Mothering for many Filipino women doesn’t stop just because their children have grown up, left home or even started a family of their own. Their maternal instincts and family traditions take them as far into caring for their children’s children (grandchildren) and the children of their children’s children (great grandchildren) as their earthly lives would allow them. And while other cultures might find this practice odd, unappealing or even intrusive, natural born and raised in the Philippines Filipinos and Filipino Americans know its intrinsic value and are happy to harness the benefits of a culture that promotes family support and love even to the extent of making some personal sacrifices. I know because I speak from experience, having been blessed with a mother who would drop everything, even brave the cold winters of Chicago, to come to my rescue every single time I hollered for help.
Today, as a grandmother myself to an adorable grandson of almost 11 months and soon to be born much awaited baby girl, I have excitedly stepped into this same plate and have had no regrets. Yet, despite all the best intentions and hundred percent willingness to be the super Lola (grandma) I want to be, I know I’ll never come close to the most nurturing grandma my mom had been to my kids. If she could only see them now, she would have been so proud and happy.
In this issue of my column, I’m honoring a very special grandmother and great grandmother. She’ll turn 100 years old in two weeks (on Valentine’s Day) and to celebrate her centennial year, her children and grandchildren are throwing her a big party at Georgio’s Banquets a week before her actual birthday. Our lucky and amazing centenarian, Luz Agustin Mella, is a mother of 7, grandmother of 19 and great grandmother of 22 plus another one (the 23rd) on the way. Mama Luz, as her grandchildren and great grandchildren fondly call her, is an amazing woman who lives to a hundred years old and still going strong, never getting sick, or losing her memory. She goes to the bathroom on her own with only a cane to support her wobbly knees, still plays the piano with the same passion as she did years ago and says the most meaningful prayer both spontaneously and extemporaneously. What’s her secret of a long, healthy life? Read on.
“Mama Luz,” who hails from Bulan, Sorsogon is the second eldest of 10 children born to Marciano Agustin, a pharmacist, and Miguela Diaz, a devoted homemaker. Mama Luz earned her Bachelor of Science in Home Economics from Far Eastern University in 1934. On January 25, 1936, she married Vigor de Castro Mella, a graduate of Civil Engineering from Mapua University. They had 7 children: Romeo Mella, Roland Mella (who died at 6 years old), Dr. Lourdes Hilao, Roland Mella (who died from a boat accident in 1967 at age 26), Ramon Mella, Heidi Equina and Vigor Mella, Jr. Mama Luz worked as nutritionist with the US Public Health in the Philippines during WWII and as home economics teacher after the war. Her husband, Vigor, was Engineer and Provincial Treasurer in Samar until he died in 1969.
Widowed at 55 years old, Mama Luz showed her tenacity, willpower and strong character as she steered her young family towards its goals. She moved to Manila, worked in a government insurance company and sent all her children to college. After graduating from medical school, her daughter Lourdes went to Chicago to finish her medical residency and through her petition, paved the way for her siblings to come to Chicago and make it their home. Mama Luz joined her children in the U.S. in 1975.
Respected, Adored and Treasured
In 2004, a grand celebration of Mama Luz’s 90th birthday brought together her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, plus all their close family friends in grateful and happy thanksgiving. The following testimonial published in the event’s program captured quite beautifully Mama Luz’s worth to her family:
Ever strong after 9 decades alive, Mama has given life to 37 members of the Mella clan, including 19 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Whether she’s praying in church, singing Gospel songs, playing the piano, cooking chicken adobo, or eating pork rinds every day, Mama has touched the lives of so many… staying true to her name, ‘Luz’ – a beacon of light, love and hope. Today, Mama celebrates nearly a century of sharing and putting family first. She continues to be the model mother, humble servant in Christ, loving lola, patient babysitter and the greatest of great grandmothers. Yet no role, no title, no single word captures the love she embodies – the same love we feel whenever we see her smile and say her name, ‘Mama.’
Two years ago at the wedding of our second son, Paul to one of her grandchildren, Lynn Hilao, Mama Luz marched with the wedding entourage. Whereas others might not have given it much thought, I was deeply impressed with Lynn and her family for I saw a precious Filipino culture and family value come alive, just when I thought it was forever gone. Little did I know then how deeply steeped in admirable Filipino values and traditions this family actually is, the family my son has married into. God is great!
With the help of my daughter-in-law, Lynn, I gathered the following testimonials from some of the grandchildren. It will give you a glimpse into this amazing centenarian’s legacy to her family. Hopefully, Filipino American children and grandchildren who will read this article can learn from it.
“My grandma may not even be five feet tall, but we all look up to her. She is a loving, nurturing lola who has shared many valuable life lessons with me: she helped raise me to be a strong, independent woman; she reminds me to appreciate the loving family I have been blessed with; amazingly, she has also taught me that one can live up to 100, even on a daily diet of chicharon!” – Jamie Hilao
“As the youngest grandchild, I feel obligated to keep Mama in the loop with all the “fashion” styles and (keep her) physically active. My greatest memories are dressing her up and my “Messing with Mama” moments. She’s completely cool with it!” – Katleya Equiña
“I have so many fond memories of mama. I have one special memory of her that I will never forget. I remembered many years ago, when I was in high school and when we were still going to Mont Clare church every Sunday. Mama came to church with Auntie Nene that day. As they were parking the car in the lot, I came to help her out of the car and I noticed how pretty she looked. She said she did her own makeup. She had highlighted her eyebrows and had red lipstick on. I was thinking to myself, “wow she did a really good job with her make up”, only to find out when she stepped out of the car that her shoes were mismatched. I don’t remember what happened after that, but I think we went back to the house to get her another pair of shoes.
I also love how she still hand writes our Christmas cards every year and how she never get confuse with all of her grand-kids names, given the number of grand-kids she has. She has a way of making all of her grandchildren feel like we were the most special! I love her to bits and pieces!”
– Karen Mella Farris
“My fondest memories of my grandma are all from the room where we spent the most time – the kitchen. The memories that came out of that room involved various things: teaching recipes, helping with homework, encouragement to practice the piano, or just simply talking about her life. I learned how love takes various forms from my grandma in this room. She always had love in her heart taking on even the smallest of tasks. It’s quite appropriate that she was born on Valentine’s Day – she has shown love by example and for that I will forever be grateful.” – Lynn Tubalinal
“I know many people say their grandmother has taught them everything, but with her teaching background with the Spanish language; she should’ve just been a historian. My favorite memories are actually stories – stories that she would share about growing up, life, and raising children. Understand this woman is living, breathing history book.
I don’t know many 100 year olds that can rock out on the piano during holiday parties; but let’s just say “this cat is the bee-knees”. Hopefully she would remember my slang due to the fact that she lived through: the Roaring 20’s, 2 world wars, the rise and fall of Berlin wall, the first landing on the moon, and the list just goes on from there. Without her experiences and stories, I don’t know if I would have seen the world the same as I do today.”
– Miguel Equiña
“Having conversation with mama is always nice. I learned a lot from her a few years ago when I asked her how she kept her memory sharp. She said reading the Bible and praying. That is a testimony for me that no matter what you are going through in your life, all you have to is just pray to God, ask for what you need, and He will always answer your prayers. Mama is the person to go to when you need someone to pray for your troubles and for your blessings. Thank you Mama! I love you!” – Penny Flores
“Mama Luz taught me the incredibly important lesson of patience. Whether it was helping us with our homework at the yellow crayola table or listening to us bang away at the piano keyboard while practicing, she showed us how to persevere through all of life’s battles. It is a true testament to her deep sense of patience that she has lived to one hundred years. Thank you, Mama, for your patience.”
– Jay Hilao
“My favorite memory of Mama Luz has to be her never-ending love for music. Growing up under Mama Luz’s care, it was more of a daily routine hearing her either play the piano or playing her gospel music. Even though I was young, I’ve always admired the way she showed strength and devotion to doing what she loves. Even when its tough for her to go downstairs, her will to play and to listen to gospel was always punctual. That’s the memory of mama that I will always remember and will always miss, now that I live in California.” – Ramon Mella, Jr.
My grandma makes the best scrambled eggs. When I was little scrambled eggs were my favorite thing. Her secret is she uses oil to grease the pan and she places the hot, cooked eggs back in the same bowl she used to scramble them. Best eggs ever!!! Slightly gross but still good.
– Mary Foster