May brings back many memories of my childhood and Noveleta, the town in Cavite where I grew up.
One of my fondest memories of Noveleta is the fiesta, which was held every May 3. I loved going to the perya with my best pal, Olive. We rode on the ferris wheel, ate snow cones, and watched the lighting of the fireworks. And how can I forget the karakol. People carried the saints’ statues, the band played lively tunes and people danced in the streets. The throng would go around town, dancing under the hot summer sun, each and everyone wearing wide-brimmed sombreros. We would be dancing and walking in the dusty streets and by the time the karakol ended, my feet would be muddy from sweat and dust. I’ve always had sweaty palms and feet. When I got home, I’d wash my feet right away and the elders would scold me, “mapapasma ka.”
Also held in May is the Santacruzan, a depiction of the finding of Christ's Cross by Queen Helena and Constantine. Pretty girls and ladies participated in the procession as sagalas. I was never asked to join the Santacruzan when I was in Noveleta. I wasn’t one of those pretty girls. But when I was around 8 or 9, I willingly traveled to Papa’s hometown, the very far Atimonan, Quezon, when I was asked to be the Dama de las Flores. Ate Cherry, my cousin, was also one of the sagalas. I don’t recall why my parents weren’t able to come with me. I went with my auntie and Ate Cherry.
It was memorable for me, not because it was my first time to be a sagala, but rather because of a fateful event that happened on the day we were to go back home. I went to the bathroom in the morning to take a shower. The bathroom was outside the house, sort of an outhouse. When I went in, I slipped on the wet floor and banged my head on the large cooking oil tin, which was used as a timba. I got a cut on my forehead and I bled profusely. I heard my aunt say, “Mabuti na lang at si Irene ang naaksidente at hindi ang anak ko.” I took it badly at that time. But I knew that she only meant that she would feel worse if it was her child who got hurt. It was so embarrassing that I had to wear a Band-aid on my forehead on the long trip back to Manila, and then to Cavite. I have worn bangs for 21 years to cover up that scar.
May is one of the summer vacation months in the Philippines. Sometimes, my cousins from Quezon Province would come to live with us in Noveleta for a few weeks. Other times, my cousins from Manila would also come. Since my birthday is in May, we usually went swimming at Lido Beach. Oh, those were carefree, happy times!
Even as I grew older, even after my parents separated and I moved away from Cavite, I was always surrounded either by family or friends on my birthdays. When Mama migrated to Canada, she would always send us a parcel around the time of my birthday and she always sent us special sotanghon (bean thread) to cook for my special day.
I don’t know why, but somehow, I stopped celebrating my birthdays when I left the Philippines, which was also around the time I started to have a family. I guess the tight schedules of work and family made it hard for me to find time to plan anything for myself. I never fail to plan parties for each of my kids’ birthdays, though. (Bakit ganoon, ano?) Oh sure, I’d cook pancit or spaghetti, or even buy a cake on my birthday. But that was it.
For many years, I expected my partner to do anything special for me. And when that didn’t happen, year after year, I started to resent it. So for the past couple of years, I would sulk on my birthday. I’d bring my kids along with me to watch a movie, just to get out of the house, get as far as possible from the person who makes me feel hurt. Until I realized that it just made me feel worse. I learned that it could be so depressing to wallow in resentment.
But sometimes Life presents us with surprises. Two weeks before my birthday, my partner came home with a present for me. I was taken aback. I choked back my tears. He has never given me any presents. And I have sometimes complained about it. I have accepted the fact that I may never receive anything from him and then it happened. I wondered if “two angels” have talked him into doing it. But hey, I’ll take it. This may be the one and only present that I’ll ever receive from him. And it’s not really the physical – the tangible – aspect of this present that’s important. It’s the thought that counts.
This year, I turned the big 4-0. I decided that I wouldn’t sulk this time. No way. I wanted to celebrate my birthday the way I celebrated it when I was still in the Philippines – surrounded by family and friends who care about me. And it included my old pal Olive, whom I was reunited with two years ago. We had a simple gathering at home. We ate lots of food, played games, and shared laughter. It has been my happiest birthday so far.