Of Mementos and Memories

When my maternal grandmother died, my aunt went over Lola's (Filipino for Grandma) personal effects, and gave away to daughters and granddaughters her finely embroidered handkerchiefs, Holy Rosaries, Spanish fans, china, and cutlery. I was the blessed recipient of her gold watch.

While I never wore the watch regularly, I would occasionally draw it out of its safe place in my closet and handle it, feeling blessed to have such an important piece of my grandmother's life. She wore that watch every single day since Lolo (Filipino for Grandpa) bought it for her in the late fifties. Lola was a no-nonsense and hardworking woman, hardly stopping to rest on a long day of keeping a large household together, and the watch is a symbol of her virtues.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt all the panic that can be squeezed into my brains and heart when I could not find the watch anywhere in the house. To cut short the long story of  cold sweat and hyperventilation, I totally forgot that I had transferred the watch to a new safe place, a small safety box with a lock. Surely, lots of mental conversation with my grandmother and the intercession of Saint Anthony reminded me where I had placed the precious watch.

Sometime in the sixties.

Would I have regretted it had I lost the watch for good?

For its material value, of course. Because of the long lecture from my mother that I know would ensue when she learns of the loss of her own mother's treasured personal effect, yes. Because of the self-flagellation that I will endure every time I blame myself for the loss of a memento, yes.

But even at the height of panic, cold sweat, and hyperventilation, I knew that there are mementos and there are memories. Good memories don't need mementos. Good memories are their own mementos.

    ...my grandparents' huge and clumsy-looking car would enter our driveway, and we would rush to greet them to the prodding of our parents. Lolo would kiss each grandchild, chuckling as he did so. Always, he would smell of cigar, which is probably why I am never disgusted with cigar smoke even as I hate cigarette smoke. Lola, her bandanna wrapped around her head and smelling of lady (versus baby, I guess) powder, would stand back and regard us for a while before she would kiss us, also laughing as she did so.

Their visits were marked with long dinners and late nights listening to conversations of our parents and grandparents. We also watched some shows from our old black-and-white television because Lolo and Lola got to watch TV only when they visit their children in the city. Much later, when Betamax allowed us to watch favorite movies again and again, I set up the The Sound of Music tape for them, put on the airconditioner, seated them in comfortable chairs, and served them calamansi juice (lemonade). I could tell that they felt very special.

My siblings, cousins, and I spent many happy summers in my grandparents' house in the province. We were allowed to eat all the kakanin (rice cakes) that pleased our fancy and drink all the Pepsi that we wanted to. For some reason, Lola never ran out of soda, although I don't remember her drinking it at all. Her kitchen smelled of tomato-based stews, native vegetables cooked in bagoong (shrimp paste), and fried chicken, her grandchildren's favorite. Every time I hear Rachel Ray say, "Hmm, that smells like it has been cooking all day," I remember my grandmother. She is the grand dame of slow cooking, having been educated in the old home economics mold of normal schools.

She knew what embroidery was, and it was hand-sewn, never machine-sewn. The first twelve months of each grandchild were spent in baby clothes sewn and embroidered by Lola, dainty floral motifs for the girls and rabbits and other animals for the boys. Thereafter, she sewed houseclothes for the girls and shorts for the boys. I convince myself that I got my sewing genes from her. Very early on, she admonished me never to produce anything so crude that it looked like it has been sewn by my feet!

But it is Lola's laughter that I would always remember and love most. It was actually easy to make her laugh -- a grandchild's antics, a corny attempt by a comedian on TV, a past blunder suddenly come to mind, and life in general. Hers was a cross between a giggle and a laugh, girlish and matronly at the same time. It came with slightly hunched shoulders with a hand partly covering her face, the latter perhaps a concession to the decorum of her times. Laughter, as crisp and fresh as it can get. Mirth.

I can go on.

There are mementos and there are memories. Good memories don't need mementos. Good memories are their own mementos.

Still it is such a grace to have both.

This was originally written for Moments of Grace, a Friday linking activity at Jenny's Suscipio. She now blogs at The Littlest Way.


  1. This is just so beautiful...

    What a blessed and genuine family you belong to, and are now raising. How vivid you are able to recount your childhood memories with your delightful grandparents (Lola & Lolo - I love that!) I enjoyed sharing your happiness, thank you!

    1. Thank you for going down memory lane with me! The love that we receive in our younger years really reinforces our sense of self as adults. I have to say the same thing about your family -- I am always inspired by how you live by the liturgical year and how your children are right by you in all the celebrations!


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