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A Tale my Grandmother Told Me

On rainy nights, in my childhood, my grandmother would tell me stories. It was her way of keeping me away from playing in the swollen canal outside with my paper boats. What’s interesting is how she’d weave a moral in each story. Here’s one story I can never forget: Before the war, my grandparents had a house help who was so faithful to them they treated her as family member. Her name was Ambrosia. My grandparents would boast how trustworthy their “ataman” (adopted daughter) was and how she’d never betrayed that trust. They’d leave everything in the open, including coins, and nothing, not a single centavo coin would be lost. One of her tasks was to cook rice every day. In those days, before cooking rice one had to spread the rice grains in a “nigo” (winnowing basket) to separate the grains from the hulls and pebbles. Then we’d shake, toss and catch the rice in the “nigo” several times to clean it further. Unbeknownst to my grandparents, Ambrosia had this habit of pinching a bit of rice and putting it in her mouth to munch. As far as she was concerned this was not “stealing,” for after all what’s so significant about a few pinches of rice each time? One day Ambrosia went on a two-week vacation to visit her relatives in a neighboring town. On a rainy night about a week later, my grandmother heard somebody knocking downstairs. “Who is it?” “Ambrosia po.” “Ambrosia, we thought you were arriving next week. Come right in.” In those days we kept our doors and windows open overnight, something that is difficult to imagine these days. “I came to ask your forgiveness.” “Forgiveness? For what?” “For stealing bits of rice each time. For betraying your trust.” “What? That’s nothing.” My grandfather was up and awake this time. “But why do you need our forgiveness?” “Because they said I cannot rest unless I get your forgiveness.” “Of course you are forgiven. There’s nothing to forgive. Now get inside and rest.” “Thank you very, very much for everything.” When my grandfather took a peek at the figure downstairs, he saw the silhouette of Ambrosia place a small paper bag on top of the table. Assuming Ambrosia was already on her way to her room, my grandfather went down and took the paper bag upstairs to my grandparents’ room. Her usual pasalubong, he thought. Early the next morning, my grandparents noticed that Ambrosia was not up yet to assist them in their daily ritual of feeding the chickens and the cats. As they were checking their outdoor plants, a middle-aged man approached them and identified himself as a relative of Ambrosia. He came to let them know that Ambrosia had passed away 3 days ago. “But that is impossible. She’s right inside her room.” The room was empty. Suddenly they remembered the bag. Grandmother hurried upstairs to see what was in the bag that Ambrosia had left on the table. When she opened the bag she looked at the contents and said knowingly: “Only Ambrosia and I know what this means.” It was a bag of rice. My grandparents, as was the custom, went immediately to the Naga Cathedral to request Mass offered for the soul of Ambrosia. It is amazing how my grandmother wove lifetime values in the stories she told me on rainy nights to keep me from playing in the dark outside with my paper boats.

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