I remember Mama
FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura (The Philippine Star) - December 9, 2018 - 12:00am

I remember Mama was the title of the play the Maryknoll High School Dramatic Club put on when I was in my senior year. Sister Elizabeth Mary cast me in the role of Mama. I had three children in the play. One was played by my classmate Marilyn Trinidad Mapa.  Another was played by a freshman whose name I can’t remember but I remember her height and her face and her name is always almost slipping out of my mouth but suddenly stops. The third youngest daughter was played by Josie Cruz, who is now Josie Natori, a phenomenal designer in New York. The last time I saw her many, many years ago she didn’t remember the play or me.

Since last week, the title of the play has been haunting me. Maybe it’s because I am 74 and aging and now seems to be haunted always with vivid childhood memories. Maybe it’s because December in my growing years was the most special month of the year. It began with my Mommy’s — what I called my Mama then — birthday on Dec. 1. For weeks before I would be in a tizzy wondering what present to give her. I would always find something that seemed to thrill her. Mommy and I had a highly exceptional relationship because I was her only child. My father was killed by the Japanese on the eve of Manila’s liberation and my mother did not remarry until I had married. We were very close.

After her birthday came her mother’s, my grandmother’s, birthday. Lola was born on Dec. 4, once the feast of St. Barbara in the Catholic calendar, until the 1950s when the Church declared that St. Barbara and St. Christopher were not real saints but myths. To this day, no one seems to remember. But since Lola was born in the late 1800s they named her Concepcion Barbara after the Immaculate Conception, whose feast is on Dec. 8. I was named after my grandmother. My full name is Concepcion Barbara but when I was getting ready to be sent to Switzerland for finishing school, my French tutor suggested we use the name Barbara on my passport because “conception” as a first name would shock the people in Switzerland. So my passport read “C. Barbara Gonzalez.”

That was when my cousins and I were small. Then we grew up. The family was wracked with inheritance fights and all sorts of conflict so there was not much getting together for anything anymore. We all had to live our lives. We all had to fix our lives. Finally, we — children and grandchildren — all grew up.

Mommy had many years of tedious Alzheimer’s Disease. It was tedious for her family, so difficult to believe that a woman who was so beautiful, vital, cheerful all the time, should be afflicted with such a cruel disease. My mother passed away nine years ago.  It took me forever to get over first the relief I felt at her death followed by my question to myself: Why did I not feel so sad over her passing? One day, the answer came. I had done all my grieving taking care of her.

Lately I have been sensing her around me. She looks like she did in her 30s, when I was at the awkward pre-teen stage. I remember her in New York, where we went for her youngest brother’s ordination into the Jesuits. We would come back from a day of shopping with my two grandmothers who didn’t speak English. They were tired and went up to the room.  Mommy would sit with me in the lobby. She would give me 25 cents and tell me to go to the diner across the street and play Unchained Melody for her on the jukebox. This was in 1955. I would eagerly comply and fly back to sit down with her and watch as she listened. Her eyes had a faraway look.

I didn’t wonder then. I was too innocent to wonder then. But I wonder now. Did she have a boyfriend then? Was she missing him? Is that why she loved Unchained Melody? I suppose she did, but I will never know for sure. I know she was a warm albeit much-absent mother to me. She worked during the day and taught at night all the time I was growing up.  I know we were wonderfully close friends who shared makeup tricks and all sorts of jokes. We laughed a lot together. But I never knew what kind of woman she really was. I never knew how she really felt about the men in her life. If there is anything at all I regret, it is that: I never really knew what was inside the warm generous heart of my mother, the one and only parent I ever had, the one and only parent who was mine alone.

And you know what?  I will never know. I guess life is simply like that. In the end we just remember Mama and be happy we love her.

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ELIZABETH MARY MAMA MEMORIES
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