credits: music: excerpt from “a song for you” by Leon Russel, originally interpretation: The Carpenters; reprised by Donnie Hathaway (R&B version); reprised in American Idol, the other day, Heejun Han, another bluesy version, vocals excerpted here. Photo by Myra; photo subject (unaware being photographed): Teng
Auntie Francing (Francisca Lambino) would always fill our plate with rice, vegetables, fish, and coax us to eat. She would patiently sit with us siblings and say, this would make your bones grow strong, you have to finish these, your cheeks would become rosy; and my mother would chime in — look at Manang Linda and Manang Nenette (our cousins who were visiting with Auntie, their mom) they have rosy cheeks! And I would think to myself, will I ever have rosy cheeks, my cousins were probably born that way and they grew up in cold weather, in Baguio. Auntie Francing must have read my thoughts (or maybe I blurted it out, I don’t know), one day she said, why don’t you vacation with us in Baguio.
Our family spent summers there once in a while. This time I went with her by myself and stayed in their house with the cousins and got my fill of touring the hills and valleys, breathing in the pine trees, playing in the swivel chairs of the barber shop and the mannequins in the tailoring shop. My auntie and uncle had a famous tailoring shop and barber shop on Session Road with photos of movie star Rogelio de la Rosa being measured for a suit by Uncle, and the matinee idol of his time Jose Mari Gonzales (he made movies with Susan Roces) getting a haircut with Manang Linda beside him. Auntie and Uncle bought their textile by the bulk from Divisoria in Manila and visited with us. In Baguio, Auntie Francing bought me new pantsuits, brought me to a beauty parlor and gave me a short bob cut, and tried to fatten me up. When i got back after two weeks, my mother was at the gate looking beyond us, i ran the entire walkway and hugged her and she was puzzled and said, who’s this, and i looked up and she laughed and said, it’s you! — you look different. i was nine, Auntie Francing gave me a make-over! — Even before the word was invented! And way even before there were TV shows like “how do i look?”
Whenever they visited, Auntie and Uncle brought tailorfitted clothes for my parents and us. Auntie Francing never acted like a guest – even if there was a helper, she would cook pinakbet, or dinengdeng, she would put grilled fish in the vegetable stew, a meticulous and delectable way of making the dish. She went around the house with a small face towel in her hands to wipe children’s faces and noses with; or a dust cloth to wipe every nook and cranny, I even saw her wash some of the clothes… correction: she washed everything she saw. i think I heard my mother laughingly said once, stop working! You’re our guest!
Auntie and Uncle migrated two decades ago and stayed with Manang Arotz. You could see her diligent and hardworking ways in the way that she raised her children, Manong Boy (Manong Rudy), Manang Arotz, Manang Nenette, and Manang Linda, who all grew up well and strong, well-placed and happy. With cheeks red as apples. Manong Boy, when he was working in a publishing house in New York, where he and his family migrated later, sent us children’s science and math books which I read over and over again because they made learning fun. i grew up wanting to look like Manang Linda, Manang Nenete and Manang Arotz. ( still working at it).
Auntie Francing was always working, always nurturing, ever self-effacing, never thought of herself and always took care of the people around her. She had an astounding life surrounded by children and grandchildren whose lives and future she shaped with her bare hands and a warm heart.
Auntie Francing passed away peacefully yesterday morning, at age 99, in the care of Manang Arotz in Toronto, Canada where she had lived attending merry reunions with old friends.