A Circular Story, a Nod to National Novel Writing Month

This is not a novel, but a personal circular story I wrote back in 2007 in memory of my grandmother whom I loved so dearly.  I thought I’d share this in support of National Novel Writing Month. A circular story begins and ends with the same sentence. 

  

Memories of My Grandmother

I am alone on the porch swinging in my grandmother’s rattan hammock, crying.  As I look around the empty space I recall a time when I sat just like this in the same hammock teary eyed, but for a different reason.

That day bananas were neatly laid out on a mat made of recycled straw sacks on the pebbled cemented balcony.  A round flat native basket sat on top of it waiting to be filled.

A smile creeps into my face as I think of Nanay in her floral printed housedress muttering under her breath as she walked out the living room door.  Scooped in her right arm were a large mortar and pestle.  On her left hand was her low wooden foot stool.  She placed the items down and faced me with hands akimbo.

“Stop the crying young lady and get to work!”  She looked me in the eye with that “do what I tell you or else” look on her wrinkled face.

I remember myself crying harder, not inclined to leave my favorite spot of the day, her rattan hammock. On such a warm and humid day, I just wanted to lie down, be lazy, and eat linupak, a Philippine native delicacy made of boiled pounded plantain with brown sugar.   “But Nanay,pounding bananas is so exhausting.  I cannot do it!”

 

Fried Plantain
 
How many times have I used that excuse and failed to get my own way?  My grandmother was too wise to be conned by her indolent grandchild.

“Hmp!  It will be good exercise for your skinny arms.  Maybe it will put meat on your bony limbs.”  Grandma said as she waived to the foot stool motioning me to sit.

Still crying, I dragged my 8 year-old feet towards the waiting stool and grudgingly perched on it.  I crossed my arms and pursed my lips planning not to budge an inch. I noted how thin grandma’s short grey hair had become.

Nanay met my intent gaze and said, “You kids today expect things to be served to you on a silver platter.  When I was a child, I had to harvest bananas with my sisters at the farm, carry them to the house, and make linupak ourselves.  We had to work to eat. Look child,everything’s laid out for you.  So, start pounding.  You can’t expect to eat without doing some work!”

Nobody knew best about working to eat than my grandmother. She was widowed early with two young kids to take care of.  She tended her small patch of land growing fruits and vegetables to eke out a living. Her small earnings could not send her children to college, so she trained my mother and my uncle to be self-sufficient.

“You cant’expect to eat without doing some work!” stuck with me. Indeed, one cannot inhabit this earth on a free ride.

Thoughts of Nanay bring back the pride I had when my high school commissioned her to prepare one of my favorite Philippine stews called dinuguan as one of the dishes to be served for guests in an after school event. Dinuguan is made with diced pork and liver simmered in vinegar-water mixture and spices. Pork blood dissolved in vinegar is stirred in the boiling pot ten minutes before serving to thicken and is garnished with lemon grass.

 

Filipino dishes at Pilipino Grill in Sayreville, NJ; Dinuguan is the chocolate looking dish
 
“Why will your teacher ask me to cook dinuguan for everyone?” She asked me, her forehead wrinkling in puzzlement.

“Well, they heard how good your dinuguan is, Nanay.” I told her. “That’s why.”

“But I never made it for anyone, except the family.” She said. To which I replied,”Exactly! It’s time to share your cooking skills with the world!”

Nene, before you volunteer my services for anything, ask me first!” Grandma reprimanded, trying hard to be stern, but she could not hide her pleasure in my pride of her stewing skills.

She frequently cooked for the family.  My brothers and I loved her cooking so we did not  protest much when ordered to finish every morsel on our plates.

“Do not leave any food on your plate!” She would tell us. “There are millions of children out there without food on their table. Thank God for His blessing by not wasting your food.” To this day, I make an effort to wipe my plate clean each time I eat and feel a bit guilty when I don’t.

My neighborhood friends and I loved to play outdoors on weekends and we get frustrated when rain takes our opportunity to play outside.

“When is this rain going to stop!” I loudly grumbled once, angry at being cooped inside the house for hours on a Saturday.

“Shouting will not scare the rain away, Nene.”  Nanay pronounced as she looked up from her sewing machine. “Go read a book or clean your room.”

“But Nonette, Bandette, and I planned to play house in the front yard today!” I answered stamping my foot.

“How about we make some champorado for everyone, ha?” Grandma asked standing up abandoning her sewing. My eyes lit up, immediately picturing the gooey chocolate rice pudding on a bowl. “Let’s warm that tummy of yours with a nice bowl of champorado.”

I gleefully followed Nanay into the kitchen and watched her measure glutinous rice and water and brought them to a boil.  My brothers,bored as I was, crowded our small kitchen demanding to know what’s in the pot.

 

Arroz caldo, like champorado is a favorite to warm the belly on a rainy day, aka, Chicken Rice
 
Champorado!” They screamed in chorus as Nanay took out a tablet of homemade chocolate from the pantry. Then they scooted out as fast as they popped in to investigate our activities in the kitchen.

It was still raining hard when the pudding was ready to be served.  Nanay, my brothers, and I sat around a table by the window watching the rain fall as we warmed our bellies with a bowl of gooey chocolate rice pudding.  Staying indoors on a Saturday afternoon wasn’t so bad, after all.

A slight movement startles me out of my reverie. My youngest brother is standing by the pillar looking at me with a solemn face. “The family decided that you are the best person to deliver the eulogy.”

I sadly stare back at him and nod my head. Nanay died early evening a few days ago. She passed away a few hours before I arrived home from school. It doesn’t feel right that I wasn’t there by her bedside.

“I was there.” My brother reminded me. “She knew we love her very much.”

A fresh flow of tears fill my eyes. I give my brother a hint of a smile to tell him I am okay. It is just not easy to let go of someone who had enriched our lives so much.

He dipped his head slightly, understanding what I wanted to say. Leaving me with a sad smile of his own, he quietly left to join the others inside the house.

For a while I sat there, alone on the porch swinging in my grandmother’s rattan hammock crying.

Reading this never fails to bring tears to my eyes. I was blessed to have known my grandma’s love. I miss her so! ❤️

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