Saturday, November 16, 2013

Grandma's Boudoir

My grandmother is already in her 80’s. My father and I decided that it was time for me to go back home and be with my grandma and spend some quality time with her. We heard that she was getting weaker and losing her appetite. She wasn’t really sick or anything. She was probably sad, being alone and old.

In her younger days, she was said to be very scrupulous with her outfit and look. She wasn’t vain, but back then, good and appropriate grooming is a must. She felt that as a public school teacher it was her duty to present herself neat and appropriately clothed.

The women of my family always look up to her because of her sense of style and her matriarchal manner. And obviously not all of the femme fatales of the clan really like her. Some were envious; so green with envy that they would employ character assassination and gossips, and even gross criticisms about her clothes, shoes, and bags. But despite all that, my grandmother would go on with her life and wouldn’t give a shit.

My grandmother came from a big poor family living in a corner of the baranggay. My great grandparents were tenants cultivating a one-hectare rice field owned by a wealthy family from Quezon. I always remember her story of how she breathed prayers when she washed the clothes down the river, praying that may she never become a labandera, or whenever she works in the fields she would pray that may God spare her from becoming a farmer. It was her dream to become a teacher. And with patience and diligence in her studies, she graduated from the University of Santo Tomas and became a public school teacher.

Her real luck came when she met my grandfather. Tall, dark, and handsome- these were the qualities he was looking for in a guy, and my grandfather had all these qualities. She had to be a pakipot of course so that the elders of the town wouldn’t think that she’s a loose woman, but inside her she really prayed that may this dark gorgeousness would ask to marry her. And they did after years of courting.

The love between the two opened doors for my grandmother- a new found freedom, a new life, a better home, and a milestone away from her poor life. She always said that she’s really lucky to marry a man who had money. They were able to build a house together and send their children to good schools. With the extra money that they earned, they both helped her parents and her brothers and sisters, and even helped some of her nieces and nephews in sending them to school.

Eventually, her children grew up, finished college, married, and went on their own paths. Two of her daughters went to the US to become nurses. My father stayed and opened a store near the town market. A few years later, the store had to be closed. Business won’t work if they were more like charitable missionaries doling out canned goods and rice to abusive clients than shrewd merchants who can outdo a mob of thick-skinned stingy parasites. He eventually left for Italy with my mother. My sister and I were left behind with our grandparents.

It was in those years that she could finally afford to have a room of her own, a boudoir as one might say. She had closets filled with beautiful classy clothes and dresses and a dozen pair of shoes. I don’t remember her collecting bags. I only remember that one Louis Vuitton bag she got from her children as a birthday present, which she still keeps until now-just one mighty hand bag through the years. The centrepiece of her boudoir was this wooden dresser mirror, finely polished and with beautiful wooden engravings. She kept all her things there- those creams she used for her skin and face, the lotions with fruity and flowery scents, lipsticks of many shades, make-ups and powders, and my grandfather’s colognes and other sweet-smelling fragrances from abroad. For some strange reason I was never able to know, she kept my grandfather’s colognes in her dresser mirror. I remember that she was very fond of two perfumes- Dior’s Poison and that brown bottle of Yves Saint Laurent.

When we were kids, we were always late for the Sunday mass because my grandmother would take hours and hours to prepare and dress up. One Sunday morning, as we were waiting for her downstairs, I decided to go up to her dressing room to check if she was ready to go to church. I gently knocked on her door and she let me in. I sat there in a corner of her room, watching her prepare. It was a mesmerizing scene. She was already in her Sunday’s best, gently retouching make-up on her face, then her lips. Her ritual would be concluded with graceful showers of Poison or her YSL perfume.

She was very beautiful and refined, even though she was quite a probinsyana-not too flashy but quite flamboyant for a provincial public school teacher. I was quite proud of her, knowing that people looked up to her. Sometimes they would make fun of her calling her Doña Enchang. But she never pretended to be one of those nouveau riches of our town. I’d say that she was simply lucky to have a good life.

The death of my grandfather was a devastating blow to my family, especially to my grandmother. I still believe until now that it was that private space, her boudoir, which my grandfather reserved for her, which helped my grandmother move on in life. From then on, it became a sacred place where we were not supposed to go inside and play.

Sometimes my sister and I would venture inside her boudoir. I would look into the mirror and stare at my reflection, thinking about what went through my grandmother’s head and why she takes so long to dress up and prepare. Every time we venture secretly inside her dressing room, my sister was gradually learning the value of each colour and hue of every cosmetic in my grandmother’s dressing mirror, and eventually picked up the woman’s hours-long ritual of prepping up. I was quite curious about her perfumes and the colognes my grandfather left behind. I would get one bottle and spray them on my wrists and arms and smell those fantastic scents, registering the moment in my memory.

The boudoir was a reflection of my grandmother’s matriarchal dignity, her aesthetic discipline, and how she carries herself. The sacred privacy of her boudoir conveyed her conservative values (something I religiously observed and picked up in life). Her dresser mirror is her aesthetic discipline and philosophy- that beauty must have a purpose, and when it has a purpose, it must be religiously and diligently cultured and should not be an element of vanity (something I never got, or refused to believe in or understand). The closet of beautiful but inexpensive dresses and shoes is her order of ethics on frugal but efficient living. And finally, her one and only hand bag, yes, that Louis Vuitton bag is her example of life that chooses quality over quantity. It sounds as if my grandmother were Imelda Marcos. No way. She’s waaay too different from that bitch. She was a true public servant- a public school teacher. Many of the citizens of our town became her student- from the lowly families working in the woods and the fields up to those professionals in private companies and those who are in the Munisipyo.

When I returned from Italy, I was saddened to see that the boudoir was gone. It has now become my special uncle’s bedroom. The old dresser mirror was placed in the room opposite together with other old stuff of the past.
The once strong, vibrant, and youthful was now fragile and sad. I was saddened to see that the grandmother I used to observe and admire was now like a crestfallen forgotten myth. I wanted to revive in her the past.

One can try to revive her past by cleaning up the dusty dresser mirror, filling up the shelves with creams and cosmetics, restore the former glory of her boudoir. But that won’t be enough to breathe life again to her body and soul. Time has already left her marks on my grandmother’s skin and the burden of senility has made life around her quite dull.  

But now we’re all coming back home again. Grandchildren will be mirrors where she can look at again and make her smile, remind her of the past, the good times she had, the challenges she has overcome and the future of her family. Her children will be the familiar scents that made her life sweet and the memories of dear old grandpa. And the moments we will share will be the robes that will keep her warm and feel home again inside this once empty house.


  1. I wish I was that close to my grandmother :( I grew up barely talking to them

    1. Grandparents are always the best. They spoil you. Hehehe! Bakit hindi ka naging close sa kanila?

  2. the way you describe her is somehow resembles on my description of my grandmother, in my case I can't feature myself being that old it seems like you're just waiting for your end, but upon looking at our elders I was amaze how they were able to smile and their grandchildren were the main reason for it. it's a great decision to bring her back here I know she'll be grateful about it.

    1. And i am really happy to be with grandma again. Siya kasi ang nagpalaki sa aming magkapatid.

  3. I suddenly miss my lola... Though I just talked to her on the phone last night :( .....

    I wonder how was it for you going back to Italy and seeing her sad and fragile face. It must have been hard. Though they know that we are young and must live our own lives, its sad that we have to move to a different and leave them.

    Mapalad tayong mga batang lumaki na may nagisnang mga lolo at lola.. And if I'll have my own kids in the future, I want them to experience the same.... :D

    1. Oo nga eh. Pero ang lola ko gusto pa rin niya yung independence niya, so we let her. Kaya we promised na bibisita kami more. So next year uuwi ulit ako.

  4. What a wonderful story of your grandma. Rags to riches. A woman with dignity and I really admire her. An inspiration. She had a good life and very lucky having you all. I really loved her story:) thanks for sharing!

  5. Pleased to meet Doña Enchang :)

    I wish I would live longer like her and have a grandson who will write about me just like this. You described her so vividly that I feel like I am meeting her personally and also invading her boudoir...

    Btw, we have two things in common - "just one mighty hand bag through the years" and the Dior's Poison perfume :)

    Nice one TG!

    1. Thanks! I think mommy enchang would be delighted that she has an athletic version in you. Hehehe!

    2. Ha ha!

      I came back to say THANK YOU for being a part of my fruitful two years!


  6. It's comforting that Dona Enchang has all of you to remind her of the times that have passed, the dreams that didn't come true and those that did. You are now her mirrors :)

  7. naalala ko tuloy yung lola ko.di kami super close, pero ok naman yung relasyon ship namin. siya ang halos nagpalaki sa akin though kasama ko yung mga magulang ko sa bahay. busy kasi sila sa work.
    i really love my loa, we used to call her Inang. :) but she passed away almost 8 years ago..


Sige, sakayan niyo ang trip ko....