Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My Ate Mila, when we were young

My Ate Mila was older than me by only five years, but when she was 12 and I was 7, the gap seemed unbridgeable. She was a tough act to follow.

The year she was about to graduate from elementary school, she was elected girl mayor of Manila during Boys and Girls Week. Her picture landed in the Manila Times and a framed copy occupied an honored place in our living room for years and years until the clipping disintegrated. That same year, she placed first in an interschool oratorical contest with a dramatic piece called "The Henpecked Husband."

In that school, she was a star. She was a Girl Scout leader. She was a mainstay during school programs, for she played the piano prodigously. She graduated class salutatorian.

Although we were poor, she made sure we weren't deprived. Christmasses, she put up a crepe paper-coated tree, made sure our windows were hung with curtains (old but serviceable) and holiday lights (though these blinked out all the time), cleaned up our often topsy-turvy house till the floors shone, helped my mom prepare tsokolate batirol and ham for Noche buena.

My father's favorite and the Ate in the family, she wielded authority. Always feeling lost and clingy, I'd hold on to her when we walked to school. She would often brush my hand away. By hindsight, it was perhaps because she wanted me to be independent.

I was bullheaded (a Taurean) child and disliked being ordered around. But her word was law. For her, my younger sister Zeny and I ran errands, borrowed my Tia Lourdes' plantsa (because ours was always conking out), bought her favorite manggang hilaw and paros from the nearby talipapa.

I followed her around like a lapdog. I memorized all her oratorical pieces (though I myself never made it past semi finals in speaking competitions), listened rapt to her stories about her first love, lapped up her adventures with fellow girl scouts at camp and later with her sorority sisters.

She supported herself through law school, for by then, was father was sick and had temporarily lost his job. She was among the very few people I know who were able to cope with full-time work and law studies at the same time.

She was a senior in law schoool when I entered college. Like her, I joined the sorority where I made friends with sosi girls. One day, I told her I wanted to quit. "Why," she demanded. "I can't even eat halohalo at Little Quiapo with them," I whimpered. "I have no money." She raised my weekly allowance by P2.00 (a magnificent sum) though she couldn't have been earning much more than P4.00 a day (the minimum pay then).

I was the first in the family to marry. When I was about to give birth, I wanted to enter the ward to scrimp on medical expenses. She insisted I went to a private room. We compromised -- I took a semi-private room. She always fought with the nurses. To her eyes, they didn't feed me well enough, lavage me enough, cleaned the room enough. It was love at first sight for her with my first born. She visited the hospital everyday to peak at Ariel. When I came home, hordes of her friends visited as though she was the one who gave birth. "Kamukha mo," they told her. "Hey," I sulked, "what about me?"

Gifted with talent and fantastic PR, Ate Mila was plagued with physical ailments I cannot even count with all of my fingers. Diabetes, bronchial asthma, skin asthma, ostheoarthritis, hypertension, blocked arteries, gout, gallstones -- name it, she had it. In her final years, these ailments bogged her down. She had to go to work in a wheelchair. But no one of her bosses had reason to complain. Despite impaired mobility, she never left her office with a single paper unsigned or unattended.

This is not a paean to my Ate. This is meant to highlight her humanity. Sometimes I have misunderstood her as no doubt she had been misunderstood by others.

But one thing seems clear. She was an exceptional person. She loved unsparingly, raged exquisitely, laughed easily, gave chunks of herself indiscriminately. She grabbed from life all she could despite limitations imposed by her uncooperative body. By turns, she could be jealous, furious, critical, generous, warm, and compassionate.

Widowed early, she was a wonder mom to her children Chin, Rhoda, Red, and Maila. She gave them her all, beyond her all. She was a super sister to Zeny, me, and our brother. We didn't have to ask her .. she knew instinctively when help was needed. She was that way with her friends too who called her a one-man charitable institution.

Even in her wheelchair, my Ate Mila faced the sun. She was in control. She had finished her mission. It was time to go, she decided with her God.

Let us all rejoice with her as she takes leave of her broken body into the arms of her Maker where suddenly all sickness and pain and trouble are no more."

"Shed not for her the bitter tear
Nor give the heart to vain regret
It's but the shell that broke and left
The gem that filled it sparkles yet."

(Written on April 9 and distributed on April 12, 2005)


Gina said...

So lovingly written MC...

She must be the one that you wished were able to enjoy the online scrabble...

lady cess said...

hi AM. ang sarap naman basahin nito. i'm sure your sister loves reading this from up above.

lady cess said...

btw, you're a taurean... so lapit na ang bday mo :) advanced happy bday!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful person your Ate Mila is. Great tribute to your sister.

julie said...

You are fortunate to have your Ate Mila teach you to be more conscious about yourself, not to compete but to raise your standards according to the standards she has set for herself. I hope there future generation will has enough spunk to rely on themselves to do the things that they want to accomplish.

Thanks for this wonderful post. And as Cess said, Advance Happy Birthday to you :)

Heart of Rachel said...

This is a heartwarming post about your dear Ate Mila. I admire her intelligence, independence and courage in life.

Heart of Rachel said...

BTW, I'd like to thank you for your warm birthday wishes. I appreciate it.

I see yours is coming soon, advance Happy Birthday.

Anonymous said...

this is a wonderful story, annamanila. i was moved and likewise, inpired by ate mila's tenacity and love.

Gypsy said...

Wow. What a blessing to have an Ate like that. This is a touching tribute to an amazing human being.

Glad you are back blogging. Missed your posts. :)

Toe said...

And she's back! Back with a beautiful and moving tribute to her wonderful sister. Ate Mila would love this Annamanila.

The five year gap between my sister and myself seemed like a billion years to me too when we were young. My three big sisters wanted to control my life too. I know it's because they cared - they forget that I've grown up. :)

And I'm a Taurus too. :)

Pero ang galing ng Ate Mila sobra. I loved that story about the halohalo (Little Quiapo is near our place). She's a very selfless person.

pining said...

what an amazing woman she is! and beautifully written (as always)
I'm sure she would have loved to read this post too
welcome back to the world of blogging :-)

Missy said...

I clicked on the link in the exskindiver's blog and found this. What a beautiful heart-felt post. Being the eldest in the family, I know it is no easy task to be the Ate. I love reading about good people so please keep blogging!

Major Tom said...

You're lucky to have her as an Ate. She's the consumate achiever.

exskindiver said...

hi MC,
as always this is beautifully written. the depth of your love could be felt with every line.
made me reflect about my siblings and my relationships with them.

rhodora said...

I can see your Ate Mila smiling up there with this loving tribute you wrote for her...

I remember my own ate, 9 years older than me. She was my second mother. She took care of me since I was a baby. She was always willing to help, even applying for a salary loan just to help me with my financial woes when I was newly married. I miss her to this day. She passed away in 1982 from kidney failure. She was just 36.

Belle said...

what an amazing woman your Ate Mila was! lucky for you to be blessed with Ate like her so strong, kind, generous, etc.

Anonymous said...


Your feelings shone through this one.

Beautiful post, as always.


ScroochChronicles said...

This is one of the best eulogies I've read in years. I'm sure Ate Mila is proud of what you have done for yourself. My sincerest condolences to your family :)

Glad to have you back!!

Leah said...

A wonderful tribute to your sister. She was something for sure. I bet you got some of those attitudes and attributes from her.

Welcome back am.

Abaniko said...

Wonderful eulogy. Indeed, she lived a meaningful life.

Sexy Mom said...

your Ate Mila must have lived life to the fullest--one to emulate. Bless her soul!

what a fitting piece you wrote about her.

rowena said...

Hi AM, naiyak naman ako...this such a wonderful tribute to your beloved sister. I'm sure she's very much happy now, seeing how the little sister has grown up to be...

Princess said...

What a tribute, Anna. What I feel now is wordless!!!
May she rest in peace.

Chateau said...

Such a touching piece.

Ate Mila sounds like an important person in my life... Thanks for reminding me I have my own ate Mila, who also needs to be appreciated.

kathy said...

I am really touched by this post.

Thanks for sharing the life of your Ate Mila. Even if I don't know her personally, you've given me a glimpse of this very great woman.

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