By Mari-An Santos

My maternal grandmother is 96 years old. She has led a very full life and is actually still very strong. More importantly, she is also very lucid.

She was a teacher all her life. At 19, she started teaching at a schoolhouse in a small town in Mindanao. Her job had her traveling for long distances to get to work every day to remote locations. She eventually became a public school principal and that’s how she met my grandfather, who was a Schools Division Supervisor.

She speaks and writes in Visayan, Chavacano, Spanish, English, and Tagalog. Even now, she’s a voracious reader. Hearing her recount details of her exciting life is like watching an exciting movie.

She tells of how some of her first pupils were older than she. Being farmers’ sons, they could not yet read or write very well even as teenagers. Then, they would also need to help their parents with soil preparation, planting, and eventually, harvesting the fields.

She narrates how she had to come to Manila to pursue higher education, traveling all the way from southern Philippines to the nation’s capital. It was a time so far removed from all the present-day conveniences of rapid travel and automobiles.

She even recounts how she aimed the barrel of a shotgun at my late grandfather one night when she had had enough and gave him an ultimatum: stop his philandering ways or say goodbye. He chose the former. He still survived years beyond that and saw his daughters grow up. But he passed away due to a heart attack not long after he retired from government service.

When I was a child and my grandmother would visit us from the province, she would busy herself with either making rosaries or translating the Bible into her native Chavacano. During breaks in her “work” she would go into the kitchen and make jams or cook snacks like empanada.

Later on, she would take on a project to compile a family tree, tracing from her roots of Spanish migrants to the present generation—with cousins dotting the globe. This is her life’s work that she has, thus far, not seen come into fruition. She has asked the help of some other relatives, but to date, the task is not yet completed.

I used to notice her, poring over her big manila papers, drawing and writing to complete the project. When I approached her to “mano”, she would look up and smile long enough to say “God bless you”, before resuming her work. I wondered at her perseverance then.

She recently had a minor accident in the bathroom. Because she had a slight fracture, she is now confined to a wheelchair. She finds it difficult to feed herself and does not talk much.

Somehow, this sudden change in her attitude has also changed us who are around her. Now, I have decided to take up where she has left off to complete even just a fraction of the family tree project she loved so much. I only hope that I can competently pick up from where she left off, and at last, present her with a project fulfilled just as she had envisioned.