My Mom was no Anna Jarvis who fought against the commercialization of Mother’s Day. Not Julia Ward Howe, who was an antiwar activist advocating for peace after the American Civil War and the 1870 Franco-Prussian War in France and Germany.
Also, early on in history, Mother’s Day was created so daughters who worked far from home could be allowed to go home and be with their mothers. Women’s groups the world over now honor mothers and motherhood on Mother’s Day with causes such as equality, proper health care for women and children, preventing violence against women and children, etc. Coretta Scott King, for example, activist, singer, wife of Martin Luther King, Jr., used Mother’s Day to march in the streets in support of underprivileged women and children.
Gloria Vitug Licad was just like any ordinary Filipina. She grew up in Lubao, Pampanga and was raised by a strict and religious father, a teacher, and a very hard-working hacendera mother. When she finished high school, her parents built a house in Manila so that Gloria could study piano at St. Scholastica’s College. And there began Gloria’s little rebellions.
Her father didn’t allow suitors – who included lawyers, doctors, businessmen, electricians, taho vendors, and others. Until she fell for a neighbor named Serafin Lanot, a lean journalist who disguised himself as a kanto boy, a bum.
She rebelled and, unknown to her father, went out on dates with Serafin. He read up on music and listened to piano and violin concertos, operas, and so on. Serafin could “name that tune” on the first bar! She was impressed by Serafin’s knowledge of classical music.
Gloria Licad Lanot obtained an M.A. in Piano at the Chicago Musical College, then taught at the Philippine Women's University, and later at the College of Music, University of the Philippines.
Mama’s personal activism was impulsive and intuitive. A double Leo, she mothered us well, and she possessed a real sense of justice. Hence, her support of laborers and students in my poem.
MY OTHER SELF
My mother left with a thousand goodbyes.
Memorizing my face, looking deep into my eyes,
With her clear eyes, she would retrace
Her youth, how her Papang used to wake her up at dawn
In order to play the piano, and then, pray,
Eat breakfast, and then, play with her siblings,
And then, practice again. She wanted to be a doctor,
But the nuns in her school said she should major in piano
Because, they told her father, she had talent.
Looking back, my mother thought maybe it was
Her Papang's way of keeping her home.
Mama was attracted to Papa's knowledge of music and more,
She saw adventure, daring, rebellion, courage,
Which reminded her of how she climbed the wall
Of her dormitory at night and escaped the watchful
Eyes of the nuns just to walk around Ernita
With her interna roommates and bring home
Food, which was not allowed in the bedroom.
She would go out on dates with her would-be husband
To the silence of the cemetery, where they could talk,
With a chaperone in tow.
Until they eloped, also with a chaperone!
As a child I remember my mother spraying midnight,
When her outside job and housework were done
And the whole neighborhood was asleep,
With music, the piano closed, her fingers
Running over invisible keyboard, her eyes shut,
Memorizing Beethoven's Emperor Concerto No. 5
For her masteral graduation. She didn't know I could see
Her, how amazed I was, but I thought it normal
For anyone like her to be playing as though
The spheres were dropping snow falling on snow.
Her daily routine was like any mother's,
She prepared breakfast, our baon, saw to it that
The house was so clean you could eat off the floor,
Taught in school, gave private piano lessons.
She, like Papa, saw to it we got a good education,
And stopped dreaming - or did she? -
Of concertizing in order to be a fierce lioness.
She taught me how to play the piano,
Enrolled me in a ballet school;
Filled our home with Lizst, Bach, Beethoven;
Accompanied Papa singing kundiman songs,
Accompanying others, too, like Atang de la Rama;
Received as guests The Madrigal Singers,
Who happily sang gratis on her and Papa's birthdays
And on my parents' wedding anniversaries.
In her last days, she would gaze into my eyes
In what seemed eternity and smile,
Assured that she did her best to raise her children well,
Assured that we loved her beyond words.
Her smile brought back the laughter
In each nook of the house.
She relived the First Quarter Storm
When she and Papa joined, in their Beetle,
Marches and demos of students and laborers;
When the Diliman Commune rocked and
She rushed to bring sandwiches to DZUP;
The dark days and nights she tirelessly talked to
Military officers to free my detained husband;
The time after we went to Ninoy's house after he was killed,
When she and Nick Joaquin walked hand-in-hand
From Times Street to Sto. Domingo Church;
The euphoric days when she prepared food
For concerned artists to bring to Radio Veritas;
How she fed and entertained my father's
Huk friends finally freed from prison;
How she later hosted welcome parties for my
And my husband's own friends and acquaintances
Who were released in 1986.
And during floods and other calamities,
My mother would quietly bring food,
Clothes, mats, pillows and blankets to
The poor who took shelter in our garage.
Oh, how she loved the movies!
Especially love stories like An Affair to Remember, and
Those of Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, and Burt Lancaster.
Many times she would catch a movie in the theater
At eight in the morning alone.
And she would spend hours driving,
Zigzagging up the mountain,
Heading for the beach,
Taking family and friends on a vacation,
Driving, driving down the road
From sunup to moonrise,
Like she was mapping out her life,
Shooting the breeze,
Laughing in the wind
Like a young woman in love
Mama taught me when to be tender
And when to be tough,
When to use scorching words
And when to wear icy silence,
How to serve my family
And how to be independent and strong,
She wanted me to reach for the stars
With my feet planted on the ground.
In many ways, we were different,
Though in many ways she's also my other self.
She also taught me not to expect too much
So as not to be disappointed.
She was preparing me with a thousand little kisses
For the time she would leave...
Now, I have become my mother.
Marra PL. Lanot writes poetry and essays in Filipino, English and Spanish. She also writes for newspapers, magazines and television, and has attended as invited delegate to various international literary/poetry festivals, the most recent ones of which are in Colombia (2013) and in India (2014).
More articles by Marra PL. Lanot