lunch with us and rest afterwards.

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She could never forget one of those young would-be doctors for the sound of his laughter. He’d turn out to be the now legendary neurologist, Dr. Joven Cuanang. I was four or five years old then, and often wondered at the white-uniformed men and women coming in and out of the house. You’d think there was a medical emergency.

Mom had a wealthy and generous older sister who saw to it that our school uniforms for St. Paul College were made by a modiste. When that aunt died, her daughter, my cousin, took over these duties. Truly, it took a village to raise us.

Between the months of May and June, my sisters and I would be brought to fit into black patent shoes at Gregg’s San Juan. The shoes were supposed to last us until the end of the schoolyear. If they broke, it was off to the Marikina Shoe Fair or the then Shoemart in Makati for a replacement that could not compare, quality-wise, with the original pair. A lot of tears were shed there.

Things became touchy when there was no help available to assist Mom. She’d take over the washing and ironing chores. This meant soaking our checkered linen skirts in starch so they would harden a bit and last us for a few days without our changing uniforms daily, except for our white blouses.

She also ran the kitchen, feeding us two-course meals. When I think of what she had to put up with—eight unruly kids with eight different temperaments—I don’t wonder why this brought out the tiger mama in her. When we became adults, we kidded her that her form of discipline qualified her for Bantay Bata reports.

Where was Dad in all this? He drove us uncomplainingly to and from school. We lived in Manila, but our schools were in Quezon City (the girls’) and San Juan (the boys’). For as long as his transistor radio was tuned in to the news and some martial music, Dad was fine with the distances he had to cover early in the morning before traffic grew heavy. Afterwards, he drove Mom and himself to their respective places of work.

From my parents, I learned how to persevere in whatever task is set before me—a short-term project (book editing and the like), preparing for an art exhibit, occasionally organizing an event, et al.—to earn what I call my own pin money.

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I may not earn brownie points for the kind of housekeeping I do, which is minimal to nil, but I pay attention when my grandchild points out that the straps of her school shoes aren’t working anymore. Then it’s time for lolo to get her a sturdier pair.

If fetching my apo keeps me away from writing and similar creative work, I’m stoic about it, and I’ve learned to enjoy the sight of her playing with her classmates in the school grounds before finally calling out her name to tell her it’s time to go home.

Home—how the word continues to resonate in this month of June with warm memories of Dad and Mom, and their desire for their children to be nothing more than happy and fulfilled in the paths they have chosen.

Elizabeth Lolarga, 63, author of “Catholic and Emancipated” (UST Publishing House), is retired from teaching. She has finished a fourth poetry manuscript and is preparing for a painting exhibit in the ’ber month.

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