By Henrylito D. Tacio
If there’s one word that a child will speak the first time, it should be the mother. After all, she carries the baby for nine months. She takes care of the newborn. She breastfeeds, she changes the diaper, and she puts the fragile human being to sleep.
That was what my mother did to me when I was growing up. I remembered the time when she accompanied me going to the school when I attended my first grade. I remembered the laughter she displayed when she learned that I was an honored pupil. I remembered the time when she visited me to see me acting in a high school play.
I remembered the days when she traveled to Davao City just to give my allowance (there was no LBC or Western Union at that time). I remembered one afternoon when she bought several copies of a national magazine where my first article came out.
But I am not the only one she took care of. There were nine of us. She has guided us. She has endowed us with words of wisdom. She has shared her life experiences, her struggles, and her hopes.
She cries like a baby when she recalls her long lost sisters:
Saturnina – or Tina, for short – was only 6 when she was given by her mother Luciano Ortiz, a wealthy family in Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte.
“Our mother cannot take us anymore,” she recalled. “There were four of us and she was alone in providing our needs. We were very poor and she never finished elementary.”
Her father died – poisoned by the man he trusted. According to her, her parents owned a huge land in their hometown. But a salesman came to their home one day. He told them that if they would sell their land to him, he would bring his family to another area where they won’t encounter any problems.
At that time, products from the farms were miniscule. The father had a hard time meeting both ends. “Your family will definitely experience some…” the salesman told him.
“My parents never finished school,” said Tina, who is the second of the four daughters. “My father believed what the salesman told him.”
To make the long story short, the father sold their land. The family went with the salesman, and they settled in the place where the salesman told them to live. The father thought he would find heaven, but instead, it was hell.
What the salesman told him before was the exact opposite. The land was barren; nothing much would grow. But it was good that the father was industrious. Early in the morning, he would wake up early and walk three kilometers away to fish in the sea.
He sold the fish in the market and came home with some food for his family. During the rainy season, he would plant some corn and other crops on the farm. It was like this for almost a year.
Then tragedy struck the family. The father got sick, and the eldest daughter, Livinia, got sick of malaria. “The salesman heard what had happened,” Saturnina recalled. “He came to our home and told my father and my sister to take the medicine that would heal them both.”
The two did – after the salesman had left. A few minutes later, Livinia vomited what she had taken. The father, however, had difficulty breathing. The mother was in a panic; she didn’t know what to do.
They were far from town. They didn’t have money. The children themselves didn’t know what was happening. That day, the father died. Livinia, however, survived because she was able to get the poison out from her body.
After the father was buried, the mother and her four daughters returned to Sindangan. She found a little place where they lived. “Our mother would leave us in the early morning and would return before the sun sets,” Saturnina recalled. “We were always hungry. There were times, the four of us were crying.”
The mother worked all day and then took care of the children whenever she was around. She washed clothes for the wealthy families. She also did errands for other people.
She was getting frail each day – until she finally got sick. As she could not take care of her daughters anymore, she gave them to other people.
The eldest was given to the town mayor surnamed Mesias. The Caballero family adopted the third daughter named Maura. Belen, the youngest, was taken up by the Enriquez family.
In the beginning, the sisters would still see each other from time to time. Then, the meeting became irregular. The last time they were together was when their mother died.
When Saturnina’s adopted father died, the wife got married again. Since the man was from Davao, the family moved with him. “It was in 1950 that we came to Davao and since then, I have not heard from my sisters nor have seen them.”
Tina will turn 69 this coming November 15. She’s still longing to see her three sisters. “A few years ago, I went back to Sindangan to find them,” she said in tears. “I was hoping to see even just one of them. But I wasn’t lucky. They were no longer there. I learned that Belen died already.”
Tina was only 18 when she got married. There was an interesting story on how she met her husband. She was watching the restaurant of her adopted mother in Bansalan, Davao del Sur when a young man from Davao City named Generoso came to eat for lunch. He was smitten by her.
In the days that follow, Gener – as the man is known – came to the restaurant every now and then. Then, one time, he told her that he was madly in love with her. She thought he was not serious, so she told him, “If you really love me, bring your parents next week, and ask for my hands from my mother.”
He did! And so the two were married. The following year, a healthy baby boy was born. Two years later, a girl, Evangeline, was added to the family. Then, another boy, Gerry, two years later.
Six more children came in subsequent years: Elena, Generoso Jr., Avednigo, Jeannyline, Marilou, and Armando.
In his tribute, Edgar A. Guest, one of the world’s highest-paid verse writers of his time, wrote these lines: “Mothers never change, I guess, in their tender thoughtfulness. All her gentle long life through, she is bent on nursing you. And although you may be grown, she still claims you for her own. And to her you’ll always be just a youngster at her knee.”