Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Big Eva

While Craig was at work, it was just me and Big Eva in the house. They call her Big Eva (aka The Mom). She is a petite woman. She looks as if she couldn't hurt a fly. But nobody messes with Big Eva because she can knock yer bollix in if she wanted to.

The woman is a cleaning fiend. Her house is spotless, not a speck of dust. It's so clean a baby can lick off the floors. Observing her house, now I know where the boy gets his OCD from. She takes pride in her house being clean. She says, "Your house is a reflection of who you are and I'd hate to think of what people thought of me if I had a dirty house." The woman lives for cleaning. Craig told me one time that the neighbors saw her dusting the window blinds at 3am. "The woman is crazy. It's not normal," he says.

The first heart to heart we had was when Big Eva and I went out for an ice cream on a very warm sunny day back in May. That is the last time I ever felt anything remotely "summer". I was even wearing short sleeves. My short sleeves have been buried underneath sweaters in the bottom drawer, they have never seen the light of day since then. We went to an ice cream parlor down the street that had only two tables against a mirrored wall. I had a banana split with sprinkles and she had a strawberry milkshake. "It's hot isn't it?", she says fanning herself. I told her, "Yeah it's really hot!". "You probably think this is cold compared to the weather you're used to in California." I tell her that California can sometimes reach triple digits. She looked shocked and said that when she was on holiday in Tenerife, she was so hot that she had to stay indoors. She doesn't understand how people can stand that kind of heat.

We continued to eat our refreshments. There was an awkward silence. This is my first one to one with Big Eva. I know she's sizing me up and making sure that I'd be a good wife for her son. I'm not as clean as her so I guess I lost points in that department. Nobody is as clean as her. She continues to talk about Craig. About the funny stuff he did when he was a kid. Surely stories that would embarass the hell out of him if he was sitting here with us.

She asks me about my parents. What do they do. How old are they. I told her how my mom emigrated from the Philippines to the US. How my grandfather was allowed to go to the US because he served the US Army in WWII fighting alongside Americans against the Japanese and how he was in the Bataan death march where the Japanese would just march and march enemy soldiers to death. Someone saved his life when a bystander at the side of the road pushed him into a ravine and he hid under a woman's skirt. When she heard this, she was very intrigued. She wanted to hear more. I told her how my mom experienced hardship and lived her entire childhood in a war. She was the eldest daughter who helped my grandmother take care of her siblings. They were a family wanted by the Japanese because of my grandfather. My grandfather participated in covert operations blowing up bridges, major roads, and Japanese supply camps. So the family ran village to village, slept in the jungle hiding from the Japanese. "The Japanese were cruel and sadistic," I told her. My mother would tell me horror stories about how she witnessed a Japanese soldier grab a baby from a mother's arms, threw it up in the air, and catch it with a bayonette. "That's awful," she says. Japanese soldiers would also go into household and rape women. There was one time when my mom was around the age of 15. Japanese were raiding the households. My grandmother was afraid for my mom so she rolled her in a bamboo mat and set the mat at the corner of the room. Big Eva had no words, she just shook her head in disbelief.

"So, how did your mom end up in America?," she asks. I told her that she came to America through my grandfather. At the time she was married to my dad and my brother was 6 months old. She had to lie that she wasn't married otherwise she wouldn't be able to go to the states. She left my dad and had to leave my brother behind. She didn't trust my dad back then because he was young and hung out with the bad crowd and drank alot. He was in a gang or you could say Filipino mafia. So my mom left my brother in a convent that was run by Irish nuns. At the time, there was no choice for my mom, even though she had a degree in nursing, there were no jobs. So she went to the States for a better life. She worked 4 jobs and sent money to my brother. "As a nurse?", she asks. I tell her, "No, back then coloured people were not allowed to hold white collar jobs." So she worked oddjobs as a waitress in a cafe, an usher at a Chinese movie theater, picking flowers in a field, peeling onions in a Woolworth's basement. Anything, really. Then time passed, she recieved a letter from one of the nuns saying that a couple from New York wanted to adopt my brother. My mom panicked and didn't know what to do. It just so happened that the Irish nun had family in Oakland and it was time for her holiday. They are allowed vacation every 7 years. She offered to take my brother with her as a visitor. My mom hired an immigration lawyer and worked on the papers when my brother got there and was allowed to stay. He was 4 at the time. Then 3 years later my dad came along. My mom straightened him out. He stopped drinking and smoking. She made him get his degree in accounting so he can get a good job. Big Eva laughed at this. And then I was born. My parents were separated for 7 years before my dad came to the States.

"Seven years?!?, she says shocked, Your mom is very strong. I can't imagine leaving my children behind. I certainly don't have stories like that to tell." "But", she whispers,"It was brilliant when I was growing up back then. Catholics and Protestants didn't have a problem with each other. We lived side by side. Then the Troubles happened."

She continued to talk about her experiences during The Troubles. How they had checkpoints everywhere. And as she continued, the volume of her voice got fainter and fainter and was drowning out from the fans. But I listened intently and I felt sort of privileged that she was divulging this information to me and wary at the same time because she was discussing this in public. She talks about The Troubles in these faint whispers like it were a contagious disease.

She continues, "I remember one night when everyone was sleeping. I woke up when I heard glass break and smelled smoke. I went down and saw that someone had thrown a petrol bomb in our house. I had to get everyone out of the house, my two brothers, mum and dad. Everyone was moving out because of this. We had to move up near Glencairn. It was a good thing I didn't have my boys yet. I wouldn't have wanted them to experience this. That is just the way it was back then."

That is just the way it was she says. The Troubles were an inconvenience. She would complain about the checkpoints going into town and getting searched. She said it was such a bother and an inconvenience, she just needed to get her shopping done. How much it was of an inconvenience to get her windows replaced every week because someone would throw a brick in it. She remembered the day it was announced that Bobby Sands died. She was worried for her sons. They were playing outside and she didn't want to have them get caught in the middle of rioting. She screamed for them to come inside and as stubborn as Craig was, he just wanted to play. "That boy was stubborn as a mule," she says laughing. But never once did she say anything bad about Catholics. Never. She wished that it was like the brilliant days when everybody got along and it didn't matter whether you were Catholic or Protestant. This is the reason why she put her youngest in an integrated school, so she can learn to get along with others.

I admire Big Eva, she could have been caught up in the contagious Troubles disease. But she never bought it, she refused to have a part in it. She could have raised her children to hate the other side but she didn't. As with any mother, she just wanted her family to be safe and out of harm's way. She did a pretty good job in raising her son and I tell her this. She laughs and says, "Craig was always a good boy. He was quiet, so he was. I could have had six of him."

"It's gotten better now," she says in her faint whisper, "much better now than it was 20 years ago. I hope it stays this way."


Joanne said...

That was so interesting to read. I'm of eastern european descent and my grandmother and grandfather were taken from their homes in the Ukraine at at 14 and 15 by the Germans, they never saw there parents again. They had some horrible war stories too. Sad stuff, thanks for sharing.

Flippin' Yank said...

Isn't it amazing to hear stories of what people have been through? It makes you think how futile your modern day problems are.