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The World of Iday

White Dresses

 

by Marcelina

 

Although my Mom never set a foot near a school’s doorstep, she had a practical understanding of the application of percentages in her self-learned business. She would loan a small amount of money to other families in the village during planting season, and expect the money back by harvest time, along with a small percentage of the crops.

By the time I turned ten years old, she had become our village’s “banker” and was even known to the neighboring villages. Life was getting better. Even her old belief that girls need not go to school had shifted a little, and she had actually tolerated the idea of me finishing grade school. Of course, it was with the agreement that I would do all of the chores required of me. Daily, I must sweep the yard, polish the floor with a coconut husk, fetch water, gather wood, and feed the animals. I must not stay behind to play after school, nor read books while cooking. Those were the rules!

After graduation from grade school, I anticipated being able to continue school. After all, I had been obedient, and had finished as head of the class even. I may have been caught a “few” times reading a book under the table with a kerosene lamp, but that should not be any problem. And chewy rice that had been cooked too long wouldn’t really give us parasites, I insisted, trying to convince my mom, but she ignored me. I begged, cried and tried to starve myself, but she would not give in to such foolishness!

Then, one day she sent me to see “Apoy” Sopia (grandmother Sopia). She was at least 80 years old, had grown her second set of baby teeth, and had gotten rid of her “seeing” glasses. She could say prayers to every Saint she could remember (lots of them) and she owned three books!, all of which were written in a language I could not understand, Latin. Each book was about a half inch thick with brown, slightly torn pages at the corners, and had been sewn together. They were wrapped in a piece of burlap with a twine tied around it. She kept them in an old, carved box full of dried herbs and a crucifix.

Apoy Sopia was wise. She was revered! I knelt in front of her, kissed her hand and asked for blessings. She placed her hand on the top of my head while murmuring something. At that moment, I realized what my mom wanted me to study.

My Sunday mornings became occupied with prayers and offerings to learn. I must also recite the rosary, do the novenas, practice the proper hand gestures and memorize the names of the Saints and the dates they were celebrated. After a year of the weekly meeting with Apoy Sopia, I became a devotee of Saint Lourdes of Marjoree. I felt wonderful wearing a white dress with a blue satin sash around my waist. It was to be my attire when going to church.

One Sunday, a High Mass was being held in the town’s cathedral in honor of my patron Saint, St. Lourdes. I had to attend it. As the moment of contemplation was about to finish, a slow, melodious sound filled the room. I looked up to the balcony and saw the Nun’s choir, standing with eyes closed, a black rosary hanging down from hands folded at their chest, and they were chanting. I gasped! It felt as if my feet were no longer touching the ground. Oh, how much I wanted to become one of them, I told my mother. If only she would let me continue school... nothing!! She did not say a word, then I remembered, a school nurse who visited the village once a year... she also wore white, and she even had a white cap on. That would be OK too, I informed my mom. “I don’t want to hear anything about school anymore!” she said. The next thing I knew, she was sending me to Manila to become a dressmaker, so I could make all kinds of white clothes. That was my Mom!

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