I dislike vegetables as a child. The dislike approached repugnance whenever I contemplated the “ginisang sayote (sauteed chayote)” my “tita (aunt)” spooned on my plate.
My sister, cousins and I were part of a lunch pool. Since we went to the same all girls’ school with their daughters, our aunts took turns picking us up for lunch.
Don’t let the food wait. Eat vegetables. I grew up with women with so unbending a fealty to values, my first rebellion had to take a potshot at one canon: greens.
Noticing that the lazy daisy never unloaded vegetables for the young folks, one aunt rationed each of us with a spoonful of greens. I was exempted from showing her a clean plate before taking this down to the kitchen.
One day, a cousin protested the special treatment. Without glancing at me, Tita said I was old enough to be above such hanky-panky.
When Tita recently passed away at 92, my sister and I talked about the passing of the last in a generation of women who mothered our family.
Mother, Nanay, mater. The Latin word for mother is embedded in many English words, from matriarch to matrimony, maternity and matrix. Contrary to popular notions of nurturance as having a soft and yielding nature, the heart of the mater is strength.
Strength can be wielded to attack and destroy. Yet, another side is to build and empower. Working as a journalist, I saw Tita outside the realms of family and saw different facets of a woman who nurtured and built community.
For a special report on solo parents, I listened to a woman narrate how she survived emotional, physical and financial abuse after Tita and family gave her sanctuary and helped her put back, piece by piece, her self-esteem.
Even in her mid-70s, she would go out of town, volunteering for voters’ literacy seminars as a member of the laity and the Cebu-Citizens Involvement and Maturation for Peoples Empowerment and Liberation (C-Cimpel).
Yet, it is the memory of the dish I concocted that resonates of Tita’s will to use power to steer a young person past the shoals of immaturity.
The dish I named in my mind as “sayote with mango” I never brought it up with her. I am certain, though, that Tita knew about the times I whisked away a plate with a skin of mango “cheek” covering the sayote I minced, slid around my plate, and then swept under the skin.
It was a simple thing to find and check the one un-clean plate in the kitchen. She would be justified to call me out. Tita did not and taught me a thing or two, before the classroom and the newsroom did, about integrity.
Alita Mendoza Solon, I am sorry I never said sorry for failing your trust. Daghang salamat for living fully with the heart of a mater.