My Tito Freddy, who has lived abroad for years, e-mailed to say that the magic of Lily’s pork chop must probably have been in the oil that she reused guiltlessly (and please do not follow this). Apparently, she would use it several times over (not good), but solely for pork (at least there was exclusivity).
So, in effect, even the oil was flavored with pork. Beat that. This very moment, because of that reminder, I also remember yaya Juling’s magnificent apple pie with the perfectly flaky pie crust. I tried to replicate her recipe as a very new bride and when I failed I wrote and asked her for tips. She wrote back all the way from Australia (my mom found her a pen pal way back in the ‘80s, this really nice fellow named Chris and after they got married in the Philippines they flew back to Australia to live happily ever after there) to say that there were two things I absolutely must do: work the piecrust lengthily but gently with my fingers until I achieved a consistency that is neither wet nor dry, just enough that it holds together somehow, and secondly (this is the clincher) I must use puriko, also famously known as pork lard.
I remembered the opaque white lump I would see her bring out each time she made apple pie. Little did I know that it was pork lard. All the while I just thought it was pretend butter that worked just as well as the real thing and never thought of questioning or challenging it. The wonders of using it! Really, again I ask myself, how can something so good be so bad?!
Anyway, Tito Freddy goes on further to share that Lily also always served her famous pork chops with eggs, either sunny side up or as an omelet with tomato and onions, and patis on the side. I don’t remember having access to the patis, it was hidden by the adults from the children, not because they wanted all of it for themselves but because there was nothing healthy about it and once tasted, it could be a very hard habit to break. Of course, I eventually found my way to this very salty and great condiment, to the point that I can herald the many wonderful ways to enjoy it, but I have always used it sparingly. Oh, and Tito Freddy says Lily also made very good munggo soup, which I sorely missed. Where are you, Lily? I really wish someone in the family still knew.
When I remember snippets of my childhood with Cebu as the backdrop I automatically think of Martinez Compound and Lola Carmen, and all her funniness, her quirks, the many things she would say or do that made her unique. I remember quite a lot, random as some of it is, and I find myself quoting her from time to time.
For instance, my fondness for pearls must be rooted in the memory of Lola Carmen telling all of her granddaughters that pearls are magical in that they can make a woman look her prettiest. I find that to be so true. I have never seen anyone look awful in pearl studs, they do give a lovely glow and if not for the stigma that pearls are like tears, every bride would look beautiful with just pearl earrings on.
Lola also believed that red lipstick could make any outfit dressy. She had such beautiful dresses that showed off her tiny waist and my mom says that every Sunday when they would attend Mass, either before they left or after they got back home, Lolo Julio would spend some time photographing LolaCarmen, usually in the garden where the pool was. He must have really adored her to do that. They were so in love, always singing to each other and — this one I really love — writing each other love letters. One of my prized possessions are the handful of love letters Lola Carmen and Lolo Julio wrote each other that my mom passed on to me, the hopeless romantic that I am. I am still waiting to find the perfect way that they can be framed.
Towards the latter part of her life and especially after she became widowed Lola took to wearing shapeless frocks, like muumuus and long dusters in nice fabric and happy prints that she would just dress up with red lipstick, Wine with Everything being the name of her favorite shade. She abhorred too-tight clothes. And even when she was just home, she would put on red lipstick. She would also always wear jewelry, whether she had guests or not. I would see her play mahjong with her sisters Lola Dulce and Lola Bering and either Uncle Tito (her nephew who was a retired policeman) or Manang Gloria (our kesong puti suki), and I remember the sound of her bracelets tinkling as her arm moved the mahjong cubes.
I remember her fingers with multiple rings on it. She had little gold chains around her neck. Even when she was just in her duster. And that is another thing I learned from Lola Carmen — you wear something (whether lipstick or makeup) for yourself, not to impress anyone else, not so others can rave about it. Its truest pleasure is when you do it personally, to please yourself.
Another favorite Lola Carmen thought has to do with lights. She loved love stories and would burst into song (usually Love is a Many Splendored Thing) on a whim. She loved Hong Kong because aside from the intrinsic happiness of the place, that was also where the movie was set. Lola liked marrying off people, she was a perpetual matchmaker, and her eyes would light up with excitement when someone’s love story ended up at the altar. She would wax poetic about how my sister Caren and her debut escort and now husband Vince would practice their dance in the sala while the rain was pouring outside, and she loved watching The Bold and The Beautiful as much as my sister and I and our cousin Johanna did.
One of us asked her one day how a man falls in love with a woman and she had two words for that — yellow light (she meant warm light). She says a woman has to stay by the light of the lampshade, where she is most lovely, with shadows veiled and features bathed in quiet light, and then a man will have no choice but to fall in love with her as she is pretty in his eyes. Now do the opposite and the man might just run far away, she warned us. Never go to a fluorescent-lit café or restaurant and expect the man to propose. He will see all that is imperfect about you and he might just change his mind. That really makes me laugh. And appreciate the importance of proper lighting in any space, especially in your own home. Only Lola Carmen, the grand romantic, could think of that and put it into words in a way that is most vain and relatable.
Now let me leave you with a glimpse of how funny she was. When I was in college in Cebu I had a suitor who was actually nice but not exactly my type. For one, although he was good-looking he was very fair-skinned and was quite short. He visited me one night after dinner and when my cousins and I were all around the dining table just chatting with that suitor there was a blackout. That brought Lola Carmen down from her room. She sat with us and observed him from a distance. She talked to him sparingly, an indication that she did not exactly approve of him for me (or any of her other granddaughters for that matter) and asked who his parents were and how he knew me (he was a friend of my cousin).
When the lights finally came back, that suitor stood up from his chair to go out and get something from his car. Seeing his full height my Lola told him “Hibaw ka Dong, maayo kung ma-ila-ila nimo ang akong umnagkon si Louie Nacorda par a mapakita niya nimo ang iya mga santos nga mas dako pa intawn nimo’(You know young man, it might be good for you to meet my nephew Louie Nacorda who has images of saints much bigger than you).” And with that she stood up and said goodnight, and walked up the stairs to her room.
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