I've been thinking about Mommy Rita a lot. She's my maternal grandmother and my only living grandparent. She's 83. In the past months, I've had countless dreams involving her and a few weeks ago, I remember lying in bed, remembering memories of her and then found myself silently crying.
At 83, Mommy Rita (or Mommy Ritz as I call her), is not doing so well as she has been suffering from intermediate dementia. But it's not just because of this that I often feel sad thinking about her but perhaps more because I just plain miss her. My Lola (Tagalog for "grandmother") is one remarkable human being, and I say that with much objectivity. There are so many amazing adjectives I can use to describe her but if you asked me to come up with just one, I'd probably say that above all else, she is courageous. That seems to sum up all the wonderful things that she is.
She lived through one war, married quite early and to my American grandfather at that. To a young Filipino woman with very humble rural roots, going through an interracial marriage in the 1940's must have been daunting. But I can imagine my Lola thinking, 'Bring it on'. She is that kind of woman. I remember as young teenagers, my sister and I were both saying how nothing, no task, is ever too daunting and unmanageable for our Lola. We never really saw her get overwhelmed by anything...from a seemingly insurmountable mess in the house, to catching snakes in the farm. She does worry about family though and tends to be overly concerned about other people's safety all the time. However for that, she turns to prayer. Actually, I suspect that prayer is at the cornerstone of her being and this is probably where she gets much of her courage from. This I will always treasure and remember about her.
Mommy Ritz is fearless in the kitchen. In my mind, she will always be the most amazing cook and there seemed to be no dish too difficult, too unmanageable or too tedious and taxing for her. I think I have grown old associating her with 'comfort food'. How can I not when growing up, seeing her, having her around simply translated to 'great meals', 'feasts' and 'wonderful treats'? She definitely influenced my love for food immeasurably because with Mommy Ritz around, all your senses seem to experience Nirvana with her culinary concoctions. As she gets busy in the kitchen, you get lured to the stove as you smell something really appetizing, only for you to find that it's just plain fried pork slices...nothing really fancy. Every time we would stay at her house in the province, you can expect great tasting meals from start to finish. And speaking of finish, every meal always ends with some amazing dessert. I will forever associate the smell of fresh lime with Mommy Ritz. This is because she makes the most wonderful Leche Flan topped with specks of lime zest which gives it a hint of freshness and is a great complement to the richness and decadence of the flan. She also makes the most unique and mouth-watering Tamarind candy which, unlike the ordinary ones sold at most Filipino stores, are sweet and seedless! She mixes the tamarind with mashed 'kamote'/ sweet potato and I'm sure there's a lot of love that goes into rolling them into half-inch balls that make them so sweet and addictive! Another unique dessert I will always remember her by is her 'Minatamis na Kasoy' (Sweetened Cashew Fruit). I have never eaten that elsewhere but at my grandmother's home and the chewy texture of the cashew fruit coupled with its sweetness makes it quite memorable. And there is no getting over my Lola's 'Sopas' (Filipino Chicken Macaroni Soup)...very tasty and creamy, and buttery at the top as she not only sautés everything in butter but also drops in an additional tablespoon or two when it's about to be done! Yummmmm.......I can spend forever talking about my Lola's culinary masterpieces but I know you get the picture!
I'm now reminded of something Maria Shriver said on an interview regarding her father who has Alzheimer's disease. She said, "...all she can do is love and accept him for who he is now, not who he was or who she wants him to be." Often times we are consumed by the grief brought about by missing the person's old self. After all, Alzheimer's does that..and dementia in my grandmother's case. However, we must not forget to celebrate the person that is still around us and that being in the moment, still celebrating the same loved one that we have in front of us, is the right approach, the ideal frame of mind. This is all much more easily said than done, I know. This is very difficult even for me, who's only a grand daughter. What more for my mom who has known her, the great and amazing person that my grandmother is, for much longer?
But let this blog entry be about a celebration of who Mommy Ritz is, and not a lamentation over the passing of the happy and bountiful times. This is a celebration of who she always has been and forever will be, and not just of what she used to be able to do and give to us. Maybe that is why we are blessed with the capacity for memory...not so much for our own remembrance of our selves, but for the remembrance of those who have touched our lives so that we can remember for them when they can no longer do the same for themselves. In this way, their legacy lives on, way beyond the capacity of their bodies, their minds. At the same time, as we remember, we are continuously enriched by the memory of these great beings.
I am remembering my Lola. I will always remember the sound of her ring when she knocks on our gate and how excited it made us all feel knowing that she'll be around for a few days to visit. I will always remember how she took care of us, pampered us and also kept us busy during all those summer breaks my siblings and I spent at her house in the province . I will always remember how she tolerated my insane fixation with celebrities like Michael Jackson, Wham, Spandau Ballet, Greg Louganis and others despite our age gap. I will always remember how she remained calm during those times I felt so sick and just prayed by my bedside as she comforted me the way she knew how. I will always remember that small wind-up toy she gave me one Christmas morning when I was a very young child and how, to this date, that remains to be the single specific childhood Christmas memory I have. I will always remember her generosity not only towards us, her family, but also to her community. Above all else, for as long as my own memory will allow it, I will remember her unfaltering faith in God which I am certain is the source of her courage even in these most trying times in her life now.
Though she may feel lost in her own memory, lost amidst all that is going on around her these days, I am confident that a lot of people, the countless souls she has touched, will remember for her and be her anchor.