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Lady of Manaoag

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The Blessed Virgin of Manaoag is the patron of the helpless and the sick. I cannot imagine why anyone would think such a stern-looking lady for a healer. In the same way, I never could explain why my grandmother would rise at dawn and dance with her hands outstretched, swaying and singing unintelligible Latin in front of an assemblage of icons pale as the ivory or dull as the jade of their carving. Some, made of weak stone, had lost an arm, a head, but grandmother droned on nonetheless, while I sat behind her spooked at how she could pray to headless, armless survivors of divine battle.

I used to stare into each one of her idols and found them all strange, always looking so foreign, otherworldly. I expected them to have blue eyes, never brown like mine. Even San Lorenzo Ruiz, a feeble-looking man surrounded by towering Christs, San Pedros and other men of the desert, was a carving of pure white, the very color of chalk.

When grandmother moved away and lived with my aunt to be nearer the hospital we packed all her statues and cleaned out her altar of candle wax, dried flower petals, and old woman’s scent. Now not a single crucifix graces the old house. The picture frame of saints are gone, too. My favorite one was of The Trinity sitting around in conversation in the clouds, their feet resting on the heads of poor angels. After we took it down, the frame had left a stain on the wall for having stayed hung too long. That stain, too, is gone, erased by a roll of paint. But every time I see a patron or some statue, I begin hearing my grandmother again, singing Latin prayers none of us could understand.

I have seen other grandmothers in the churches singing their hymns even as the mute stones of their patrons and gods crumble into amputees. And I would like to think many more granddaughters like me have cleaned out and put down our grandmother’s altars. But even then we remain stained by memories of cold dawns and singing, swaying silver-haired women, reaching out for something.
An earlier version, not much different, was first submitted as a creative non-fiction writing assignment on 17 Feb 2009. This is part of Triggers, a collection of writing born from images.


Written by thedoe

February 17, 2009 at 7:29 pm