Camera Familia #17 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. 1956. Lucina de Llacuna was poised, dignified, and rich with virtue. Also kind, steady, cheerful but not jolly, a bit on the stoic side as witnessed by the photo. According to my brother Mike, Lucina was plenty shrewd enough to handle our mother, which might explain how they got along. No disrespect intended to Mom, but consistency was not her strong suit.

Lucina was from Laguna de Bay, which I always assumed bore some relationship to her surname. It did not. Taxonomy — Llacuna, a town near Barcelona, Spain. I didn’t look into it until starting this essay.

We never knew her age. Malays have a tendency to wax ageless. The information was not volunteered. Dad thought it would be impolite to ask. We’re thinking close to Dad’s age, forty-one at the time.

My parents may or may not have known what became of Lucina’s husband. If they did, it was never mentioned. I was six. Lucina was my amah. My instructions were to show respect, do what she told me, and stay out of the way. At no point in our relationship did she tell me the story of her life, and I can’t say I was curious about it. I knew my Uncle Bill for fifty years, and never asked him any questions either.

Occasionally, in the presence of my parents, Lucina might say in Tagalog something along the lines of, “I know what time you came in last night” — without using the word ‘hala’ (shame on you), because they knew what it meant. I wasn’t afraid she’d tell on me, but her approval mattered. I would ask forgiveness, and make promises I couldn’t keep. It was a ritual, an affirmation of her authority, and a great deal more. I’m sure it brought her joy.

Lucina stayed with our family for the duration — eighteen years. Dad established a pension account in a Manila bank. Last I checked, it was still paying out. That would have made her one-hundred-nine at the time. It’s not impossible, and besides, there are boundaries to honor. If she was still living, good for her. If not, it’s none of my business who’s cashing the checks.

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