Friday, July 28, 2006

The Matriarch


Because my in-laws have a new house, and because my father-in-law's birthday is imminent, some relatives from Canada are coming down for the weekend to eat steamed crabs. My in-laws' new house is directly across the alley behind us--just now Ma was here bringing me food* and telling me I should soak my dishtowels in Clorox--so we'll have some spillover guests staying with us.

This sent Cha into an extremely rare cleaning frenzy. She washed curtains, dusted behind things, and actually threw junk away--unheard of! Why this sudden urge to tidy? Ate (pronounced Ah-tay) is coming. In Filipino culture, the oldest female sibling is The Boss of the family and earns the title Ate. Last night Cha was panicked because she didn't finish cleaning one of our four bedrooms--her catastrohic 'studio.' "Who cares?" I told her. "Nobody goes in there. We have plenty of room in the guest room."

"You don't understand. Ate is coming. She cares. She will see." When I got home from work there was Cha, precariously perched on a stool, cleaning dust off the ceiling fan. Ate could stand on a stepladder and she'd still be too short to see up there. But anything that gets my dear wife to tidy is a blessing--anything that gets her to throw junk away instead of squirreling it away in the attic is a godsend. I wish Ate would show up monthly, because typically I do the cleaning (what little gets done, anyway), and I have to work around great mounds of art supplies, tubs of misceallany, HSN products bought and used once and left where they are, remnants of Green Party/Young Audiences/Community Association fundraisers, toilet paper and paper towel tubes and plastic containers that will be used in something someday, socks, bras, panties, nail files and hair clips, musical instruments from Africa bought on sale, Big Gulp cups, etc. The house seems empty now that the mess is gone.

Ate is four foot four inches tall, and the fear she invokes cracks me up. Everybody younger than her has to take her hand and touch it to their own forehead saying "Mano po." I look forward to the lecture about children, which I get each time I see her. "You should have had children ten years ago. You could have five by now. You are getting old. If you didn't want children there's no reason to get married." Because Cha and her two sisters have no kids, my in-laws have no grandkids. This is scandalous, and causes much muttering in Tagalog. The only subject more important is who has become tabacho(fat). But these are by no means dour people despite their heavy Spanish Catholicism and mysterious tribal ways. Once the obligatory lecturing is out of the way, they're great fun and I like seeing them. Aunt Emmy will be here with her Japanese husband Ken. He's got business interests all over the place and is an interesting guy.

*I agreed to sign on to a second mortgage for a second house with Cha, Ma, and Leesha primarily because I want the in-laws nearby where we can help them as they get older. Secondarily because the house is a good investment, even though we could use the money spent to fix up our own house. Thirdly because I knew Ma would bring me food every day.

**The photo is not our Ate, of course, but I'm sure she's somebody's Ate. Taken in Banaue, Philippines.

3 comments:

parnellpr said...

your wife's concerns? Common all over the world........Pippa

Earth Dragon, Lord of Chaos said...

Hail, Mighty Yerfdog!

Being near-to-family, the Lord of Chaos, Earth Dragon, offers you the loan of his wee Dragon for the purpose of deflecting in-law taunts and lectures.

geoff said...

Ach, no! Having babies around merely fuels the fires of grandchild desires.

Especially adorable wee ones like your'n.