Valentina Peña is my maternal grandmother, but within our family, we always call her Mami. In all the years I’ve known her, no one has satisfactorily explained to me the genesis of that appellation. It may be a reference to the delicious chicken noodle soup she makes, or more probably, it is an affectionate, but misspelled alternative to the word “Mommy.” No one really knows. No one really minds. Certainly, Mami doesn’t mind.
Like most grandmothers, Mami is kind and caring. She is a petite lady, standing just a little above 5 feet tall. She has that beautiful Filipina morena coloring with a head of lustrously dark, brown hair, and skin bronzed by the sun. Her almond shaped eyes give others the impression that she has Chinese blood. Her smile is often wide with her teeth slightly discolored. She loves to cook and is very good at it too.
My earliest memories of Mami was from the age of 4. I knew I spent a lot of time in her house watching television, or playing with clothespins on the living room carpet. Every 3 in the afternoon without fail, Mami always served me a small plate of warm cheese sandwich, sliced into triangles. After I ate that, I would ask for seconds… and thirds… and fourths and more. I had a voracious appetite even then but Mami did not mind one bit. She would whip up batches of sandwiches upon request until I was full — or until her supply of bread and cheese spread ran out, whichever came first. She always gave me her wide smile whenever she saw me stuffing myself with her cheese-filled snacks.
Upon reflection, I may also have kept asking for her sandwiches for the sake of seeing that smile.
When I stepped into high school, I would still visit my Mami regularly every lunch time and even spend weekends with her. By then, I had expanded both in height and width. I was not prone to play with clothespins on her carpet anymore, though. And my craving for her cheese sandwiches was replaced by a hankering for her excellent sautéed minced pork.
However, these were the years when I noticed the irreversible changes in my grandmother. Mami’s hair became peppered with white strands, until she had more white hair on her head than the lustrous dark brown I remembered. Her morena skin became more wrinkled. The wide smile I recollected so fondly was replaced by a set of dentures that seemed out of place amidst her naturally discolored teeth. Her walk was slower and more deliberate. She complained about aching joints. It seemed that moving about in her home became an increasingly daunting task.
Still, even when I knew she was in pain, my grandmother never failed to give me one of her wide smiles.
It has been more than a decade since I last spent time in Mami’s home watching endless television shows, playing with clothespins, and eating her cheese sandwiches. As I grew up, my life became crowded with schoolwork, housework, and other activities that removed me from my grandmother’s presence. I became engaged in other social activities and interacted with more people. My quality time with Mami receded to the occasional short visit, or a few hours during family gatherings.
There are some Saturdays though, when my mother and I would drop by her house. More often than not, after we buy groceries for the week, my Mom would go in to see how Mami is. In my thoughtlessness, sometimes I will not budge from the car because I am too tired or embarrassingly, too lazy to move my bulk.
Nonetheless, whenever I visited my Mami, I always felt nostalgic for the living room carpet where I once played, for the dining table where I stuffed myself with sautéed minced pork, and most especially, for the kind and caring woman who never failed to smile at me with her almond shaped eyes now crinkled by age.
Then there is also sadness. Mami walks ever slower, and complains that her joints are unbearably painful. I know for a fact that she has not attended any family gatherings for some time now, and she always wishes that she could. My heart goes out to her, but I do not show her my sadness. I do not want to add to her burden.
This year, Mami will be turning 81. She and I have changed in so many ways. But one thing is certain: I will always be thankful and feel blessed that she is my grandmother. I am thankful that she continues to beam at me with her wide smile — a simple gesture that encompasses her kindness, her care, and her love.
Alfredo Carlos Montecillo, or Pido is an Ateneo de Davao Management Accounting student. He was born and raised in Davao City.