Blood Line: Family

photo via Peabody Corner

Family is very important to me.  And just a few days ago my 91 year old grandmother, Maria, was admitted to the hospital because she fell and was knocked unconscious.  I visited her yesterday in the hospital and I left there informed, sated for family bonding and happy.


Because for all that my grandmother cannot speak english (once upon a time I could converse with her in Ilocano…I’ve lost it sadly), she has long gray hair and looks really frail…her spirit is SO fiery.  I used to think it was the Lacar blood that had that fire…but I’m starting to think it’s my grandma’s side, the Viloria and Porpuz side that is the real fire.

I am in the process of researching my grandmother’s background so I can add her story to my family files.  I don’t know why I decided to do this-it’s just that in college I wrote a family history paper as my project (I had to tie it into American History events-such as World War II) but that project gave me a chance to interview my grandfather and I found out so many things.  I wrote that paper and have kept it. Now that my grandfather is gone, I am grateful I have HIS story.

I also thought it wasn’t fair that I had my grandfather’s story but not my grandmother’s…so I’ve enlisted the help of my cousin, who is fluent in Ilocano and is my grandmother’s caretaker anyhow. I was close to my grandfather emotionally because his room was next to mine when I was growing up and he was fun and nice!  But I was close to my grandma too…she lived in the back house, but she watched us all summer when there was no school.  She did the raising.

When I was alone with my grandma yesterday she was curled up in a ball and sleeping.  I hate hospitals because they are SO cold.  And older people are ALWAYS cold…so I rubbed her back and woke her up…hehehe…my grandma can barely speak English but she can understand some of it…she just never took the time to learn.  How did she get by in Hawaii, you ask?  She has a lot of kids and daughter-in-laws and grandchildren that help her.

So what did we find out yesterday?

My grandmother was raised with four brothers, she was the only girl.  That explains a lot!  That explains why grandma is like a guy!  She curses, she’s blunt, she used to smoke cigars, she takes no crap (not even from my grandpa who she despised for some reason we know not of-another family secret), she spanked us, and she scolded us.  She’s grandma!  I’m glad I asked about her siblings because I was missing 2 of them in the family tree.

When I asked if they did farming, she looked at us girls like we were straight dummies.  LOL…so in the room with me was me (33 years old), another cousin in her 20’s, another cousin close to her 20’s, and another cousin who is still in elementary school.  Oh yeah…all of us, different generations in one room.

Of course my grandma and her family were farmers…

And since we were in a hospital and discussing our large family tree, I asked my cousin to ask grandma about giving birth.  What surprised me and I’m not sure which of her 9 children were born this way but she said that no one was there to help her.  We asked, didn’t she call someone to help?  She said who can she call when everyone was out in the field and they couldn’t hear her yelling for help?

So we all looked at each other and then asked, so how did you give birth?  She said the baby comes out, she cut the cord herself and took care of it.  Just like that.  She said sometimes you stand and squat or you can lay down…and here I am imaging my tiny grandmother alone with birth pains, no epidural, no HELP, nothing, not even a friend to coach her!  Grabbing her baby and helping it out of her, not crying, cut the cord and wallah, she had her baby.  She did this 10 times, 5 boys and 5 girls, except one girl didn’t live past the first few days of life.  She did talk about her, the aunty I never knew Delia Aurora Lacar.  The baby was ill, the doctor came to give her an injection but the baby died anyway.  Aurora, my cousin was sitting in the room as grandma told that story, she’s named after her.

I think we shivered.  As girls we shook our head thinking OH HELL NO, thinking of what my grandma endured.  My grandma laughed at our expressions.  But that’s how it was.

I had my cousin ask grandma if she still knew how to make all her filipino desserts (cuz I may make a family recipe book…MAYBE..) and my grandmother looked at me and started telling me how to grate coconut and soak it and do this and do that and she said, just do it!  LOL…I was like, grandma I need to write down the recipe!  She was telling me to get banana leaves and what not.  Which brought back memories of my childhood.

Memory: We had banana trees and I remember my dad chopping the leaves off and having me and my sister strip the leaves to make Tinupig (not sure of spelling).  We had to clean the leaves by wiping it down.  I remember my grandma with her home made coconut shaver, which consisted of a wooden stool and a grater at the head.  My grandma would take her machete, she would husk the coconut then crack them open.  She let me eat some coconut and sip the coconut juice and then she’d take it and drain it as I shaved the coconut.  I loved helping my grandma because I would pick at the fresh coconut!  Yummmmmm……my dad would take the prepared coconut batter or whatever you call it and have me hold the banana leaf as he poured in the batter.  We would wrap it up and put it over a fire (grill) and cook it.  Man…those were the days…when I think back, food and cooking was a BIG thing in my childhood….it was so good….

Maybe it’s why family is so important to me.  Because family was important to my family, my grandparents, my parents….they couldn’t fathom a life without family.

All these memories in my head of making food in the kitchen wasn’t about cooking it was about bonding and spending time together.  Sure I got yelled at that my lumpias were all uneven (Gotta all look the same, same width and length…k MOM!!)…but do you know how proud I am that I can make lumpia like my mom’s?  Okay I’m not as fabulous…but I can make it.  Now, I’m not so in love with Filipino food that I want to learn every recipe.  But there are just a handful of dishes that I do eat and crave, mostly because my mom makes it.  So to the girls and guys that are keeping the tradition and cooking the food…that’s awesome!

My grandma is 91.  I don’t know how long she will be around.  She has osteoporosis and her blood work is abnormal (they don’t know what that means yet) so she’s still in the hospital but we, her family, visit her.  And she has a lot.  We asked her if she knew how many grandkids she has..LOL..she has about 30…and I then I informed my cousins in the room, that grandma has about 30 great grandkids too 🙂  And this is only my dad’s side of the family.

I’ve done more research on my dad’s side because they are accessible and that’s who I grew up with, but I can’t ignore my Calma side too.  I need to do some research on that side and I will eventually.

Grandma is in pain, but at the hospital she is laughing and joking with the Filipino nurses.  She’s bossing us around when she can and she has constant family around her.  If my grandpa was the fun and softness and the affectionate one, my grandma is the one that did the hard work of raising us-she fed us, cleaned us, disciplined us, she spanked us, carried us on her bony hip, she put coconut oil in my hair and she pierced my ears.  She created poultices from leaves or just aloe when we fell and had cuts.  I learned to obey and respect my elders…especially when my machete wielding elder was my own Grandmother.

I always thought the Lacar side was the tough side…now I really think I’m wrong.  I think it was my grandma, that brought the tough to the Lacar family.  That’s a real revelation to me.

When I look at my grandma I see the old world-the motherland, the Philppines in her.  I see the Philippines with their indigenous beginnings.  She is an island girl through and through.  She’s uneducated when it comes to academia, but put her on the show Survivor and she would have kicked everyone’s asses.  LOL…right?!  If the world as we know it was to end and we lost technology, money, grocery stores, and all our luxuries, I’d want to live with my grandmother.


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