Pure, Purer, Purest
This extraordinary woman of faith breastfed me when I was a baby.
And from now I will talk about her in the past tense with both sadness and joy. She went to be with the Lord on New Year's day at age 98 in Chicago where she lived.
Auntie Pure was my mother's older sister. She and mom gave birth almost at the same time—Auntie Pure had my cousin Lorna just one day ahead of the time my mom had me.
After these dual births, my mother got busy reviewing for the Pharmacy licensure test, then had to leave for Manila to take the Board Exam. She would often leave me in the care of Auntie Pure, who breastfeed me along with Lorna.
Hearing this story from my mom made me indelibly connected to Auntie Pure. It would be accurate to say that much of the nutrients that fed my system came from her.
Auntie was named Purification at birth but in the course of time, she was nicknamed Puring, then in the last two decades or so, everyone called her Pure.
It's a name that fitted her to a tee. She had the purest smile, and a purer voice that was never raised beyond allowable decibels. She came fourth in a succession of nine siblings, but God gave her the longest life, outliving her husband, siblings, some nephews and nieces, and a young grandson.
Some years ago, she was injured from a bad fall and fell ill, worsened by the fading of her memory. Despite these disabilities, according to close kin who had visited her, she kept the smile and soft-spoken temperament that made her so dear and so Pure. She would sing songs of her youth over and over again, looped like a recording.
My son JR had a chance to visit her a few months ago. He said that her mind was elsewhere far away but took the chance to tell him, “Oh, you're so tall!”
This remark is in the same genre as “Oh, you're so good!” which she told me the last time I saw her.
She came home for vacation in the Philippines (her last, before illness strapped her to bed) and was our house guest for a few weeks. I had just written a novel, but I hesitated sending it to publishers. It was my first serious writing attempt after leaving the workplace—I was totally unsure of my ability to write.
“Would you kindly read my novel and tell me what you think?” I asked her shyly around nine in the morning. She'd be my first reader and I expected her to skim through it quickly.
Came lunchtime three hours later and she wouldn't come to the dining table. I brought her lunch to where she was, but she simply kept on reading.
At around 3 PM, she got up, handed me back my manuscript and said in her purest smile, “Oh, you're so good!”
That remark emboldened me to send the novel to a US publisher; I was confident I had something going.
After she flew back to the US, I got a reply from the publisher. It was a three-paragraph letter, but all I remember is the one line that kicked me in my solar plexus: “Do not attempt to rewrite it.” Kapow.
My very first rejection letter—and certainly not my last. Quickly, I kept the manuscript and the floppy disk where I stored it in the darkest corner of our storeroom for the moths to feast on.
Now that the only person who ever read my only novel (aside from the one who wrote that nay letter, of course) is gone, nobody but me would ever know how the story played. Auntie Pure would never know either that, so far, my published books outnumber my rejection letters.
But that is all irrelevant now. In heaven she is in the company of all my loved ones who got there ahead of her in God's bosom.
As I write this, I praise the Lord for giving me access to great grace twice through Auntie Pure: first, she fed me with her milk; and second, she fed me with the milk of human kindness to nourish my parched spirit.
Dios ti agngina, Auntie Pure.
Photos: top, by my niece Karina; bottom, by my cousin Minna