There are times when life proves to be stranger than fiction. Welcome to a new, short series of the FrogDiva blog called Angels in Our Midst. These the true life stories of the people my mother called “angels”. She refused to the use the term “maid” or “housekeeper”, preferring instead to call them by the special attributes that they blessed her with.
Born the third child of seven children in Samar, Crecencia was destined to have a life full of adventure and trials. At an early age, she was the disadvantaged one in the family, envious of her older brother and sister who had the privilege of clothes and affection from the parents. Being a sickly child, her mother brought her to a church reputed to have miraculous cures and part of the remedy was to be renamed as Christina, to ward off whatever evil spirits had come with the original name. Though this might have cured the fainting spells, Christy was still frustrated that she had no underwear, slippers or even a school bag to call her own. At the age of ten, she moved into the neighbour’s home to have a better chance for a meal, to which her parents did not object to.
In exchange for food and shelter, the little girl was put in charge of the carabao while the grown-ups worked in the rice fields. Christy took her carabao duties seriously. In addition to meals, she also received hand-me-down clothes from time to time. Her simple dream of owning a pair of slippers came true, but her prized possession was a pair of bakya that someone found in a rummage sale. The noisy clacking of the clogs on the streets raised her confidence and gave her a temporary illusion of being at par with the others.
Before Christy could finish grade 4, she stopped going to school because her father had turned into a violent drunkard and left no more money for tuitions. Although she lived with the neighbours, Christy still visited her family on a regular basis, in spite of the fact that there were days the father was so drunk and would chased everyone around with a large itak, and she escaped death narrowly a few times by crawling under the nipa walls of their hut.
While transferring the carabao to a shaded area one day, Christy was offered a job in Borongan, Eastern Samar. She was only 12 years old at the time, but decided to give it a try and see if she could turn her life around, taking on a job as a nanny with a starting salary of PHP 12 a month (at today’s exchange rate that would be EUR 0.25 or USD 0.24). When her older sister visited from Manila, Christy saw a way off the island and into the “promised land” of the the big city, joining her four other siblings who were already there.
The housekeeping post in Manila with a family of six was anything but a dream job. Starvation, verbal and physical abuse were part of the job description, in addition to being violently assaulted by one of the boys. At that point, the young girl decided that if she wasn’t going to be able to go back to school, she might as well try her luck as a factory worker of sorts, quickly discovering however, that being in an assembly line of a distilling company watching bottle caps pass by the whole day was not where she really wanted to be. The naïve country girl had no time to consider another job and ended up being kidnapped to far flung rural areas of Catanduanes. The family in Manila searched high and low for her with no success, and eventually considered her dead.
Meanwhile, the Christy found herself stuck with a man who eventually became her husband, and the proverbial evil mother-in-law who would beat her day in and day out with a wooden stick. Christy gave birth to her first child at the age of 16, and four more followed thereafter. The abuse continued, as did the abject poverty. Her husband brewed a local palm wine (tuba) that she took to the market every day to sell. Finding herself in charge of the family carabao once again, Christy loaded the beast with as much tuba as possible and went from one store to another in town to sell it. At the age of five, her older son made small wooden boxes that could also be sold in the market, which she did, simply to fulfill the children’s wish of tasting fresh bread from time to time. After a while, Christy approached some of the other neighboring farmers for assorted vegetables to sell. In return, with the money she earned she ran errands for the neighbors and shared the meager fish she was able to buy. She describes those years as the kanin, kamote at saging years (rice, sweet potato and banana), those being the only staples that she could raise her children on. It grew everywhere, and in most cases, could be harvested free of cost.
By the time her oldest son was seven, Christy could no longer take the daily beatings and abuse. She faced the boy one night, put him in charge of his brothers and sisters, with the parting words “do you remember what I taught you about cooking rice?”. He nodded silently, though mother and son shed tears together before she walked out into the dark night. She stood in the darkness of the field, listening to the cries of her children in the hut, and knew in her heart that she had to escape now while her husband was out drinking with his farmer friends after a long day of planting rice.
Christy made her way back to Manila and landed in Tondo, renown for its slums and murky lifestyle. Wasting no time in looking for a job, Christy tagged along to garments factory, and landed another nanny and housekeeping post which allowed her to send money home to her children for their tuitions. If there was one thing she made sure of, all her children would finish school and have a better life than her. Her husband attempted to find her and bring her back to Catanduanes, but his mother prevented him from doing so. One by one, her children made their way to Manila to be with Christy. Things began to look up for her.
Tondo is a closely knit community, densely populated with people from all over the Philippines. By word of mouth, Christy and her siblings found each other again. Her eldest sister found her a job with the owner of an engineering company, where she met and fell in love for the first time with the master electrician and carpenter, Lupe.
Poverty was still a mainstay in their lives and Lupe tried his luck like several thousand other Filipinos, in Saudi Arabia, only to find himself in the middle of Desert Storm I. Evil tongues kept Lupe and Christy apart, to the extent that he even sent home a cassette with a recorded message for her ending their relationship. Love proved to be stronger, and was later on sealed by faith.
Christy joined the Handmaids of the Lord and began her own journey of renewal in the faith. This was the instrument that led her to involvement in parish projects, bridging the gap with the more privileged people in the community, and community service. During one of those household meetings, their group was placed under the supervision of one of the elder members, Linda. And so began the angelic friendship between Christy and my beloved Mommy. At 62, she is a great grandmother, grandmother, mother, and loving wife. A woman of strength, resilience, and with a generosity of spirit that commands my respect.
(Yes, Lupe’s story will also be part of the series)