She did it again. Mommy sent me another love note. This time not in the form of a feathered messenger but this time through a plant. A little family history first on these floral love notes from beyond: my grandmother used to be an avid orchid collector. I have vivid memories of her small garden being filled with roses and orchids and she would talk to them every morning. When she died, Daddy took some of the orchids to our house and nurtured them there. They were, however, not very generous the first months and others took years before they bothered to flower again. Nagtatampo, we were told (they were sulking). Out of the blues, the cattleyas began flowering close to Daddy’s birthday, coming into full bloom on the day itself. We all smiled, saying that Lola (grandmother) had sent him a gift. Then the other type of orchid flowered in time for Mommy’s birthday, and so began these floral birthday cards from beyond in our family.
For the few years that lived in Manila back in 2006, Mommy transferred some of Lola’s orchids to my garden. No child or grandchild of Lola should ever be without orchids she said. Not being well versed in the care of these plants I accepted them and hoped my gardener would know what to do. True to form, on special occasions like my daughter’s First Communion, Confirmation, and all our birthdays, Lola’s orchids burst into vibrant colours as she was trying to say, “here I am, I’m part of the celebration too”. When I left Manila in 2010 I returned the orchids to Mommy’s garden.
Over the past few weeks I transferred all of my parents’s plants back and forth. First to Mommy’s little flat after Daddy passed away, and then to mine after she joined him a month later. I remember Mommy telling me that I would never run out of flowers because she have given me half a dozen of white angel flowers when I moved in, in addition to orchids. One of the last things I transferred from her flat were two pots of something called flaming torch, but were just a bunch of large green leaves. I remember buying these for her last year as a little treat and she loved them, although complained that they were rather stingy in giving flowers.
I’ve been missing Mommy terribly lately, feeling very much like an orphan. Tagalog, like German, can be very complex and precise, far more than the English language will be. One word can be transmogrified to have a plethora of meaning, and ulila (orphan) is one of them. Naulila is be become an orphan, and is a term used here to describe your status after both your parents die. Some provinces use the idiom naulila sa ama (orphaned from the father) or naulila sa ina (orphaned from the mother). It’s a painful expression to hear and even worse to say because the pain and the sorrow comes flooding back. Yesterday, however, my kinakapatid (godbrother) reminded me of another variant of the word with more redeeming features: nangungulila (to yearn or long for someone). That was exactly what I was feeling – nangungulila sa ina (yearning for my mother). In my sorrow, I looked at her plants, talked to them like my grandmother did to hers, and realized that one of the flaming torches had flowered in the meantime. Like with the birds, I know I have been sent a love note from beyond.