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Dulce Ruelos was born in a rural town in the Philippines, where her father traveled to work each week on horseback. When Dulce’s mother died unexpectedly at the young age of 22, Dulce’s grandmother stepped up to become a dominant figure in Dulce’s life. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
My mother passed away when I was one year old. I have no recollection of my mother whatsoever. It was my maternal grandmother who took over my care and was mostly responsible for bringing me up.
My father was a school teacher assigned to a remote village in the Philippines. He had to leave for his assignment on Sunday nights, and he came home on Friday nights. On Friday evenings I would eagerly wait for him, looking forward to the treats that he always had for me.
He traveled by horseback. At that time no buses or motorized vehicles were used, and the remote village where he taught did not even have good roads.
My grandmother, whom we lovingly called Omma, was a mestiza. This was a term used to describe a person with a mixture of Spanish heritage. She was beautiful, with naturally curly hair, chiseled nose, smooth, fair skin, sparkling eyes, and shapely legs.
She often talked to me about my mother. According to Grandma, my mother was a Home Economics teacher, skilled in cooking, sewing, and needle work.
My mother developed a boil or carbuncle on her back. A local doctor from the next town, which was the capital of our province, was consulted. The doctor performed a surgical procedure, but complications set in. Maybe this was caused by an infection which remained uncontrolled. Antibiotics were not available at that time. After a few days, she passed away. She was twenty-two years old.
My father never remarried, and he would say that he wanted to remain faithful to my mother even beyond the grave. He continued to live with my mother’s side of the family for the rest of his life.
My grandmother took care of me afterwards. She was the one who fed me and kept me safe and warm in my early childhood years. Her most important role was to teach me good moral values, to be honest, God-fearing, and prayerful. Every evening, no matter where I was playing, Grandma would call out and say it was time for the evening Angelus prayers. Grandma also took me often to my mother’s tomb in the graveyard to offer prayers and flowers and light candles.
Grandma made sure that I did my school assignments and was ready for school every day. Grandma was the one who advised my father to transfer me from the public school to a private Catholic school so that I would have religious education.
In her later years, my grandmother began to exhibit signs of early dementia, marked by memory impairment or deterioration. It took her longer to recall events. She could no longer remember names, dates, places, etc.
Sometimes she would call my aunt and ask her, “Milagros, are you trying to starve me? You have not given me my food. I am so hungry.” My aunt would always remind her that she had just been given her food.
By then I was residing with my own family in Manila. On one of my trips to visit Grandma I came with my five-year-old son. Grandma asked me whose child he was, and I told her that he was my son.
She looked at me disapprovingly, and I asked her what was wrong. Grandma said, “You got married and you never even told me. How could you do that?”
I just smiled. There was no sense arguing with her that I got married in our town. Unfortunately, her condition had robbed her of so many precious memories.
For so many years, after I lost my mother, Grandma had been my baby sitter, guardian, nurse, teacher, and adviser all rolled into one loving and affectionate human being. Grandma was my Good Shepherd who led me to where I am in life. For this I am forever grateful.
Published: Aug. 14, 2014 – Volume 13 – Issue 18