For quite a time, from kindergarten to all of elementary and high school, she was second mom to us five boys in a brood of seven. Four years separated us from both her and our eldest brother; and that made them very old school. While they went gaga over vinyl records, the Twist, other dance craze, the Beatles, and Dave Clark, we, their much-younger set and forerunners of rugrats, were preoccupied with neighborhood street games, toy soldiers and comics. At that time, I always felt that she was always in our hair, especially when in grade one, she even became my guardian of sorts because my parents enrolled me at her dominantly-girl’s school in Juna.
She was the stereotype little mom, lording over us, like a second in command. If our house had been a military barracks or a school, she would have been sergeant-at-arms, and class beadle rolled into one. Of course, like all the children in the “Looban” (our playground alley in Ponciano Street in the 60s), that was the set-up; while she gathered with her friends, drooling over movie stars and listening to records, they kept a lookout for errant rugrats, ready to holler if they crossed the street.
It was love-hate I felt at that time. With every reprimand we got from our mom, hers was the perfect follow-up pep talk that usually made one more conscience-stricken. On the other hand, she also exposed us to music and even taught me how to play the guitar. Yet that was not even the best of it. When she went to Manila to study, our relationship with her slowly changed. Little by little, she had become more of a friend. When it became my turn to go to Manila, she and her soon-to-be husband, Kuya Tony insisted that I stay with them, and there, I got to know me sister up close.
Much later, when mom passed away, she assumed the matriarchal role, as only she could, for both her and our families. She was that, perfect to a T, until her very last days. Minutes before she had drifted off to eternal rest, I received her call telling me that we should move our planned visit to Manila ahead of time so we could all have a longer get-together. That was the last time we talked. I only wish I could hear her now as I greet her happy birthday.