Her hands always reminded me of an old book, just like the ones you find on a dusty shelf. Thick and aged, I’ve always liked old books because they often had that distinct smell I found comforting and curious. Leafing through their pages, I was sure to find the most interesting and unique of stories. Like many of the old books lined up at home, Lola Pering's hands were just as filled to the brim with distinctive tales that I still remember.
Whenever I held Lola’s hands, the creases on her palms felt like crumpled pages, each fold rich with a memory, an interesting story to tell. There was the tale of how her family had escaped to the mountains during the Japanese occupation, living on whatever the jungle had to offer. The story of how she was among the chosen few to have been hired to work at a posh department store during the American regime. There also was the story of how she had finally met Lolo Eking whom she said not only fell in love with her face, but her pretty legs as well. Indeed, Lola had the best legs, her skin fair and unblemished. I’d like to think I got all that from her. As a child, I’d enjoy these tales, rolling on the bed beside her or whenever we’d play a game of forty one with 25 cents or matchsticks as prize money.
She was great company as I was growing up. She would take me with her whenever she’d visit the seamstress for a new outfit, tag me along when she’d take the ferry back to Bacolod, or when she’d visit Lolo Eking’s grave. I remember her paying for my “ice scramble” one boat ride. Even though she knew that street food could make us sick, she knew better that I had a sweet tooth; and was happy to give up 5 pesos for me to have my sugar fix.
Lola was really great with her hands. I remember those pieces of bread that she would mix with a little water and roll it into a ball of clay for me to play with, long before I discovered the joys of Play-Dough. Or those bread slices that she’d lightly spread butter on and drizzle with a layer of sugar or a generous helping of condensed milk during meriendas. She would also make the sweetest warm milk that can calm any hyper kid down. When I got older, whenever I’d visit, she would always remind me how I loved being with her when I was a baby, crying out to be carried and cuddled constantly.
As the years went by and I began to build a life in the big city, though my visits to her had lessened, I still made it a point to come to her room and sit beside her whenever I was home. I would hold her hands and relish the feel of her palms. Sometimes she would forget who I was, or comment on why I didn’t have any hair. Then, she would ask me if I had a girlfriend. I would always reply, “Many”, to which she would say,”That’s good. You’re still young. Enjoy life.” She would always add one of my favorite quotes: “Collect and select.”
Recently, during conversations, she would always manage to include how tired she was, how sour her stomach was, how constantly hungry she was, how she always had a headache. I would immediately change the topic by recalling the stories she told me when I was a kid. It was a delight to hear her repeat everything. Not only did it remind me of my childhood days, I was glad to get her mind off whatever she was feeling at that time. I would even tease her to dye her hair to make her look younger. I was glad to make her smile even for just a while, hold her hands, and peck her on the cheek whenever I came home for holidays.
I have to admit that hearing her repeat that she longed to die soon did put me off. I would always respond that everyone had their own time, and that her being alive still meant that she wasn’t through yet. But she would always ignore my comment, sigh, and repeat her desire for the end. I wanted her to be happy at the twilight of her life. But recently, I was glad that Fr. Arthur had made us all see a different perspective with her words. She had raised 8 children, buried a husband, and still had time to enjoy herself. She survived the average lifespan of a human being. She was ready to go. I respect that. I admire that. Her courage to face death, armed with a full life is indeed something for all of us to envy.
I miss Lola’s hands; the creases on her palm, the stories she would tell. But I know wherever she is now, she will have more hands to hold (perhaps Baby Matthew’s and Lolo Eking’s) and more unique and comforting stories to tell of the life she had here.
We love you Lola. And thank you for sharing yourself with us.