Words that make me cry

                          By Highblood

MY best friend in recent years is Marcia. Once in a while, she says a 
Spanish word and I cry. We are going to a movie and as I get out of the car, 
she says: Do you have your “abrigo”? Abrigo! And I shed tears, remembering 
my mother. One day she gave me a tiny Swiss knife. She said: A “cortapluma” 
always comes in handy. I choked. I thought of my father who often used a 
cortapluma. Marcia once said that my neckline was “escotada” and I wept 
again because my mother sometimes said that about my dress. My mother also 
required that I wear an “enagua” under my skirt.

Abrigo is the Spanish word for shawl or any wrap against the cold. 
Cortapluma is a penknife. Escotada is a low neckline. Enagua refers to a 
half slip. Except from people my age or older, you don’t often hear those 
words anymore. I doubt if my children understand even one of them. 
Perceptively Marcia says that it is because I did or do not use these words 
often enough with them. Vocabulary is a true and living heritage yet we are 
as casual about it as we are of our slippers.

My grandson Luis, 3 years old, is a smart aleck. His remarks make me giggle 
or gag. One day I said, “You are so ‘articulante.’” And I heard my mother’s 
voice saying that same word, articulante (quick to reason out), with 
suitable pride or exasperation. Or I say that my granddaughter Rocio is 
“lista (bright).” And I again hear my mother’s voice with its shiver of 
doting whenever she said that word.

In these my golden years, Spanish words make me cry. They take me back to 
the home of my childhood. I hear my mother and my aunts speaking. I 
recapture their delight or censure. I am once again a little girl, caressed 
or reproved by these words.

No one really spoke Spanish in my first home, but the speech was liberally 
sprinkled with Spanish terms. “Chofer” for the driver. “Auto” for the car. 
“Criada” for the maid. “Pescado” (pronounced “pescao”) for the steamed fish 
served with “salsa verde” (green sauce but it was white). “Solomillo” for 
the beef. “Chuleta” for the breaded pork chop. “Segundo almuerzo” for the 
mid-morning snack. “Cena” for dinner. “Ponche (eggnog)” for the nightcap the 
sickly took.

They said “carajo” if a boy was naughty; “pilla” if referring to a girl. But 
I seldom heard “sin verguenza (shameless)” screeched out in my home. Neither 
was “caramba” nor any other expletive heard among my genteel kinfolk. Once 
in a while, I heard them say that a girl was “descarada” and that was 
strong. Literally, descarada means “without a face” but my aunts meant 
brazen. They also said “cuchina” about anyone who was dirty physically or 
otherwise. I learned to say “puñeta” from the Filipino movies but not from 
the women of my childhood home.

Every ailment was treated with a “purga” (laxative) or “lavativa” (enema) or 
“ventuza” (hot suction). “Cobrecama” meant the coverlet for the bed, 
“escalera” meant the stairs and “caida” meant the top of the stairs. 
“Casillas” referred to the toilet and “orinola” was the chamber pot. Spoken 
to the driver, “mano” meant turn right and “silla” meant turn left.

Be it known that there is not a single drop of Spanish blood or chromosome 
in me. As far as can be traced, neither my father nor my mother had any 
Spanish ancestor. My mother’s great grandfather was French but that does not 
count in this discussion. Or does it? For it was my mother who was avid that 
I should learn to speak Spanish. “Derecho,” she said, not in dribs and 
drabs. Every summer break from my high school, she placed me under the 
tutelage of a Spanish nun for “conversaciones en Castellano.” In my college 
years, she placed me as a boarder in the Institucion Teresiana (1955 to 
1958) to be able to read as well as converse in Spanish. She went into this 
with fervor, even if neither she nor my father could converse in Spanish.

Today I can understand Spanish if it is an insular or a San Juan mestizo who 
speaks it but not a true-blue native from Madrid or the Spanish provinces. 
Neither King Juan Carlos nor Antonio Samaranch makes sense to me but I get 
the gist of the news on TV. I read journalistic Spanish fairly well, 
especially Hola magazine. I enjoy sitting in the midst of local Spaniards or 
Spanish-speaking Filipinos who use the language as a secret code to malign 
or insult people around them. I understand every word they say, including 
those referring to me as “esa gordita (fat one).”

My friend Luisita is part Spanish, part American and part Filipino. She was 
brought up by her grandmother who relocated to Manila from Navarra, Northern 
Spain. Lui’s “abuelita (grandmother)’’ spoke only Spanish to everyone 
(including her maid and the market vendors) and to Lui, then growing up in 
Ermita. Now that she is a grandmother herself, Lui speaks English to her 
grandchildren but counsels them in Spanish. "A Dios rogando, con mazo dando. 
(Pray but work hard too).’’ "La mona aunque la vista de seda, mona se queda 
(A monkey even in silk remains a monkey).’’ "El hombre se casa cuando 
quiere, la muter cuando puede. (A man gets married when he wishes, a woman 
when she can).’’ In repeating these sayings, Lui says she hears her 
grandmother right down to the crispy Navarro accent. In reverting to 
Spanish, she siphons from the force of her grandmother’s mordant irony.

Some people are nostalgic about schools, about neighborhoods and movies. 
Some people are nostalgic about other people as Lui is about her abuelita. 
Are some people, like me, nostalgic about words? If you are, tell me. Or as 
the Spanish say on the phone: “Digame.” Mary V. Vidal, 63, lives and works 
in Pasig City. A widow, she has two daughters, five sons and four 
grandchildren. On weekends, she runs an inn in Laguna.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer, Feb. 21, 2002

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