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Aida’s Christmas traditions

04:00 AM December 24, 2019

Anyone who ever met her would remember Aida as a strong-willed, headstrong, disciplined and generous woman. I remember her as a woman with wrinkled skin, strong hands, a pinched brow, thin scowling lips and giggle-fit smiles. I remember her as Lola Aida.

All these qualities I’ve made for quite a woman, and for holiday seasons that I’ve never quite grasped until she left us to travel with my grandfather to places we cannot yet follow or visit.

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I remember each year in September, she’d rummage through large candy-cane-shaped plastic bags that smelled like musty old bed covers and books, looking for red, green and gold decor.It was a sensory experience. She would pull out faded yet still fluffy trimmings, along with dusty gold bells, glittery mistletoe with missing red beads, fuzzy wreaths. All of which would be hung in their respective places year after year.

As an 80-year-old, she managed this task by enlisting the aid of her kabarangay, her grandchildren and sometimes her busy children. I remember how it was a day-to-day affair. The process was simple enough; rummage, dust-off, hang, repeat.

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The energy, however, was in short supply for Aida. It was often divided between decorating, and household tasks that she just had to do herself. The house, especially the kitchen, was her kingdom.These memories are currently half a decade old.

Nowadays, the house no longer hums with tinkling voiceless Christmas carols over flickering lights and glitter; it is quaintly decorated with a fraction of the decor that used to hang on the ceiling and stairwell. The cleanup and setup are certainly easier.

When it isn’t the Christmas season, the house is still covered in various knickknacks and photos of Aida and Greg and family, mingling with some kids’ meal toys and party favors from the kabataan. Each piece atop its own dusty mantle represents a memory; one in particular stands out, and is the freshest one involving Lola Aida.

A framed photo of farewell, printed over a year ago, shows the usually stoic Aida smiling. Quite a feat, as she would pucker her lips or stick out her tongue whenever a camera was aimed her way. A smile of hers was always an earnest prize when captured. Thank God for faster shutter speeds.

When it was taken, she was wearing a knitted white cardigan over her favorite two-piece business suit of patterned floral green, both garments smelling of a mixture of Efficascent Oil and baby oil underneath her sampaguita perfume. Her hair was brushed neatly into one side, revealing a modest white pearl stud on one ear.

I remember she was sitting on a plush seat for the last birthday she would celebrate with us, before her inevitable journey elsewhere.

This photo would draw up a smile, and her expression was one of amusement — even, dare I say it, joy.

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Atop an aged coffee table is a smartly arranged stack of picture books for children and young adults. These books were hers. The tales ranged from daring escapes to incredulous mysteries and ancient history. There was no connection among the books in terms of plot, theme or author; rather it was the font size of the physical text — the larger the letters, the better.

Lola Aida was quite the well-read and avid book lover, and she detested not being able to read, whether for the simple pleasure of it or to lull her to sleep. On Aug. 15, 2018, at 3:20 a.m., Lola feverishly whispered for her bag, abaniko, shoes and earrings, and left with Lolo Greg to places we cannot yet visit or follow. Since then, her traditions and rituals around the house have rung clearer and more vividly to us than they had ever done before her departure.

The candy bags for the barangay children, the modest to extravagant gifts for friends, the colorful Christmas decor — all of them have become fond memories.

Whenever I recount these lovely things about Lola Aida, my listeners end up in tears — whether it’s my mother, her youngest child; or my brother, the Lola’s boy; or my best friend who owed Lola a duck, or anyone who had held her dear. I find myself, however, smiling, as I remember that gleaming denture-filled smile during a giggly fit, her then-wintry eyes squinting with amusement.

As the chill of the last quarter of the year sets in, I remember Aida.

I remember my fiery Lola Aida, as my cousin once described her. And I will forever remember her traditions, which we celebrate year after year and try, as much as we can, to uphold.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, La! Enjoy your lagaw with Lolo!

* * *

HG Paloma, 23, is a student at the University of Iloilo.

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TAGS: grandmother's Christmas traditions, HG Paloma, Young Blood
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