By Margaux Lynz Peña
“La, mag-duwa ta ani, ha? Atong i-taod ang ilong sa reindeer.” I told the old woman with the multi-colored necklace resting on her collarbones and purple beaded earrings that tugged on her earlobes.
She beamed at me and it made me realize that her smile was her greatest accessory. She took the red paper nose and stood up.
“Kung mapilit na ko ang ilong, naa ko’y premyo?” she asked humorously but with a determined edge in her voice.
I nodded and proceeded to guide her to place the nose on Rudolph.
Her hand gripped my forearm in a comforting way, like how our grandmothers would hold our arms when you’d walk with them.
I applauded loudly as soon as she finished placing the nose (which wasn’t exactly on the middle of the reindeer’s face).
She joined along with the cheering but proceeded to sit down again because she told me her knees felt weak.
Her name is Mercedes Berador. “Pero di ko sakyanan, ha?” She joked after she told me her name.
Lola Mercedes is cheerful and energetic. Her happiness is infectious and her talkativeness is endearing.
She’s very comfortable to be around with and she is the kind of person you know you’d have endless conversations with.
I asked her about herself. She gladly told me that she just turned 78 years old on the 14th of September. She loves to remove weeds from plants and making brooms.
She told me that visitors before were able to purchase brooms from her for 50 pesos each. She doesn’t have a favourite color and she loves all types of food except spaghetti.
She doesn’t like the taste of spaghetti because it’s difficult to understand. “Tamis nga parat. Di ko kasabot.”
She had cataracts and was operated for free in 2010 and 2011 when she was already in the Por Cristo Foundation.
She never gets bored at Por Cristo because she has her battery-powered radio to listen to.
She loves tuning in to DXBC and listening to old songs and radio dramas. She has a best friend, Lola Segondina Gonzaga, who is responsible for her amazing necklace and earrings that she’s wearing.
She never had a proper education because her school in Leyte was a 12-kilometer walk away, but she reassured that her attitude is that of an educated person.
She wants to live alone because she doesn’t want ruckuses and “samokan”. But she’s still thankful that the people she lives with in Por Cristo are mga “buotan”.
She told me about how she was brought to the Por Cristo Foundation in 2010. She lived in Barangay Maibu, Butuan after she and her husband, Nemecio, moved there from Leyte.
She and her husband used to plant camote, and farm chickens. She told me that they both had steady sources of income but their barangay captain simply did not understand that they could stand on their own, so they were brought there.
Lola Mercedes loves reminiscing. She told me that when she was still a young woman, she didn’t want to get married because she was afraid of ending up with a jealous, smothering and abusive man.
“Pero sa kaluoy sa Ginoo, gihatagan ko niyag bana nga buotan kaayo,” she said.
Sadly, Nemecio Berador, her husband, died of pneumonia in 2011— a year after they were both brought to the foundation.
She continued to speak about her late husband and her child after that. He was born on February 20, 1932. They got married on July 22, 1959.
They had a child, but the baby died because of measles 5 months after the baby was born. They never had a child again.
She was quiet for awhile before I asked her if she believed in forever. “Oo. Mutuo ko nga naa,” she replied.
I forgot that I haven’t introduced myself properly and so I did.
Once I told her that my last name is Peña, she laughed and said, “Ikaw man diay akong gipang-tanom didto sa Leyte sauna!” We both laughed.
She told me about the two photo albums she kept. She repeatedly asked me to send her a copy of the picture of the both of us taken by Cheska.
I told her that I would. “Unsaon man na nimonga layo man kaayoka?” I told her that I’d try my best to send her a copy.
I asked her about what she received from us. She pulled out the gift bag from underneath the table we were sitting on and handed it to me.
I pulled out the housecoat/duster from the bag and inspected it. I told her that it was nice and that it would look great on her.
She talked about her type of dusters after that. She said she didn’t like tight and short dusters because her legs were full of scars.
She pulled the hem of her duster to show me the scars on her legs. I told her that she had smooth and moisturized legs before she objected.
I told her that her duster reminded me of papayas (because it was orange and green) and she laughed.
I didn’t notice that the students who were talking to the other lolos and lolas have already dispersed. I was the only one who was left talking to Lola Mercedes.
The reason why I stayed long was because she reminded me of my lola Jacinta who died 2 years ago and talking to her felt like I was talking to my lola again.
They both had the same energetic feel and they had a similar sense of humor.
It was time I had to go too. We both stood up and I hugged her. Lola Mercedes kissed my neck and reminded me about our picture so she’d have an addition to her photo album.
I grinned at her and I told her I would print out the picture and send it to her.