Love and service, beyond the call of duty

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE BY Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 02/11/2007

A few days ago, I overheard two young women talking. One was a maid who was complaining that she was working too hard and was only getting P1,500 of the P2,000 monthly salary promised to her. She also said she was too poor to complain and risk losing her job, but that she was itching to leave.

As I listened, I couldn’t help but reflect on my family’s experience with household help in general. We have had maids, drivers, cooks, yayas who have stayed with us for decades. We have been lucky to have had good relationships with people who have come to live with us and serve our family.

I remember Inay — yes, that’s what we called her. According to family lore, she was only 14, an Ilocana from Abra, when she came to work for us early in the 1940s, long before I was born.


Inay is an indelible fixture of my childhood and teenage life and of our family’s history. She was maid, cook, yaya — an all-around person in our home who did whatever needed to be done. I remember when I was seven, she would chase my younger brother Raffy, my older sister Lory and me (we were the three youngest in a family of 10) around the house and in the garden outside to catch us during our bath time. It was fun trying to escape her clutches, squealing with delight as this small, hefty woman tried to catch us while hurling mild Ilocano expletives.

At night, we three youngest kids often slept beside her in the maids’ room. We liked feeling her round, warm body while lying on her banig and inhaling her scent of Vick’s Vapor Rub, Winter Green ointment and tabako from Abra. We somehow associated this strange olfactory combination with the love, caring and nurturing she generously showered on us every day. Snuggling up to her was a comfort for us young kids who feared the dark and the ghosts and demons she herself believed existed and loved to tell us stories about. She had many tales about dwendes, the mumu, the kapre and the demonyo, that frightened us silly, but somehow, her presence made us feel all safe. We never feared as long as Inay was there.

I also liked to hang around our big kitchen when she was preparing meals, especially when she had to kill a chicken. During the ’50s, we still bought live chicken from the market and my brother and I would watch transfixed as she expertly held the nervously clucking chicken with one hand and beheaded it with ease. Sometimes the chicken would run headless across the counter — and for us, that was funny, and magical!

She would cook our meals which, when I think about it now, were nowhere near gourmet creations. In fact, she cooked with extreme thrift when it came to ingredients and portions. She was, after all, a survivor of “Japanese time,” as people of that era liked to call World War II. She would always remind us to finish our food because life was hard during the war. (“Malapit na ang geeeerrrra!” she would admonish us) She overcooked meats, Ilocano-style, which were hard to chew. But since it was Inay who cooked them, and we didn’t know any better, we all thought it was great. Everything about her was nourishing and nurturing.

It was great just sitting with Inay listening to stories about her childhood, and her experiences during the war with our family. She had a folksy but authoritative air about her when she told stories, especially to us younger ones who were under her influence. She talked to us of her rustic roots in Bangued, and the first Paredeses she met there. She adored my Mom and Dad and all of their children and showed it with her undying loyalty and love.

We three youngest kids always felt that we were more special to her than our other siblings. It seemed that her day started with us as she helped us get dressed for school and ended with us when we fell asleep beside her on her banig. She always felt responsible for us. I remember seeing her get hysterical when she saw a huge snake by the gate while she was walking with my younger brother Raffy. She ran inside the house with little Raffy in tow narrating what she saw in an almost incoherent manner. I thought she would faint.



Inay stayed with us for close to 40 years. When she reached her late 40s, she hardly did any housework anymore. She was more the majordoma now, the head of a little kingdom of other household help. She would sit around the house watching TV or outside, by the front door, smoking her cigar. I will always remember the sight of her as I came home from college classes most afternoons, sitting in her armchair looking very much like a fixture, or a sentry. I would call out to her as I walked up the long driveway and then joke around with her about any silly thing. She would laugh so hard when I tried to dance with her. She laughed the loudest when the jokes came from any of the three youngest members of the family.

When Inay passed away, she was around 54 years old. She died of a heart attack, while still in the service of our family. In gratitude and in tribute to this woman who spent the better part of her life with the family, we buried her in a memorial plot in Loyola Marikina that our Mother had purchased for herself years before. Her wake was simple but heartwarming. It did not feel like the usual wake but more a celebration of the life of a woman who had a big heart. Inay had few relatives present, but we were all there — siblings, spouses, children, and my uncles, aunties and cousins who also knew her well.

I realize, as I write this, that I am holding back some tears. I will never forget Fausta “Ustang” Baje — that was Inay’s real name — which to this day, I find strange and funny. She was one of the women I loved early in life. Inay taught me many things about love, dedication, duty and the joy of living. She also taught me how to be happy with so little.

This Valentine’s Day, I dedicate the day to the women who have nurtured me in ways that have made me a better person. Aside from my wife Lydia, my sisters, some teachers, some ex-girlfriends and a few other female friends, there is Nita, our cook of 18 years who has made countless meals for my family, Bebeng, who has cleaned our house, fixed our beds and continues to do all the things that hold the sky up for us. Nita, Bebeng and all of the other household help who have come and gone and who loved my children as if they were their own, and have taken care of us, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for teaching me so much about what it is like to love and serve truly and selflessly.

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pen
pen
14 years ago

Beautiful piece. Priceless.

haidee
haidee
14 years ago

Sir Jim,

Ang sarap po basahin ng mga sinusulat niyo. Ang galing talaga!

hanne
hanne
14 years ago

*cheers* to them all.degue

Jo
Jo
14 years ago

Hello po, I saw you last night in Sharon’s concert at Araneta. I grew up listening to your songs and up to this day, I have a blast listening to APO music. Your portion last night brought the house down.

For me, your appearance was the highlight if the show.

Love your blog, too. It’s part of my daily must-read.

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

pen, haidee, hanne–salamat

jo–glad you were there. We really enjoyed ouselves and I am glad you did too. Thanks for making this blog a daily habit. YOu may also want to visit apojim.multiply.net

salamat!

john
john
14 years ago

apojim,
so fun reading your blog reminds of growing up in philippines when i left 24 years ago move here in the states, that was thing i really miss most with our family it was nanay (mom of my dad) i grew up with her taking me to school and waiting for me when i was in kindergarten. but we have also 5 girls that live with us that my mom decided to sort of adopted so they can go to school & the same time be help our household chores but they all treated like our own family. i think part of it my mom wants a girl in the family,having four sons& one daughter(what a nightmare)he!he!he!now after i read your piece i do not know if i thank them enough because three of them still in our house taking care of it.they took care all of us especially my nanay,inay and tatay until they passed away.it is rare now to see people that you can trust that much!from now on i’ll make sure everytime i talked to them or even sent txt message to thank them.lovely piece…

amy
amy
14 years ago

That’s so sweet, Sir Jim. We’ve never had yayas or maids growing up, but next time I’m home, I have to remember to thank all the aunties and cousins who did help out our family in times of need (and nurturing). The people in your life are so lucky to have someone as gracious and unpretentious as you. What a gift.

nicca
nicca
14 years ago

Your piece reminded me of my grandparents household help – Feliza. Just like your Inay, she started working for them at a very young age..My father was in grade school when she came. I always remember her opening the gate for us everytime we would visit our grandparents house. She stayed long after my grandfather passed away and left only because she had died of a vehicular accident on her way to church. I was 22 years old when she passed away. My family paid tribute to this wonderful woman – amazing soul. Up to this day, I can still see her in my mind..and her name Feliza brings so much warmth and love. I never fail to share her story everytime I’d hear people talk about their household help.

Anyway, I heard tickets to your forthcomimg concert here in Toronto are fast heading towards a sell out. See you all here. I have a mix of friends ages from early 50’s to late twenties. I am heading towards to big 40. Friends from the 50’s I heard had their tickets already. They will be on the front row. They are all excited to see ya ol here. Our family dentist I believe is a major sponsor & is planing to host a dinner party. I wish I could come to see you.

Nicca Ayalde – Alba

duke
duke
14 years ago

how these people can devote their whole life of service to others, i cannot understand. they even do not get married to have their own kids but instead take on the people they consider family. In fact, they are more family than other relatives. and it is just quite apt to give them some tribute.

they are quite a rare breed nowadays. we haven’t been so lucky as you to have those kinds of good people. we’ve had the craziest and the worst.

good post.

Jo
Jo
14 years ago

I will definitely visit your Multiply site. May I add you to my contacts?

Will see your concert in Ateneo. Have a nice day po!

may
may
14 years ago

very touching tribute to people who truly are priceless.

may
http://www.aboutanurse.com

kat
kat
14 years ago

A wonderful tribute!

Much like yours, our family had alot of help in the past years, whom we consider as our extended family. Since my grandmother passed on they’ve moved on as well but often come to visit even if there’s no occasion. I was especially touched when they all came for my grandmother’s funeral. It’s funny that as a child, I thought they were relatives, all of them. 🙂

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

Hi Jim,

I loved this piece that you wrote. It reminds me of our yaya when we were young. She sacrificed herself just to save my 2 younger brothers from a dog attack. She suffered terribly on that incident but she didn’t regret her actions. To me, she’s my hero who treated us as her own sons.

David from Milton, Ontario

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

Yes, a touching story indeed Apo Jim! So many of us did grow up with someone like you “Inay”. I had my nanay and then my tatay (my nanny was nanay and eventually she married and her husband became my “tatay), who to this day consider me their “oldest” child. When I returned to the Phil. 2 years ago after a long haitus away (10 years), I visited my nanay and tatay at our family farm. They happened to be celebrating my nanay’s b-day and a whole group of people were there from town. They asked who I was (since I did the customary “amen” to the elders), and they proudly said: “That’s our eldest daughter”. I am so proud and humbled to be a part of the life of such a great and humble couple. My nanay was probably closer to me than my mother was a lot of times. She loved me like her own child, even before she became a mother. Successive “yayas” who took over the responsibility of taking care of me after my nanay & tatay married and moved to the farm, have told me that for the first year that I was away from my nanay, I was a depressed child, at 4! I cried when I woke up in the morning till I slept at night. It finally took a boat ride for my nanay and tatay to come to Manila from the south to calm me down. I remember she left me a picture of them in the farm and the life they have there. She told me that they were very happy in the farm and even though they missed me a lot, they had to make sure that the farm was also cared for so that I would have a great place to come home to during the summer. Boy did I look forward to those summers with nanay & tatay and my “adopted” siblings….I still do, and so do my kids now…They spent their vacation in the farm this year and as usual, nanay and tatay made them feel at home…and that they were a part of the family, as they did me all those years ago.

We rarely say “thank you” to those that have “served” us loyally through the years, I hope I have said it enough to them by words and actions. Thank you for reminding us about our own “inays” and when are you coming to CHICAGO??? my daughters can’t wait to see APO in concert! “Mas magaling ba raw kayo than Basil Valdez and Kuh” my youngest daughter asks! (I didn’t answer the question baka I might incriminate myself…hahahaha).

Jengger
Jengger
14 years ago

What a warm tribute! Same love goes to our ALING PURING — whose presence and love we still feel when all my family (including cousins) are all together. We never get tired of telling our stories about her. Cheers to all the women who sacrificed being away from their family to take care of us! Let the joyous tears flow!

zherwin
zherwin
14 years ago

it was a very good read. we never experienced having a yaya in the house but we do experienced being taken cared of somebody not our family. and the memory of growing up with them is one of the earliest joy/s i can think of. and yes, we also call them nanay and tatay, and their children as ate and kuya.

Sexy Man of God!
Sexy Man of God!
14 years ago

Hi Jim,

Your story reminded me a lot of our own yaya, whom we usually call Ate Lita. In fact, its quite similar as to how you wrote your story with ours. Except that, it was not just me and my siblings that she took care off, but also some of my cousins since we live under on roof.

I can very much relate as to how you felt about people who have decided to dedicate their lives for the service of another family. These people truly leaves a mark in our lives and we can never ever forget them. Thank you so much for reminding me of her and how I wish that God would give more blessings to people like them. God bless

vicky
vicky
14 years ago

Jim- your tributes were mesmerising. happy valentines day.

dotep
dotep
14 years ago

kaka-inlab naman si ate.. sayang kasi masyado maikli buhay ng tao..

Jason
Jason
14 years ago

hi sir, heard your live gig in MYX last night and you plugged your site. totoo talaga yung URL!

it’s been a while since your creativity class when i was in 3rd year. now that i’m done with college, i still remember all the lessons i’ve learned from your class.

and yes, i have my own blog! it’s not really a website like i promised [remember that activity?], but it’s getting there!

great post. very heartfelt and truly fit for the occassion. happy valentine’s day to you and your family, sir!

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

To ev everyone–I can’t believe this post is generating so many responses. I guess all of us have been cared for by ‘strangers’ at one point in ourselves, and that has also helped us become caring ‘strangers’ to some other people.

Jason, I’m glad that you still remember the lessons in our creativity class. Good luck!

kaye
kaye
14 years ago

sir jim,

no wonder you are so blessed…it is because you give value to every person who has become a part of your life.

i remember my yaya who stayed with us until my teenage years. and yes, like your inay she has been a big part of my life. sad though coz she hasn’t gotten married, maybe because she stayed with us most of her adult life. now that i am in canada, i get to text her from time to time. i miss her so much. i haven’t seen her for almost 10 years now but i made a promise before that if ever i get married i will surely invite her, haha!

you are one of a kind mr. jim paredes, you inspire a lot of people through your posts.

God bless you!

Kaye
Nova Scotia, Canada

ray
ray
14 years ago

Sir ApoJim, ganda ng article…perfect for Valentine’s day…masyado na kasing commercialize ang araw na ito kaya your article helps bring everything back into perspective…love that is pure and true…ganun kasimple…

Leah
Leah
14 years ago

I must say, this tribute is so heartwarming. The last paragraph almost brought me to tears.

Happy Valentine’s Day Jim.

Lala
Lala
14 years ago

I always follow your blog entries, you are such an eloquent writer, this particular piece really is heart-warming. It made me think of our household help back in Bacolod and how much they too have touched my life…As one pinoy living away from our homeland to another, it is so refreshing to read your stories about life here and how even though we live in another country, the pinoy in us still holds true. Keep those posts coming and God Bless you and your family.

Nicholas
Nicholas
14 years ago

Hi Jim, I just wanted to stop by and greet you and yours a wonderful Valentine’s Day…

I hope you had a wonderful day filled with LOVE (I wish this for you on every other day as well)

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

with that, sir jim.. I also dedicate the day to my one and only wife and mom.. (sige na nga pati sa ate ko.. )

Elizar

GreenMangoes
GreenMangoes
14 years ago

Indeed. My family had experiences for helpers too! They were also from provinces trying their luck in Manila.

However, not like you, we had alot of helpers which only stayed for a couple of months. The longest was seven years. But after that, they were all vanished and we decided not to hire one when my brothers and I was nearing to be in high school.

We experienced each kind of helpers and yaya’s. But I guess, i can say that they’ve been a part of our lives despite the ups and downs of having them around. =)

As I typed this, I remembered them all. They were the women who took care of us when we were a child. =)

pizzicatto
pizzicatto
14 years ago

Hi, Jim. Been your fan since time immemorial. I live in North Beach in SFO. Didn’t know you’re now in OZ. Am delighted to have found your blog; was surfing the net last week and wrote your name. Voila, your thoughts I found online!

Was wondering what happened to you and your two partners in music?! Been out of touch in Philippine Show Biz since moving around the globe back in ’89.

So now, am updated.

I like this piece you wrote about your nanny. I can relate with that.

Wish you more luck and joy with your family.

BTW, I used to read a lot about you in Jingle Magazine. Holy Cow! That’s centuries ago, haha!

I love your first song, “NEW DAY.” Anyhow, heaven knows I haven’t abandoned my Pinay spirit!

Cheers and kudos!

Bettina
Bettina
14 years ago

What a beautiful tribute to your own Inay. We are lucky that although we now live here in the U.S., we have one ‘Yama’ (live-in) just like your Inay. She is also chubby, giggly, loves to cook and treats my four kids like her own children. She also drives. I can’t imagine my life without ‘Yama'(I derived from Yaya and Mama). Her real name is Emma. I brought her to the U.S. through my job ten years ago. She developed cancer six years ago, but we had her treated (major surgery, radiation and chemo). She’s now in remission, and she’s very loyal to me and my kids. She’s a single mother of five children. Her oldest daughter is now a Nurse, and her second son is a Policeman. I am very grateful to God for our own, Yama.

Nice piece of work, Jim.

Cheers,
Bettina

GreenMangoes
GreenMangoes
14 years ago

Sir Jim..

So which comes first to Ms. Baje, love or service? =)

Out Of Topic Question:

I couldn’t find any books that you wrote in any powerbooks bookstore. Is there any way I can purchase them?

trickpa trickyu
trickpa trickyu
14 years ago

bravo! mr, paredes best post ever… hands down!!!… maids drivers yaya’s etc… they are a work of miracle imagine earning just a little few and sends almost 70% of their salary to their love one’s and still be happy is truly amazing…hat’s off to them!!!

GreenMangoes
GreenMangoes
14 years ago

Yehey! I saw you sir jim sa maalala mo kaya! =)

So natural for you to act as a husband and a lover. =)

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

Hey Guys,

There’s too many comments for me to answer each one personally.

Green mangoes–I will inquire where you can get the books. I’m surprised na wala sa Powerbooks. If you were in Australia, you can order from me.

And for Inay, it must have been love because you can’t sustain serving people that long if you do not have good feelings for them.

To the one who inquired if we will be in Chicago this May, I’m sorry we won’t.

pizzicatto– wow! New Day was a long way back.

erika
erika
14 years ago

beautiful.

this entry reminded me of our very own “manang” – the household help of my grandparents. ever since i can remember she has been taking care of us grandkids.

thank you for reminding me to appreciate her even more.

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

erika–the pleasure was mine.

Micaela
Micaela
14 years ago

Hi Sir Jim!

Read this article and it made me appreciate our yaya a little more. Tnx!

alicia
alicia
13 years ago

Wow! Very heartfelt.