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A gift of inheritance |

Modern Living

A gift of inheritance

SECOND WIND - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura - The Philippine Star

We used to live in my grandmother’s house in Sta. Mesa from the time I was around five years old until I was around 15. Now in my 70s or 55 years later I have sudden flashes of memory.  

These days I have been in Sta. Rosa housesitting for my youngest daughter who is away at a reunion with her sisters who live in different parts of the world — one in England, another in California. It is the first time I am at her house without her. I sleep on her bed, which is harder than mine but at the same time lower.  I love the hardness of it, very comfortable but I wish it were as high as my bed back home. That’s more comfortable for me. But what I really love is her big bathroom and the ledge in her shower. It reminds me so much of my grandmother’s ledge.

My grandmother’s ledge wasn’t really a ledge. It was a slatted wooden bench made to fit exactly against the wall across the shower.  It was maybe 16 inches wide and it was painted a dark green. She hired a carpenter, whose name I think was Puste, to make it. When I asked her why, she said she needed it so she could soap her legs and feet comfortably. Also she needed it to prepare her gugo. Gugo was the shampoo she used.  We would buy it in the San Juan market — broad strips of bark that she soaked in an enamel basin and then sort of squeezed and scrubed until suds came out. Then she sent me out of her bathroom so she could take a bath.

My grandmother’s bathing habits must have fallen behind the filing cabinet and the wall of my mind because I did not remember it for many, many years. It was not a habit that my mother picked up. On the other side of the house, parallel to Lola’s bathroom was a bathroom that my mother and I shared. It was exactly the same but it didn’t have a dark green bench. It had nothing in fact except a window ledge for the shampoos and a little niche in the tiles for the soap. But a few years ago I remember walking through the F.A.M.E. display and towards the end someone was selling gugo in soap form, in fact it looked like an olive green cube. I bought one. I remembered Lola using it to shampoo her hair. So I tried it and loved it and that introduced me to the gugo phase of my life.

Then suddenly I remembered Lola’s dark green bench. the enamel basin sitting on it and gugo beginning to bubble. I also remembered that over time, the wood started to misbehave because it would get wet almost always and since it was in the bathroom it could not dry in the sun.  Mushrooms started to grow on the legs and my grandmother was always telling the maid who cleaned to make sure she got rid of the mushrooms.

Now as I write this I find that hilarious. Mushroom in the bathroom! That’s a funny rhyme. But I was a little girl when I heard it first. I thought then it was serious business.

After the F.A.M.E. trip, on my next visit to the supermarket I bought a yellow stool with aluminum legs.  First, I loved the yellow.  It would brighten up my windowless bathroom.  Second, it was perfect for my baths. I could easily set one foot on it and soap the entire leg down to between my toes then change legs, more comfortable than bending down to reach my toes and safer than finding my balance and bending my knees.  Third, I could see that the legs would rust, true, but I could then throw it out and buy a new stool.

It would be sort of like my grandmother’s bench but much smaller because I didn’t need to prepare gugo strips for my hair.  Now gugo comes either in the form of soap or bottled as shampoo.  I felt I had inherited this need for a bench or stool in the shower from my grandmother, with whom I spent most of my childhood since my mother was always out working.  As you grow old you begin to realize where your habits — good and bad — come from.  Most of them are inherited.

I know I inherited my mother’s body.  My body now is exactly the same as hers.  I can wear the clothes she left behind. They are a bit short but then I am a few inches taller than she was. I also used to be 10 pounds lighter. But now I weigh exactly like she weighed at her peak. And my toes with red nail polish look exactly like hers. I know I inherited my father’s face, his hair, his dimples. I know I inherited my love of crafts from my mother’s side of the family even if it seems to have skipped her. I think maybe it even comes from my aunt, the one who’s a nun. She was a remarkable craftswoman. My cooking skills, smelling the seasoned food before it is cooked to check if the seasoning is all right, was taught to me by my grandmother.  

So you can imagine my delight when I entered my daughter’s shower and saw a wall-to-wall ledge. On one side was a basket of shampoos, conditioners, soap and a pumice stone. On the other side was a basket full of cleaning gadgets. In between was a vast enough expanse that allowed me to sit down and soap my legs comfortably or to set my foot firmly on the ledge do the same.  This is remarkable, I think.  My grandmother crossed over to the next life in July 1966. I stood at the foot of her hospital bed pregnant with my third child who was born the following October.

I am now in the house of that third child, a daughter. My grandmother and she never met and yet I am touched by what I see — from my grandmother’s dark green slatted bench in her white-tiled bathroom, to my three-legged stool that’s beginning, to rust to my youngest daughter’s wonderful ledge that matches her big tiles.  They all serve the same purpose: to increase bathing comfort.

The wonderful thing about inheritance is whether you meet or not at least one gift is passed on. My daughter never met her great-grandmother yet their bathrooms are basically the same though different in details.  My grandmother’s bathroom had small tiles. My daughter’s has very big tiles. The difference lies in the fashion of the times. In essence they are the same thing. I am touched by this. It makes me feel the strength of relationships as it is passed down the generations. Many of us are not aware of it. How many of us have mothers who say — you’re just like my grandmother? Very few, I think. I wonder which of my grandchildren will have a child who enjoys knitting and making jewelry.

I wonder if her father or mother  will look at her with some awe and say — you’re just like my Nannie (that’s what they call me now).

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