Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tales of my Grandmother

Nostalgic Remembrance of Grandma Simpron-Asumen

At the outset I express my deepest apologies to my venerable ancestors if by writing about them I, ipso facto, violate one of the hallowed axioms of Asumen-hood. Namely, common decency demands that the family laundry be kept under wraps inside the family closet. It just so happens that I don't find anything disgraceful in what I have written so far and what I intend to write about henceforth.

Should any member of the clan find it offensive or hurtful that I delve into the history of the clan which might be deemed most private, I plead guilty. If there be any such parties, to them, I also apologize. In my defense, let me invoke the insightful inklings of Thomas Gray (1716-71), thus:

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

If you looked up "obstinacy" in any picture dictionary, any descendant of my grandmother's should find her picture as the definition of the concept. She was the quintessential meaning of the word. It is precisely for this reason that her story demands to be told. Her descendants can learn and be proud of her, even of those quirks which arguably may be construed as character flaws. She purportedly acquired, after all, the reputation of being the meanest lady in the township.

So if you carry some of her DNA signatures in your genes, it can only help to be somewhat aware of what you might have inherited. It certainly should serve to dispose of some of those bad hair days which may happen upon you every once in a while. Keep in mind, obstinacy is deplorable only to the extent that you are wittingly clinging to an attitude with the full knowledge that you are in the wrong.

A most prominent feature of the house that grandpa and grandma occupied in my earliest recollection of childhood was the imposing bushes of lemon grass surrounding the house by nearly three-quarters of the perimeter. It was a commonly held belief that lemon grass repelled the lethal poisonous variety of tropical snakes. Nanay Orin (short for Florentina), as we called grandma Asumen, tended her lemon grass with the pride and preening satisfaction that an English aristocrat accorded the roses in the ancestral garden.

Bear in mind that then there was no market value for lemon grass. In a farming/fishing community every household was expected to have at least a bush of it in the yard. Nevertheless, grandma had the well substantiated reputation of not parting with a single stalk of lemon grass without giving the recipient a lengthy lecture on the virtues of planting your own.

Consequently she always gave away cuttings which included the roots with the admonition to plant the roots before cooking the succulent stalks because she could not tolerate any body asking for handouts a second time around. So a demure neighbor would very well suffer not having lemon grass in the supper stew than endure grandma's notorious lectures.

Where I spent my earliest childhood, the proximity of a neighbor was reckoned in terms of number of hills and dales away, or so many bends of the meandering nearby creek away. The measure of whether or not you were a neighbor was how well you were reached by the sound of the blown tambuli, the traditional means of calling the attention of neighbors. The message was transmitted by a pre-established pattern of long and short notes, some primitive macro Morse code of sorts.

As a pres-school little boy I only learned the pattern for alarm as in summons for help and for jubilee as when there was an unexpected bounty to share, e.g., when you had a bountiful catch for the day, fishing-wise. Each household's tambuli, made from either a water buffalo horn or the shell of a giant conch (as was my grandfather's), had a signature sound so there was no mistaking who was sending the message.

Our house was located two valleys bookending a longish diamond back ridge away from grandma's house. Their tambuli was faintly but unmistakably audible from our house. I always treasured the afternoons when I could spend in their house for one excuse or another, under the pampering tolerant watch of my grandfather.

To begin with, Nanay Orin was the sweetest little old lady a little boy could ever hope to have for a grandmother. She had the habit of taking afternoon naps, probably a relic of the Spanish siesta. While she was taking a nap, grandpa used to help me steal from her stash of chocolate tablets, i.e., tablea, usually kept in a basket suspended to the rafters. Grandma, on discovering the mischief, would grandly announce that there was a rat infestation problem in the household because no matter how she safeguarded her stash of tablea, she still would be missing a few.

Even from a little boy's perspective, grandma was definitely diminutive in stature. She was an accomplished midwife without the benefit of formal training. All three of her children, were very skilled at giving a massage, particularly the anma variety. I am the fifth of eight siblings. All of us were delivered at home with the sole assistance of a midwife. I was the last one to have been delivered with grandma as the attending midwife. The rest of my siblings were delivered by Aunt Isabel (Nanay Abeng) as the midwife.

This was not only because grandma was too advanced in age to adequately do the job. My younger sister, sixth in the order, ended up being officially named Turtlelita. That was because when mother was pregnant with her, my parents were not in good terms with grandma. Grandma generated the rumor in town that she had put the curse on mother's pregnancy and that mother was pregnant not with a human fetus but with a turtle.

In defiance, when my sister was born, father named her Turtlelita. Her first grade school teacher took pity on her and she just decided to change the name to Tortellita. Much later on, somebody pointed out that it sounded like the diminutive for fried eggs, tortella. I think when she got older she just decided to drop the pseudo-prefex and became just plain Lita.

I can't exactly recall what triggered the quarrel between my parents and grandmother. I do recall that during that time grandpa was still on speaking terms with my parents. This led to the well held consensus that it simply was an instance of grandma's mean streak. On hindsight, I consider it a simple instance of the proverbial conflict between female in-laws, well documented since biblical antiquity.

So there you have it. These are selective tidbits of what is readily retrievable from my bank of selective memory. Feel free to pick and choose, if you can, which personal trait to inherit. As for myself, I deem it a fitting tribute to her memory by altering the third person plural pronouns to third person singular and quote a stanza from Thomas Gray, thus:

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Her sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
She kept the noiseless tenour of her way.




No comments:

Post a Comment