What We Remember
Cayetana Maristela, an English Language Learners (ELL) teacher at Indian Creek Elementary in south Kansas City and member of the National Writing Project, recalls how photography influences our family memories.
June 24, 1960
I still can’t believe I spend the last minutes of my days writing in this notebook. I’ve not always done it. My life was full enough without taking the time to write. There’s always so much to do. But she keeps one. One night, I asked her what she was doing. She told me I ought to start one, that future generations would appreciate knowing about life from my view.
And so here is what happened today….
She said to smile. She did everything possible to get me to smile. She swayed her body to the music coming from inside the house; made clicking noises imitating the different birds that live in the fruit trees, and called my name in her endearing accent when she spoke Tagalog.
Yet, that was all I could give. We were always told never to smile in front of the camera., that the flash would steal our soul. She must not have heard that same caution in America. America is more modern, not like us with all of our superstitions, even though we are God-fearing Catholic people. I hoped she wasn't too disappointed.
How did it happen that I have an American for a daughter-in-law? One so young, so beautiful, so kind. Jesus was blessed. Thank you, God for sending her to him. Not that my only son is ugly. After all he is a doctor and he is charming. Still, forty-one before he was married. I had almost given up hope that he would marry, and give me grandchildren.
So young, only twenty-seven. She could be his daughter.
So beautiful -- skin so white, hair almost yellow, and blue eyes. The only American here in Pililla! There are lots of them in Manila, but not here. I worry about her going out in the hot sun. Good thing she always listens and takes the umbrella with her when she goes out walking.
So kind as to agree to live here in Pililla with us. She had to leave her grandmother, mother, and younger sister. I know she’s lonely sometimes; God knows I would be if I were in her shoes.
Today was their fifth wedding anniversary. Aro, Remy, and I had not been present at their wedding in Ohio. I just kept praying that they would someday be able to come visit us here, so we could all meet her. God is so good because they came, and not just for a visit. They’ve come to live here with us. Many have met her since they arrived months ago, but a party in their honor was special. Everyone in town was invited.
We started cooking yesterday already. There were about a dozen students from the Academy who helped. Their teacher was clever. She had encouraged the girls to sign up to help. She had asked them where else could they get to experience such a gala affair. A pig and several chickens were killed. We bought several pounds of shrimp and different kinds of fish: tilapia, catfish, milkfish, not to mention the variety of vegetables: green beans, okra, eggplant, radish, carrots, spinach. The meal was served at the Academy where there was plenty of room.
The photo was taken early in the morning, before we went to church. For this occasion everyone wore new outfits. My new Maria Clara dress was made of dark blue cotton, cooler in the summer heat. The neckerchief was made of jusi, pineapple fabric-- we Pilipinos are famous for--with a scalloped design. I wore the necklace and earrings that nanay gave me for my wedding. I had worn them on many occasions. The watch was new, brought back from America. Someday these will go to my granddaughters.
We always have flowers here. When I stood by the bodega, rice storage, my pink bougainvilleas were behind me, a lovely contrast to my dress. The dark green palm plants can be seen as well.
So, I’m looking at my lovely daughter-in-law, also wearing a Maria Clara. Hers is a light blue that matches her laughing eyes. The brown camera box in her hands, hides her face, but I know her adventurous spirit. She has brought light to our lives. Her name fits her: Lucy.