We call her Peps. My daughter and her cousins call her Lola Fe. Today she is turning 66, so we had spaghetti for breakfast and ordered Jollibee chicken joy for lunch. We wanted pansit palabok and pichipichi but Amber does not deliver. But what do we do except say ‘sayang’. Can’t go to the mall. Can’t treat Peps to a better meal on her birthday. We are all confined in our condo unit beside the university where I work and trying to enjoy this long and indefinite period of being constantly together because of the pandemic. I imagine Peps must be quite stressed too, since we are now constantly in her space. Before the lockdown she had the condo to herself the whole day, sometimes late into the night. Now she cannot go outside even for fresh air. We have forbidden her as she is a senior and more vulnerable to the contagion. And so someone else is doing even the grocery tasks. Mico my nephew has developed a new competency as a ‘master shopper’ for all our needs, from food to toiletries.
Fe has been with us for the last thirty years and is now part of my family and our extended family: mine and my husband’s. She is my daughter’s yaya and of course my daughter would say mine too. She has cleaned and cooked and fetched things for us, and laughed and cried with us throughout all these thirty and more years. I always say I have been able to do what I have been doing because she has been with me. It’s a gift of service and presence and love that cannot be returned or given justice to with material compensation.
Recently she has decided to retire and in fact she had left us and was away most of last year. She had built a house close to her old mother and would come back usually to stay for two weeks or a month. She came in February this year and was supposed to leave again early March but the lockdown was enforced and so she had to stay on. How lucky we are, my sisters said during one of our chat sessions. Fe is here and we’re able to enjoy home cooked meals while we’re on confinement! I just hope she likes it too, since most of her children are now also in Manila, and they talk on the phone or communicate on Facebook regularly. She is able to ‘attend’ mass via the Quiapo Church service on FB Live or YouTube, and monitor what’s happening in the outside world using her smartphone.
Happy birthday, Peps! I can never forget that I owe my freedom to forge a career and work and write and raise a family all at the same time to your gift of presence and loyalty and service.