When it comes to family, I am a pretty private person but I was compelled to share a very very special person with my social media family about one week ago. My grandmother passed.
Those are probably three of the toughest words I've ever had to type in one sentence, and there is no easy way to accept that she is no longer with us. But I don't want this post to be sad or sappy or upsetting. I want it to celebrate her, to share her - who she was, what she meant to me, what she did for our family.
Her name was Dionisia Francia Villarico Garcia. She was 98 years old - the mother to four children and wife to Martin Garcia. Having been born in the Philippines, she didn't have much. She did though, have a beautiful voice. Alongside her brother, they would go around town and sing for anyone who would listen, bring them smiles and maybe a few pesos. That was the one story she told me over and over again when I visited (and it accompanied an acapella melody each time).
My grandfather, her husband, passed from an illness at an early age, leaving her with four children. My mom at the time of his death was only eighteen years old. I remember hearing stories of them barely having food or having to sleep on the floor, but nonetheless my grandmother raised her children to be thankful and hardworking.
When you saw and felt her hands, you could see her hard work. Cooking, cleaning, washing clothes one by one. She didn't complain, but she was no pushover. She had the personality of a lion - she wasn't the one you wanted to mess with in town. I remember being eight years old and visiting. When my father moved to New York, he and my mom built a family house where my sisters grew up, and where my grandmother and uncle also lived. It must have been my second time visiting and as much as I wanted to play outside with the rest of the kids, there were dogs in the street that frightened me enough to not go outside of our gate.
My grandmother wasn't having it. At the age of 81 she could probably run faster than me (lol), so she took me outside, cane and all, and scared each of those dogs away. She waited until I was done making friends and if anyone even looked at me the wrong way, she was there to protect me.
I laugh every time I think of that story because I vividly remember her yelling at those street dogs, literally putting her cane in their faces. Funny enough, my oldest sister recently told me a few other hilarious stories of how my grandmother and I used to argue when I was bout two years old. If you didn't know, I was proudly born in the Philippines and moved to New York when I was about to turn three years old.
Apparently, my mom would often leave me with my grandmother when she would go into town to wait for phone calls from my dad, who had already been in New York for over ten years on his own. I would stay in the smaller house with my grandmother, probably bored, and yell outside of the door as if my mom was home saying, "oh, mom? is that you calling me? I'm coming!," in my failed attempts to escape her watch. She wasn't having it - I was caught each and every time.
Or I would watch my grandmother go next door to a little store to get some corn chips (her favorite) and see her hiding them in her shirt pocket - she wouldn't share with ANYONE. Directly when she came back I would annoy her senseless, claiming that I knew what she had in her pocket and that she should only share with me. She wouldn't budge at the idea of sharing, but I always found a way to sneak over to the tiny store next door and say, "my grandma told me I could have a pack. She said she'll come back and pay you later." At the age of two and as small as I was, who could resist my tiny face? I was barely tall enough to even see into the store window and actually ask...scheming since 1991. Needless to say, I racked up a pretty hefty tab that she wasn't happy to pay for. If only she would have shared all along (ha).
Over the years, I was able to spend time with her each time we vacationed there. Language barrier or not, she would simply smile and look at me. In 2014 I sat with her and she said, "I don't have much to leave you" and gave me the most beautiful pair of earrings I think I've ever seen. They are a piece of her that I will never leave.
I know I wasn't able to be there for her as much as I wish, or called as often as I should have, but I will always remember the moments I was able to share with her. And I will forever be thankful that she struggled growing up, lived comfortably in her later years, and died in peace.
We love you Inang. Salamat po 💙