Sunday Lifestyle

Secrets moms keep

LOVE LUCY - The Philippine Star

Mommy kept everything (truth be told, to this day she still does). Back then, as a child growing up in our house in Bonifacio St., Ormoc City, there was this one large white box that was a source of quiet joy for me. It once upon a time housed some present, I’m sure, and was just like any other gift box made of white karton. But in our home, it was where all the Christmas cards the family received through the years were kept in a happy jumble. I am not talking about those “To” and “From” gift cards that are attached to every wrapped present; what I refer to are the greeting cards, of the Hallmark variety, the same ones that almost always came with handwritten notes and warm thoughts, a photo or two tucked in between the folded card stock. Year after year, they piled up.     

Everything available in Ormoc back then was basic. There was hardly anything fancy, no big department stores. We had all the charm of a small city — cottage industries, everything handmade and homemade. And it was all good that way. That said, the special stuff had to be bought from the bigger cities, the nearest being Cebu, accessible from ORMOC by big boat (there were no water jets or fast craft yet, and those big boats were huge by today’s more compact standards). If anyone had something special to sell to the residents of Ormoc those goods would have to come from some far away place — Cebu, Manila, Hong Kong, the States — courtesy of viajeras or balikbayans. Even the available Christmas cards were basic. So imagine my fascination with all the fancy ones that found their way to Mommy’s box. The cards came in all shapes and forms — there were vibrant images of a snowman dancing in snow that I wished to one day also touch and feel; there were dreamy water-colored renditions of Christmas villages and gently-lit churches, happy popcorn and tinsel-trimmed Christmas trees, singing Christmas cards, every imaginable beautiful Christmas scene there was. All in that one box. And the envelopes — I was awed by the markings, all the stamps, the wear and tear on the edges of each. It was nothing short of magical to me how the post office works, and how those very envelopes were but part of a mound of perhaps hundreds of thousands and yet they somehow find their way to the right recipient, a specific address. Opening that box was like having access to another world. There were photo Christmas cards, too, that had been sent by the same families year after year. Through them I “met” relatives I never knew we had, simply because they lived so far away. I liked going through those photographs year after year; it was interesting to see how much changed, how much stayed the same.

At that time, I had never been out of the Philippines, so a white Christmas seemed so magical to me. I imagined the Christmas songs. I wondered if chestnuts and eggnog really tasted good. I loved the idea of people bundled up in jackets, huddled before a fire place, marshmallows melted into mugs of hot chocolate, Santa Claus on the streets going “Ho, ho, ho.” I would close my eyes and imagine the real scent of pine (at that point I was only familiar with pine air freshener we had in the vehicles). I remember wondering then, as I do now, why fruitcake is always recycled as a gift. I love fruitcake and can eat it all year round.  On a side note, if you love fruitcake, too, the one from Nellie Acosta is wonderful (call 0917-8500124 for orders). She makes delicious rum cake and lemon square as well.

Even back then I would always wrap gifts carefully, almost respectfully. I loved the process. Never mind that the recipients would most probably just tear into them instantly. That is their joy, but this is mine: making sure what they will tear into is something pretty to begin with. Mommy also had a box of used ribbons, saved so they could be recycled. They were all kept loosely in a tangled and beautiful mess. Finding the perfect ribbon for the gift I just wrapped was a happy ordeal. What else do I remember? There would be carolers aplenty. Groups of children who would go from house to house, combing every street in the neighborhood. There would be nuns and priests, too, singing such beautiful Christmas songs. The most intricate Christmas cards would be from the nuns — somehow, they were always handmade from scratch, with such complex designs. The images were never just drawn and colored — a little hut would be made of tiny sticks, the clothes of St. Joseph and Mama Mary fashioned from real cloth but scaled really tiny, the Baby Jesus with smiling lips and curly hair made of fine brown thread. There was painstaking attention to detail. I loved those and often wondered how they found the time given all that they were always busy with. Oh, and they made these gingerbread cookies that were so good. And they were so special, too, because they only made an appearance every December.

I look back to that time, that simple happy time when opening that box full of Christmas cards was enough to take me to some very happy place. And even now, having all those images in my mind means I can imagine them, put them together, take them apart. And I can go on doing it for as long as I wish. In the frenzy now, I take time to hug those memories close. Nice memories are like that — unassuming at the onset but always pretty special when you work your way into them.












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