Little did they know that about a week or so later, my parents would be flying back to Manila to be with my Lola in her final hours.
Even though I was born and grew up an ocean and a continent away, Lola Ina was special in my heart. She always encouraged me to do my best in everything I did. She didn't speak much English—she maybe knew a few words here and there—but at least I understand Tagalog, so she was able to speak to me, even though I might not have been able to communicate back to her.
When I was still in graduate school, I was home in San Diego visiting for the holidays. We rang up relatives in Makati (where a good number of the Yalongs were living at the time) to wish them a Happy New Year. (The Philippines was 16 hours head of San Diego.) My Lola told my mother she wanted to speak specifically to me. Mum said that I might not be able to respond much back since my "box of Tagalog was very small," but Lola said she still wanted to speak to me.
So I took the phone, wished her in Tagalog Happy New Year and that I loved her. She responded back in kind, and then she proceeded to give me a rather long lecture. She emphasized to me that I must finish my education first before I even think about settling down with a boy and having a family. I didn't want to end up like some cousins and other relatives who "made the mistake" of having a family first before finishing up the education. (I rather suspect things were a bit different in the Philippines back in the mid-1990s; nowadays, you see many women go back to school for a degree. Many of my students when I taught Chemistry at Campbell University did that. Even my own mother did that. Even though she had a B.Ed. from Far Eastern University, she went back to school when I was about 9 or 10 and completed a nursing degree. But I digress.)
What could I say? I kept on saying, "Opo. Opo. Opo." (That means "yes" in Tagalog.) Even my mom was looking rather frantic, urging me to say something. But how could I interrupt when Lola was in the middle of a lecture?
A few years later, as I was writing my Ph.D. dissertation, I remembered what she told me. I had already moved to Durham, NC, having left Clark University as an A.B.D. student ("all but dissertation"), due to graduate in the spring. I ended up dedicating my thesis to Lola Ina, and I had my mom and Tita Edith help me write the dedication in Tagalog to her.
I kept my promise to Lola Ina. I finished my education and then settled down. (Still single, though.)
In other news... one of the guys from the hill, who lived in a tent in the woods, and who St. Joseph's Episcopal Church had befriended, died the other day. J. had cancer in the leg, and he couldn't live out in the woods anymore, so St. Joe's took him in and tried to make arrangements to make his final days as comfortable as possible. I remember that an ambulance had taken him to Duke Hospital shortly before my choir rehearsal last week, and the next day, parishioners received a message that J.'s condition was serious and to pray for him. He passed away last Tuesday. I remembered that he'd always be around, smiling at you and telling you to "stay blessed" as his way of saying goodbye. Well, J., you have touched the lives of many here. Stay blessed and pray for those of us left behind. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.