LEONIDA…the reason why I endure life
in this world
By Apolinario Villalobos
She is my elder sister, deaf and mute since birth, and is more than seventy years old. I cannot imagine myself dead ahead of her. She is the reason why I kept on telling classmates before, that I will not settle down with a family of my own as foremost in my mind was take care of her until she dies.
Despite her handicap, she took care of us, her younger siblings, nephews, nieces, and their children. We communicated through a sign language that only our family understands. It was she who developed my love for vegetables, as she would gather saluyot, kulitis and lupo from the yet, grassy, town plaza which was in front of our house. Sometimes she would gather wild mushrooms beside the fence at the back of our house. She would simply cook them with whatever onion, ginger, and tomatoes that can be found in our kitchen. She would boil thickly sliced green jackfruit, for us to be dipped in soy sauce which constituted our lunch when there was no rice to cook.
Her intelligence and curiosity are such that she is fond of browsing through magazines including the comic magazines of the yesteryears. She would collect them in several boxes. Had we thought of keeping them, we could have been rich because a copy of “Hiwaga” komiks today costs not less than Php200. While she was doing her own collection of komiks, I collected my own pages of newspapers used as absorbent protection of dried fish in boxes that our parents ordered from Iloilo and Cebu to be sold in our small stall in the market. I was not yet of school age at that time during which she would observe me as I scribbled on the ground using a twig, the words that I copied from the dried-fish smelling papers, especially, “Purico”, a very popular brand of lard.
When we got completely orphaned, she joined me and an elder brother, in washing bottles and pasting of labels on them for Panay Vinegar, the first business entity, though, home-based, in our town. It was located in our ancestral house that we rented out to a Chinese businessman who treated us, as members of his family. I was in my first year high school then, during which we would stay late at night, especially, if orders were overwhelming, as they would come from store owners in neighboring towns. That was how we earned money.
Later, she was taken in by our late elder sister, Erlinda (Mary to us and her friends) a teacher at the former Sambulawan Elementary Schhol (today, President Quirino). She practically took care of her four children, May anne (Inday), Toto, Neneng, and Nonoy until they got families of their own, as she spent more time with them, than with us. Both my elder sister and my brother-in-law, Ciriaco (Ciring), are gone.
When I was yet with PAL, she was the reason why I would always come home even for a short while. I would take the first flight for Davao, transfer to an aircon van upon arrival for our place which takes 3 hours to reach, and after lunch would leave again for Davao to catch up with the first available flight back to Manila – on the same day. I felt that was all she wanted – see me even for just a short time. An important gift to her is a copy of the glossy Mabuhay magazine which she would lovingly caress upon receipt, open the pages and gawk at the photos.
She is also among the reasons why I believe in the wisdom of God for having brought me back to the point in my life where I made a decision to take care of her, to reaffirm it…after several disastrous living-in relationships, and which further made me ponder that my family is NOT limited to my blood relations but the rest of His creatures who I can touch. Where she is now living comfortably is her comfort zone, from which I could not take her away, as she would be emotionally distressed.
It took time for me to decide to finally bring out her story. But I am forced by the circumstance that some people cannot accept their great fortune of having normal and successful siblings and children, and loving wife, and presently enjoying the laughter of their grandchildren. I want them to compare their situation with mine. I cannot even settle down again as I might be unfortunate to get a partner who will not accept my elder sister. That is how I am simply looking at my life. Had my sister been normal and happily settled with a family of her own, I could be somewhere else, most probably in a depressed area, living with the people with whom I feel most comfortable.