Remembering Auntie Rhoda

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NOTE: This was originally posted in my now defunct blog - BlogBlog ni Kamulo II on Oct 2007. Auntie Rhoda started the popular "Sagada Weaving and Souvenir Shop" and this continues to be one of Sagada's biggest employers. The store is now being managed by her children. This week is the first anniversary of her death.

Around noon 22 years ago, a bewildered 8 year old boy sat down at a living room, bawling. Moments before, his eldest sister has informed him that their father passed away earlier that morning. The boy was grieving, yet perhaps not knowing the full gravity of the situation. In the same room with him were his 3 older sisters; all of them crying. They were living with their grandparents, which they do when they reach second grade age as the school system in that place was much better. Their parents and 2 younger sisters lived at a farm, a good 12 hours by bus / jeepney. The death of the father is the worst shock these children have ever experienced, and as they sat in that living room, a sobbing voice permeates the room. It was their aunt, their father’s youngest sister, and upon seeing the children, she embraced them and said, “An-ak ko, an-ak ko!” (My children, my children!) That aunt was my Auntie Rhoda. I was that 8 year old boy. That tragic morning is among my most vivid childhood memories.

Growing up, my aunt was one of several authority figures in our extended family. I saw her as someone who was very straight forward. She was strict, and she had rules. I wouldn’t say that she was sweet, that description is better reserved for another aunt. And there were times I stayed away from her, because I dreaded her reaction since I broke one of her rules. But there were moments I remember, when she showed how much she cared. Like when she went out in the evening to buy me some candies after I threw a tantrum having lost to an older sister in chess. Or when she played ping pong with us at a makeshift table above her shop. And there was a time when she complemented me after cleaning her room – saying it couldn’t have been done better. That compliment I fully remember since there weren’t a lot from her – but as her nephew, I knew that it wasn’t because she didn’t approve. She did approve, she just showed it in other ways.

Auntie Rhoda managed a weaving and souvenir shop that was started by her mother, my grandmother. I don’t know the exact figures, but I know the business grew multiple-fold through the years under her management. She trained and employed dozens of women who wouldn’t have had the chance to work elsewhere. Later on, when some of her employees became her direct competitors, I asked her how she felt about it. She shrugged and said it didn’t matter. According to her, it was something that was waiting to happen. No hard feelings, no drama, no sentiments of feeling betrayed - she just quoted my grandmother - "Ay sinu nan adi mangan?" ("Who does not want to put food in the table?")

Perhaps, my aunt's most understated achievement was fully supporting my siblings and I through our secondary and college education. It wasn’t easy, there were six of us and at one time, four of us were in university. After providing for our tuition fees one semester, I saw her deep in thought. I knew that her business wasn’t going smoothly and there were challenges regarding the pricing of her raw materials. When I asked her what she was thinking, she smiled and said, “I’m just happy that I’m able to put aside some money for all of you until the end of this semester. Let’s see what happens afterwards”. Auntie Rhoda went beyond providing for our education - we never really sat down and talked about it but from her actions, she taught me about looking beyond the present, fulfilling long term commitments, and helping others.

After graduating from college, my aunt and I engaged in memorable intimate conversations. One of the things that she told me was, some months after my father died, she had a recurring dream where my father kept visiting her. She said that it was only after she promised my dad in a dream that she’ll take care of his children’s education that the recurring dream stopped. Looking back, that was an incredible commitment from someone who didn’t have the resources at that time. But as with other commitments my Aunt Rhoda made, she always delivered!

It has been more than 10 years since I graduated from college and had the privilege of visiting many places as part of my job. More than a year ago, I exchanged my frequent flier miles for a round trip ticket so my aunt could go to the United States to visit her daughter and grandchildren. That visit never materialized. On March 2007, Auntie Rhoda was hospitalized to remove a tumor in her brain. She spent many months in the hospital, most of which she was non communicable. After 6 months, her recovery was good enough that she was transferred out from the hospital to fully recover at her sister’s house. Just when everything was pointing to a steady and fast recovery, I got a call at dawn from my eldest sister saying that our beloved Auntie Rhoda passed away. I wasn’t able to attend her wake as my family and I were currently out of the country. During her wake, a lot of us cried when my mother told those present that she was very grateful for Auntie Rhoda since she took responsibility left by her older brother (my dad).

Two weeks prior to her death, I had the privilege of talking to Auntie Rhoda and was so joyful to know that she was conversing with relative ease. We were planning to go to the Philippines and had scheduled to spend some time to be with her. Her last words to me were, “I’ll see you in October”. As I type this post, I am with my family on board a plane from Chicago to Manila. Something in me is aching knowing that I won’t be able to see my aunt when I go home. As I look at my sleeping kids, I think about my aunt. She sacrificed to provide opportunities for others. If I can pass that trait to my children, her legacy will live on.


Anonymous October 16, 2008 at 10:36 AM  

Auntim gayyam si Mrs. Bondad. Nabayag ak ay ninpasyal id Sagada, sa-et adu nan nilaukuak ay bags and other woven products for my in-laws, who are from Cavite. My father is from Besao and my mom from Bontoc. Both are deceased.

Keep up the good work. I have a blog page -- and I have been writing on Igorot history, among others and posting these at the Keep rocking. Let the world know who the Igorots are.

Kayni October 29, 2008 at 3:00 PM  

I was surprised to find a post aboutMrs. Rhoda Bondad because I just heard my Mom talking about her during our recent trip to the Philippines. Mom wanted to see her at that time, but we were told she was in the hospital. I have a feeling we're related. I am not so sure about my connections to Sagada (been there twice) but my grandfather's last name is Delen.

Manny, Manwer, Manwell November 21, 2008 at 7:14 AM  

Hi Kamulo,

I do not know why I came back to have a second look at your blog and read with great interest about mng. rhoda bondad! i too, have a fond memory about her! it happened when we went to sagada in december of 2000! we needed to go to ken pakew, that area below her weaving room in atowanan. when mng. rhoda understood our reason in going there, she said: "nay alam ngarud nan tulbek ta umey kayo mentee issan cottage isdi tay ulay et bakanti" i never expected such generousity from her! considering the fact dat i did not go to see her to ask for the keys! it was only during our conversation that i mentioned to her dat our house in mankayan was one of those burned down to ashes during the great fire in november 2000. of course, she was aware dat although my late father was from demang, i don't reside in sagada. i then looked at her without a word from my mouth and she quickly understood me and said to me: "ineee, maiwed metlang tekteken ken datako am-in!"
i shed tears but was overjoyed during those very moment! like you, i will never forget her.

Indaw&basali branch
Culep clan