I was sitting in a café yesterday, near these massive swivel windows and I was waiting for a soy mocha that I have just ordered. It was just one of those late afternoons when my mind tended to drift begging for a bittersweet shot of caffeine. I so happen to glance at a table where a group of young women were chatting; giggling and they were talking about their awesome treasure finds from Salvos. I was still waiting for my coffee and so I made a decision to just listen in on their exercise of comparing notes whilst pretending to flick through stories in the sloppy newspaper in front of me. For sure, these women’s happy conversation was more insightful than the blaring headline concerning political factions that was printed on the front page. I don’t have any interest in current politics and I was not allowing it to pollute my peaceful day. The giggles from the other section of the café were on the other hand pleasing. Then my coffee landed; the scent of the brew was enough to tease my brain into a deep thinking mode.
I guess I could say I was surrounded by quality women, of beauty and of grace when I was growing up and that is a fact. I have four sisters, in my eyes they are beautiful, and I adore them. As a small boy, I have witness them developing from slightly shy young ladies into brave, outspoken, ambitious and sometimes philosophical women. They have always been witty, humorous, polite and loving. They were the most generous and caring women I have ever met. When I was young, they took turns in looking after me, which I believed they did not have to, but when my mum was away on a date with my dad, it was either one of my sisters who'd stepped up as my minder. I am the youngest boy in my family being the ninth child. We would play, I got a lot of playtime and that would include running around the house and dancing to funk and disco music. Did I ever mention that three of my eldest sisters were so funky? They love psychedelic tunes, groove music and the full on late sixties to beginning of early eighties. They love ABBA and the Bee Gees. From shortest skirts through to bell bottom jeans, they had them. Daddy did not allow them to party without a chaperone so they held parties at home, I thought that was cool. My youngest sister is quite different; well she loves the new wave era, British punk, break tunes and the early hip-hop. This was just an age gap between her and the three elder sisters. However, nothing has changed much even now that they are older.
I could just imagine how my mum and dad felt when they decided to raise a family. The first-born was a boy, and then followed by three cheeky girls. My dad, I presume would have thought of giving it another go at having another boy after a trifecta of girls. Anyhow, three mischievous boys were added before a tiny precious girl was born into the family. The household was full, vibrant, slightly chaotic, demanding but so warm though regimented, religiously Catholic and I can only say very much generous and loving. My dad was in the army and my mum was a stay-at-home mum who had managed to balance her family life and social life ever wisely. My mum really loved kids; she grew up in a big family of matriarchs but that is another story to tell.
One could just imagine back then that my mum and dad were running or living their own version of the film “The Sound Of Music” having all these kids. One would think thatsuch a big household would have been so crazy to run but no becaue seven years later, I gave them the biggest surprise of all - I was born.
My eldest sister is called Ate May and yes she was born in the month of May 1955. The prefix ‘Ate’ is pronounced as “ahh-teh” in the Filipino kinship it denotes respect given to an elder sister. May’s full name is Mari-May Parocha. I got to know her as a very strong-willed woman. Being the eldest amongst the girls, she commanded respect. She was really close to my dad mainly because I think at one point when she was the youngest in the family, my dad have probably spoilt her and would have fought with my eldest brother for my dad’s attention. My earliest memory of her was when she was finishing university or had just graduated her commerce degree from the Lyceum of the Phillippines, University. Her years of working in the armed forces have made her tough, though in stature she was feminine and very petite. Of all my sisters, she is the most disciplined and sensitive as well as being very wise when it comes to finance. I often tip-toed to her house whenever I needed to taste her cooking, not that because I hated Mama’s cooking but sometimes I just wanted to spend quality time with her to chat and have coffee and hear her stories. She used to have a tendency to speak commandingly and sharply sometimes but I do know how to melt her heart. Ate May can tell funny stories and serious stories and on top of that, in my opinion she is the most strict, sensible and analytical of all my sisters. I am not surprised because as I have mentioned earlier she did business commerce at her university. She turned sixty this year and they had a massive family party for her. She loves her husband, Joe and their two boys Jomar and Mark Joseph. I was the tiny ring bearer at her wedding.
My second eldest sister is called Ate Del. Her real name is Rodelia born in June 1957, two years after my eldest sister. I guess by now, you would say that she has the female version of my name or I am have got the male version of her name. I was probably named after her. My earliest memory of her was when she just finished a degree in business secretarial at the Jose Rizal University in Manila. I got to know her as the most generous and the bravest of all my sisters. She travelled a lot and lived overseas and very much did become an entrepreneur when she was younger. She has owned her business and managed it. She is now a stay-at-home mum. She could be quick tempered at times; she has this knack of knowing what to do in certain situations. She knows a lot of people, which I guess was a by-product of running a business. By the way, she could sing and hit the notes and at one point my Dad thought that she would somehow decide to drop out of university to pursue a career in singing and fashion. She knows how to dress up really well. My conversations with her have always been meaningful and emotionally deep as well as abundant in kindness. We get along well because we both don’t do small talk quite well. Ate Del is also the most protective person in my family when it concerns me. Just like an older sister ought to do, she had screened the girls I had dated and whenever I am on the phone with her, up until now, she would speak to me in a very protective and loving manner. She loves her husband Leo and her two daughters Leonellyn and Leonadell and her son Leonard Ryan. Guess what? I was a tiny ring bearer at her wedding.
My third eldest sister is called Ate Grace. Her real name is Gracita, born in March 1959. When I was young, I used to watch her awe the crowd whenever she got invited to events in my parent’s community. She would get requested to dance Tahitian and Hawaiian in grass skirts and she’ll have all these flowers on her head, around her neck, waist, wrists and ankles. She had a fine physique; graceful movement and she had long lush black hair that swayed from her head to her lower bum cheeks. I remember I used to help her dry her hair with an extra towel and we would sit around the television doing it as an unnecessary chore. She went to The Philippine Normal University and did Education major in biology. If she wasn’t busy doing university, or away on a field trip collecting specimens and studying flora and fauna, we would hang out listening to afternoon radio talk shows. I have grown really close to her. Of all my sisters, Ate Grace is the cheekiest, funniest and the most down to earth. She is also generous, witty and a very good listener. I used to confide in her if I had something concerning relationships. She would offer me brilliant, honest and clear advice though knowing I may or may not follow them. She gets really excited when it is her turn to meet a girl that I like. She is very welcoming and warm-hearted. When I was four years old, I used to snuggle in her bed to give her a cuddle with my short arms and little fingers. As a teacher, she used to teach me science at home. She loves her husband Noel and her two boys, Michael Angelo and Michael Anthony. It broke her heart when Michael Angelo passed away in a motorbike accident but she is full of life and full of strength. Guess again, I was a tiny ring bearer at her wedding too.
The last of my sisters is called Ate Felyn. Her real name is Mafelyn born in 1967 with an 8-year age gap between her and my third eldest sister. Ate Felyn in my opinion is the most quite but the most artistic and most intelligent of all my sisters. My earliest memory of her was when she was in elementary, she would save some of her daily stipend so at the end of the day, she could buy and take home a large cold bottle of Yakult (lactobacilli) milk drink for me. She taught me how to read using phonetics, also taught me how to handle my first writing pencil at the age of four, and eventually learnt to write all the 28 alphabets of the Filipino language. Scribbling was not allowed. I learnt how to read in Filipino at the age of five and before I turned seven, I was already reading a newspaper broadsheet written in business English. It was either her patience or her persistent knocking of pencil on my head whenever I got it wrong. She was very persuasive and was an awesome teacher. She was the tomboy in the family and still is boyish in her attitude. We had loads of fights, she was a teenager and I was a rascal growing up. She loves everything to be tidy and as an active boy I came home with muck and dirt ruining what she spent hours cleaning. But we also had amazing times and amazing stories to tell about. We kind of shared brilliant music, she would fix me up in terms of what was the coolest fashion for boys, and she kept doing it until I was just halfway through university. She was my fashion adviser. She never complained much, in my opinion she gets along really well with my brothers and I, and she would do her best to join my brothers and me whenever we go out and she knows she gets away with it. She loves her husband Gil and her two daughters Gia and Gilyn and her son Gil Mari. I was not the ring bearer in her wedding, I was the best man.
Having shared my parents house with these amazing women and witnessing them growing up to pursue their own lives was encouraging to a young boy like me at that time. These quality women have surrounded me when I was growing up. I love their presence and felt their differing influences. They were into their own brand of mischief including testing their preferred makeups and colours on me. There is one commonality that they share aside from sharing the same blood or lineage; they all have the feminine nature of being genuinely kind, determined, and generous. I felt their love and their warm affection. I have felt their heartaches, understood their fears, witnessed their courage and eventually celebrated their triumphs. I saw them all.
To these women, I write this. This is to celebrate each one of their individual nature and innate charm and the authenticity they brought into my life. To my sisters Ate May, Ate Del, Ate Grace and Ate Felyn, I know you get ‘selosa’ if I don’t spend enough time with you but I can’t express this enough - I am so proud to be your little brother. Thank you and I love you all.... And you can all call me "Balong" anytime.
... But then again, they might hate me after this especially with the photos I used on this article. Well, I shall update the photos again next time.