Day Twenty Five: Family Gatherings

Me, surrounded by presents. My Christening, 1971.

We all have quirks, which make us unique and occasionally interesting. (And sometimes irritating.)

Take coffee, for instance. In addition to skim milk and no sugar, I like it tepid. Oh, you can serve it to me hot, but I won't drink it until it has cooled down to a nice, lukewarm temperature. And no, I don't like ice coffee. Won't touch the stuff. My coffee must be tepid.

Dave has a whole bunch of quirks, like furniture on the middle of the room. When I purchased that red leather ottoman a couple of days ago, it broke his "open space in the center so I can roam freely" rule. But because I am his grief-stricken wife, the only thing he said was "wow" in all lowercase letters and then walked upstairs. Yes, I admit to playing the grief card, but I get to do it so rarely. It felt oddly satisfying.

Growing up in Brooklyn during the 70's and 80's, my friends (and boyfriends) thought I had a lot of quirks just because of my Filipino background. The strange food, the funny language, the mannerisms and attitudes of my parents, and the large Filipino family gatherings that dominated every weekend for the first eighteen years of my life: all of these things made me different. But in order to be accepted I allowed myself to be called "quirky."

I tried to separate myself once I got into college, only dropping by once in a while to visit my parents or hang out with my cousins. And while Dave has met my family and we certainly had a Filipino wedding, he has not really been introduced to the "Filipino ways" of my past.  I had buried it by the time we met.

To commemorate the 40th day of my Mom's passing, we had a Mass at my aunt's house last night. Of course I dragged my kids, because they are, after all, Filipino. And because they are young and therefore more accepting of the strange and bizarre. But then there's Dave, my non-Filipino husband who thinks that one of my only quirks is drinking tepid coffee. I've mostly shielded him from all things Filipino, except for small visits here and there with my immediate family.

The Mass at my aunt's house was held in "Taglish" (half English, half Tagalog) and punctuated with many Filipino hymns. The priest was Filipino and peppered his homily with jokes about husbands and wives like he was Henny Youngman. A Filipino folk choir group sat in the back of the room with guitars and an amp, and sang. There was an egregious amount of food waiting in the next room where the huge television was tuned to the TFC (The Filipino Channel). And there was about a hundred Filipinos packed into my aunt's house, singing, crying, talking, eating, and laughing.

I felt it was important that Dave come to this Filipino family gathering, that he experience this small dose of what my life was growing up in Brooklyn. And Dave was fine. During the Mass, he stood in the doorway to the next room, holding my cousin's newborn baby, and swaying to the music of the choir group. He ate pancit and pan de sal, talked with my family, and even invited a few of my cousins to our house. He was, above all, the man that I always knew him to be, but never gave a chance.

It was all the more sad because my Mom would have been so proud, having him there, her handsome and loving son-in-law. She would have introduced him to everyone, made sure that each person knew that he belonged to her in some way, stressing the word "my" in saying "oh, this is my son-in-law David..."and smiling widely as the words tumbled out of her mouth. But I denied her that pleasure. She had often made excuses to my aunts and cousins about my lack of attendance to our family parties: another party, a sick kid, or us being out of town.

So now I am making this promise to my Mom: we will be there, as much as we can, to every Filipino family gathering.

Because I miss you, and because I love you. And because I can't think of a better way of honoring your memory.