I can't call them 'nannies'. They were not exclusive to taking care of us. They were all-around helpers and assistants to my mom. But in my heart, they were more than just 'help'. They became friends, even family.
Tarsing, Billy, Auring, Elsie, Mina and Linda, Pia and Linda, Gemma. Those were their names. Or at least the names of those I still remember. They were the ones who came into our lives, into my life and helped shaped my childhood.
Even then, I cringed at the use of the word 'katulong'. There was something so debasing about the sound of it. And it didn't seem to encompass the friendship I had developed with some of them. I guess we were pretty lucky with them, for 'good help is hard to find.' I don't remember having been robbed, or abused, or any of those horror stories the CCTV nowadays capture about domestic help.
Billy tended to us as I was in my early school years. She was really quite tomboyish, very up-and-about and perky every time. In one trip to Baguio, Mom was appalled to discover that as I would sit on her lap, I would actually strum her nipples. Ugh. I was a lecherous young boy. Billy was also the one who would pick me up from school nearby. And one time, in my haste to go home, we both stumbled and bruised ourselves so badly.
Auring was a very quiet and reserved one. But the gossip was that she was flirting with our married driver!
Elsie hailed from Pangasinan. She had the thickest Ilocano accent and rolled her "R's" distinctly.
Pia was the household help I called my friend. I think I was in early high school during that time. She was pouty and moody. She could send Mom's blood pressure soaring with that attitude. But she was also very sincere. I would buy her Pilipino comics from my allowance. We would talk and tell stories. And though she probably knew about my blossoming sexual orientation, she kept quiet about it. I remember getting really pissed at her for walking into the bathroom as I was doing a Number Two! Yes, our bathroom doors didn't lock then. She had to do it because my eldest sister was screaming at her to get something she forgot in the bathroom. I felt so shameful! I didn't speak to her for days.
Mina and Linda seemed like a lesbian couple with their closeness. Mina was quite butch, smoking while doing the laundry. "Filomena mula sa Tagbilaran, Bohol" In contrast, Linda was tall but very comely and maternal. She was probably the sweetest of them all, the most caring.
A few years back, I accompanied my folks to the furniture trade shops. One of the helpers in the a shop suddenly approached my mom and introduced herself as a former help. I did not recognize her, though. My mom took some time before remembering her. She is Tarsing and she was introduced to us as one of those who took care of one of us as a baby. Then it dawned on Mom that I was that one! Only because Tarsing mentioned that it was a baby boy.
She was ecstatic! She hugged me and Mom and was just jumping up and down recalling the times, recalling how I was such a behaved baby. Though I had no recollection, I am still so happy to have met her.
I am now head of the household in terms of being the source of salaries and compensation. But it is Mom who manages and keeps everything in order. My attitude towards help has changed slightly throughout the years. Though I cannot say that I am "friends" with our current help, I will always look at them as family and watch out for them. Managing people in the office has also shaped my relations with them. I have tried to put a semblance of structure and order in managing performance and benefits packages. I am happy that we have managed to keep them, one having celebrated her 10th year with us last year.
I am so thankful to all the katiwala who have shared their time, skills and love with us through the years. In no small way, they helped mold me become the person I am now.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad