Y E L L O W

Mommy’s favorite flower – the yellow chrysanthemum

 
I never used to like yellow. In fact, I kinda hated the color. At least I thought I did.

Just like how I sometimes thought (rather unwisely) I hated my mother…

Mommy… that’s how we called her.

Mommy loved yellow… she had a lot of dresses made in that color… different fabrics and prints… in her own favorite style… in various degrees of “yellowness”… from the really bright to the muted and subtle.

She was also a staunch supporter of the late Philippine President Cory Aquino, a simple housewife just like her, old school and a churchgoer. Mommy was a firm believer and supporter of the first Aquino administration, and happily noted that yellow was the official color of PDP – LABAN (LAkas ng BAyaN – the political party founded by newly elected President Noynoy Aquino’s father, the late Senator Benigno Aquino, in 1978 – merged with another political party PDP to form Cory’s political party coalition in the 1986 snap elections). After Ninoy Aquino was assassinated, Mommy’s eyes and ears were firmly glued to both the TV and radio (AM)… and I felt, had it not been for the fact that Daddy was abroad, Mommy would have left us to join at least one of Cory’s political rallies.

She tried to make up for her inability to physically show her confidence in Cory’s run for the presidency by being a vocal defender of Aquino against any form of verbal abuse or criticism made in her presence. Mommy had several yellow blouses she wore on a daily basis to more than make up for the hundreds of yellow banners she could have waved in many an Aquino-led demonstration or rally.

Whenever the Aquino administration called on the public for help in cash or in kind in times of (mostly) natural calamities, Mommy always responded in kind… our well-stocked grocery cabinets would not be emptied and the contents given as donations. Mommy would seriously shop for stuff to give away… and she made sure that whatever clothes we donated were clothes we would have worn ourselves, not hand-me-downs we had gotten tired of and worn out.

But why did I hate yellow? Mommy would usually allow me to pick the style of dress I wanted whenever we went shopping… but she would usually say that the one in yellow looked really good on me, so we’d end up buying yellow dresses. She said purple (which was my favorite color back then, aside from red) was just too dark or a bit gloomy for a little girl… and red, well, red didn’t really do well during summer if it was too red ‘coz it’s hot… nor did it do well during the rainy season ”coz it was… well… too red. As for yellow, she said it’s easy on the eyes and quite pleasant to look at as long as it is not that gaudy shade of yellow that kinda looks cheap. Maybe you know what she meant. I didn’t, back then… I just decided to dislike yellow.

I had yellow wallets, yellow headbands and yellow ribbons, sometimes a yellow bag… but it was usually the clothes that were yellow. Most everything else was my choice. But as I grew older, I demanded more and more of my stuff in a purple or lavender shade. Daddy accepted this and bought me stuff in the exact color I wanted. Even my flashlight was lavender, my hair brush, my rubber shoes… and I was quite satisfied. Even Mommy accepted that yellow just wasn’t my first color of choice.

Though I did learn that yellow symbolized “freedom” and I kept thinking… what if the guy one is with gives one yellow roses… does it mean he wants freedom? It wasn’t really a big deal back then… it just crossed my mind. I never had a boyfriend anyway… but I had my own childish daydreams, so I guess that’s why… it just crossed my mind.

In the song “Coward of the County”… I learnt that to be yellow means to be “cowardly”… and from Shakespeare, I found out that to be jaundiced meant the following:

Adj. 1: (archaic) showing or experiencing a state of disordered feeling or distorted judgment as through bitterness or melancholy; “all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye”-Alexander Pope [syn: yellow]

And I began to view yellow and all other colors as things that meant more than what seemed obvious to the all-seeing eye. Mommy never stopped liking yellow though… she was a woman who, if convinced that something or someone is good (or bad), it (he/she) must be good (or bad) all throughout. You’d have the greatest difficulty proving the contrary, ‘coz Mommy was nothing if not loyal… to the point of obstinacy… and usually, she was right.

It was Mommy who trained us to sleep early on weekdays (we went to bed at 8pm), and wake up early at 5am the next day to buy pandesal (a popular type of Filipino breakfast bread). She taught me and my brother to finish the food that’s on our plate. Forced us to eat healthy (back then, the only vegetables I ate with relish were long beans, eggplant and swamp cabbage… everything else would cause me to gag), be clean (no matter how lazy or tired we felt – we were not allowed to keep dirty dishes overnight), honest, meticulous (Mommy was a bit of an OC case), and responsible. If you want to keep a pet, you had better learn to look after it. My brother and I learned the hard way. We tried to have fish pets (twice), but weren’t able to care for them properly. The ones from the pet store died one by one, perhaps from overfeeding at first, and then widow(er)hood; and one unfortunate freshwater fish who seemed all plump and healthy when my brother brought her home eventually died from what we could only surmise to be loneliness and longing for her natural habitat.

Mommy let us help her out whenever she cooked something special… in fact, my love for cooking comes from her. She taught us to value food and be appreciative of what we had. She said that no matter how poor a person may get, as long as he has food on his table, things can’t be so bad. It’s overly simplistic on the surface, but it taught us to “waste not, want not” (how I wish I had mastered that). She usually bought food items that could be stocked in bulk, since buying in bulk was more economical than buying retail. We were not the kind of kids who’d be sent to the neighborhood sari-sari store to buy a peso of soy sauce, half a kilo of sugar or one head of garlic. I swear that no matter how bad things were in my country, we were usually well-stocked since Mommy made food her priority when it came to household expenses.

Mommy shared her passion for books and movies with us. Weekends were made for that. After her early morning visit to the wet market (at 4am no less), me and my brother would wake up at 9 or 10am… we’d have gone to mass the Saturday before Sunday so… all we had to do was get our daily share of taho (made of soybeans – softer than tofu, and mixed with boiled sago pearls and caramelized sugar)… then real breakfast. We then did our Sunday chores. I cleaned the living room and kitchen… and my brother did the bedrooms… or vice versa… depending on who was feeling lazier. Upstairs was usually for the one feeling less inclined to clean thoroughly since Mommy rarely checked on the one cleaning upstairs. And since I was firstborn, I was the one who usually decided, to my younger brother’s dismay. Then in the afternoon we might go for a movie or watch TV and have ice cream. If we didn’t go out, she’d read a book and we’d read ours and take a nap, no matter how much sleep we’d have had. Mommy always said “stay up late if you want to stunt your growth.”

Mommy, Daddy, Tong-Tong & Cleng-Cleng

Green – Mommy was…. she was green. Not with envy… but very responsible for the environment. Long before garbage segregation was introduced, we were already practicing it. And she never threw waste on the street nor inside vehicles. We always had a plastic bag on hand for our waste, especially when we traveled.

She never pressured us to become overachievers but we had a schedule for our homework. I did well in school but she rarely praised me. She would just cast me an appreciative glance when I would show her my report card. It was from her closest friends that I learned how proud she was of me… ‘coz when they see me, they would repeat everything Mommy had told them, and tell me to keep it up and keep making my Mommy proud.

My brother and I learned to speak English better than our contemporaries ‘coz Mommy didn’t allow us to watch Filipino movies at home save for comedy gag shows… we had no Filipino comic books except for Funny Komiks. And there were certain times in the day when we could only speak in English. We watched Sesame Street of course, Electric Company, Flying House, Super Book, Fairy Tale Theater and Villa Allegre… kid’s educational programs, and mostly English films, sitcoms and TV series. Mommy was a great fan of Little House on the Prairie, McGyver, Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, The A-Team, The X-Files, Le Femme Nikita, Seinfeld, Millennium, Oprah, The Practice, ER, NYPD Blue, Boston Legal, Touched by an Angel, Buffy, Gilmore Girls, Friday the 13th and a host of other TV series that came and went through the years (sorry for my intentional non-use of quotation marks… there’d be too many). And eventhough she could not fathom why we liked Mr. Bean, Frasier, Friends, Ally McBeal and some of the cartoons (anime mostly) we watched, she left us to our own devices. She did learn to like Son Goku though, and the Ghostfighters. And if it was a fight between me with my brother against Daddy, that is, whether we should watch Sunday Fun Machine or basketball… Mommy usually took our side.

Long before the rise of the Lycans and Wolverine’s (hahaha) Van Helsing ;-)))) and Gary Oldman’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, my imagination was fed with thoughts of the supernatural since my Mommy would let me and my (scared) brother watch whatever horror movies she watched, in the afternoons (reruns of Christopher Lee’s Dracula movies) or during weekends, whether they were about zombies, ghosts, vampires, evil dwarves, warlocks, etc.

And when me and my kid brother watched Chinese movies on Sundays (dialogues were spoken in Mandarin, I think, and the subtitles were in whatever written translation – still in Chinese – corresponded to the verbal exchange)… then decided to use chopsticks in every meal, spoke our own version of Chinese (all nonsense ofcourse), christened ourselves in what seemed (to us) were Chinese or Japanese sounding names (we were also convinced that we were ninjas… sometimes it was a kung-fu fighter vs. a ninja, or a white ninja vs. a black ninja… we lived up to and sometimes broke all archetypes, hahaha 🙂  ) and made our own pretend Shaolin kung-fu moves and a variety of ninja weapons… she just let us have our own brand of fun.

She never questioned or criticized me whenever I cut out almost every single short story in the Women’s Journal magazines she bought, not to mention the hundreds of recipes, cutouts of MOD’s “I need friends because…”, “Adventures into the Unknown”… and so on and so forth. All she said was that by the time I grew up, I would need an extra room just for my paper stuff… and that if by some stroke of misfortune our house burned down… the first place to get puffed out completely would be my roomful of papers. She never threw them away no matter how much space they took up and how much dust they gathered.

She let me read Mills & Boon and Silhouette novels even when I was just a kid, and early on in high school… even The Red Dragon, The Far Pavilions and Salon Kitty… Reader’s Digest (especially the condensation features). Her library was my library. She did not censor my reading… and I am all the better for it.

Mommy believed me and my brother even when we were lying to our teeth… though, of course, the truth always came out and she would look at us dejectedly… it was better when she was her usual temperamental self… lashing out and punishing us, expressing her frustration… it was just sad when Mommy looked so disappointed and unhappy, and would just decide to keep silent.

There were times when I hated her for I was headstrong myself and very proud. As a child, I argued freely against my aunts or uncles, even my grandma Rosita (Mommy’s mom)… not so much with Lola Flor (Daddy’s mom) ‘coz I usually tried to be on my best behavior with her since I rarely got to see her. I would quarrel and physically fight my way to win, unmindful of the repercussions… although she always put me in my place and prove herself right. My arrogance during puberty did little to serve me since I had a sharp tongue. But Mommy’s was sharper. She had wisdom to back her up. It was hard to say “sorry” sometimes… but it was something I had to do, in words or deeds… Mommy was usually right about stuff. Okay, not usually. Always.

Come to think of  it… the biggest quarrels I had in my life were fights I had with her… my Mommy. I feared and respected her, but I always had to have my way. And now, now I have no one to fight with…

She was an excellent cook… or did I mention that before? It was she who taught me not to forcibly turn over a fish before it’s time… so as not to ruin the fish and end up eating flakes… not to taste the food one is cooking too often since it would usually end up getting too salty… she taught me that food to be kept in the fridge or freezer should always be placed in airtight containers… to keep food to be set aside as soon as the dish is cooked and not just keep leftovers (since this almost always leads to spoilage). Mommy always let us take the parts we liked… like in chicken or fish… and always kept food aside for Daddy the moment she finished cooking. We had napkins on our table, used place mats and coasters. We had our personalized mugs and plates… special chinaware, crystal ware and flatware were kept and taken out only during special events.

Our house was always spic & span (except on weekends coz my brother and I did the cleaning… ehehehe)… but she would always clean up whenever she wasn’t satisfied. She always said that sometimes, the best way to do something is to do it yourself rather than waiting for others to do it. Later in life we had house help, but she never left the cooking and house cleaning totally up to them… mostly just the laundry work and the ironing. But it was always she who ironed Daddy’s clothes.

When Daddy would come home from abroad… Mommy would divide up the chocolate (a family addiction) equally into four… but we almost always ended up eating ours PLUS her share.

Our very young parents 🙂

We were allowed to bring our friends home, in fact, Mommy encouraged it… and she always cooked something extra special when we had friends over. She trusted me enough to allow me to have male friends… aside from my usual gal pals. She let me go to sleepovers with my friends and come home late as long as it involved schoolwork.

When I joined rallies and demonstrations (usually pro-teacher or pro-student rallies, essentially anti-admin) in high school or college… Mommy never questioned my judgment… whether or not I had a scholarship at stake. She always just told me to be careful and make sure I knew what I was laying myself out for.

She wasn’t like those mothers who were always well-dressed while their husbands looked like family drivers and the kids look like some other unlucky person’s kids. Mommy made sure we were properly suited up for whatever outing we had, just as much as she was.

Mommy was also an excellent gardener and a lover of pets. She never fed our dogs or cats spoiled food… she groomed them and cared for them like they were members of our family… and we all grieved when we would lose any one of them, even our especially fattened up Babes. 🙂

My brother and I, on the whole, had a happy childhood. And if there ever was a time of want, we never really felt it. Sometimes I find myself thinking of Mommy and how she would lie down on the long chair in the living room and stare at the ceiling for hours. I now realize that those were the times when she was trying to find a solution to a financial problem… but back then, we weren’t bothered ‘coz Mommy was there, and she always found a way.

Like most things we treasure and people we love… Mommy left too soon.

I miss her.

I miss her. I miss her.

Christmas, New Year and the summertime are never really going to ever be the same without her.

The rainy days will be just as sad.

And as I look back, I know that she was the perfect mother for us… for me and my brother.

I would be happier for my kids if she were still around to look out for them while I am so far away.

Things would be so different with Mommy around. And in my old romantic brain, I always assume that things would definitely be better if only she were here.

Yellow. Mommy’s favorite color.

I too have yellow clothes now… in my closet. Just a few.

And although I don’t wear them that often, I have them there deliberately, in my wardrobe, as a reminder of how great my mother was… how wise she was… how much she loved us… how she always chose us over everything and everyone else…

Yellow.

Memories of my mother, our Mommy…. and how I can never say goodbye.

© Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2010