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My mother’s transistor radio

Illustration by Jaymee L. Amores

She stands barely five-feet tall yet she towers over our world at home; she spins it when she is joyful and rattles it when she’s under the weather. But since Christmas, or a week before that day, she has been singing happy tunes — literally.

My brother Rod acted as our mother’s Ho-Ho-Ho Man recently and came down our imaginary chimney at home to gift her with a transistor radio. It was her wish to get herself a transistor radio so she would have music playing beside her when she takes her siesta or sleeps at night. The minute my brother Rod handed her the portable radio was the moment she transformed into a super woman.

Her gait is snappy. Her extraordinary cooking becomes more flavorful. Her smile crowns her lovely face that is never without a splash of Johnson’s baby powder. Her lips are always not without her lipistik — red. She hums along, listens to news, she’s back in the game. What a transistor radio can do!

dWWW 774 is her favorite station, the one that plays old music — kundiman, harana songs, old English songs, among others. She looks forward to hearing Jo Stafford’s lilting No Other Love and when it is played, she sings along. When she hears Petula Clark singing Downtown, she sways her hands, as if dancing with someone. Her 71-year-old soul reconnects with her youth. She is happy.

Her sharp memory has been chiseled further ever since she got her radio. The lyrics of the songs she has long forgotten all so suddenly appear before her like an apparition of words. And like an apparition, the many joyful and challenging moments of her youth are seemingly presented to her clearly. For every song she hears, she associates it with memories — happy, poignant, vivid memories.

Giliw reminds her of her suitors who would follow her to the rice field to serenade her during harvest season. The little girl in her surfaces as she remembers details of old-time courtship. Dahil Sa Iyo is associated with the man from Sto. Tomas, Batangas who followed her everywhere she went but she never really got to like him. Langit Ko’y Ikaw Rin is the song she and her childhood best friends used to sing as they walked the paddies to plant palay. It is the song that also reminds her of the day her mother died.

Music, courtesy of a transistor radio, accompanied her when she was growing up. She learned many of her favorite songs listening to the radio. Anak Dalita reminds her of the favorite song of her late husband, my father. She sings it well still, hitting the notes with breeze. But she knew she sang so much better when she was so much younger.

Because of her transistor radio, she remembers the many delightful moments when she would entertain many fine gentlemen who would serenade her in the middle of the night in the late ‘50s to the early ‘60s. She would open the windows of their humble home, listen to the songs of the serenading men. And if a song necessitated a response from her, she would sing, too. She loved that. And there would be an exchange of music between her and her suitors. But a sing-along from her did not guarantee that the serenading suitor would get her love back.

In fact, she only had two nobyos. After her first amorous relationship, my mother soon found forever in the arms of my father. She married him under one condition: “Huwag mo akong pagbubuhatan ng kamay.” My father fulfilled his promise until the day he died.

They shared a green transistor radio with a black leather case when they got married. They listened to news together. They listened to drama on radio together, from Zimatar to Gabi ng Lagim. But always, always, listening to kundiman music was the soft glue that gelled them together.

In her prime, she remembers, she was a favorite wedding singer, too. She sang wedding songs that made brides and mothers-of-the-brides cry in their barrio. Those who knew her knew that she did not let go of the microphone when she started to sing. Dahil sa Bago Mong Giliw, Tunay Na Giliw, Umiiyak and Sa Laot ng Karagatan were just some of the songs in her repertoire. She did not sing in the church. She sang in the house of the bride on the eve of her wedding. In those days, she says, there was a wedding eve reception attended by family and friends, even ex-boyfriends and suitors of the bride-to-be. Everybody gathered to wish the bride well. And part of the gathering was the singing. And in that department, my mother knew that she would deliver well.

Lately, at our terrace, while she is lulled by the Christmas breeze, the narra tree in our garden as her lone witness, she listens to her radio with palpable excitement. She closes her eyes and allows the music to transport her to a distant world made reachable by the words of a song. A poignant song makes her reminisce her childhood like it happened only yesterday. She remembers walking hand in hand with her siblings Nenita and Hando as they traversed railroad tracks in search of firewood. Life was hard then. Music was one of those things that softened the blow of life. She did not complain. She had the knack for accepting bitter truths about life. But she also had the gift of courage not to allow the challenges to bring her down. She was a fighter. To this day, she is.

At night, she puts the brand-new transistor radio beside her. This time, the sound is soft, almost mute. She sleeps with an indelible smile crossing her face, the music of her transistor radio lulls her to a magical, musical dreamland. She has been sleeping alone in her room for almost six years now. But her newfound love affair with her transistor radio seems to bridge her anew to the love of her life.

Then she wakes up with a smile crowning her face. She displays lasting joy — especially when the first song she hears upon waking up is No Other Love.

(For your new beginnings, please e-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed Sunday.)

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