My mother is a woman of few words, and her favorite word, judging from how frequently she utters it, is "ano." It's her all-purpose word for just about anything. Purge it from her vocabulary, and she would probably be rendered speechless.
"Anuhin mo nga 'yung ano ng ano baka kasi umano yung ano," she told me one time. Unless you're a mind reader, there's just no way you would know what she wanted. But I have learned to infer what she means from the context (in this case, it's an hour before lunch and there's something cooking on the stove) and her gestures (she makes a knob-turning action and points in the direction of the kitchen), and I find it relatively easy to decode her fill-in-the-blanks messages. In this particular instance, she was saying: "Hinaan mo nga 'yung apoy ng niluluto ko baka kasi umapaw 'yung sabaw." ["Turn down the flame so that the broth will not boil over."]
Being the playful youngest son that I am, I usually feign a confused look even after I have deciphered her cryptic instructions. This frustrates her and sends her into a fit of head-scratching, stuttering and pointing. And then we both have a good laugh over it.
She's a funny lady, my mother. No doubt, I inherited my sense of humor from her. But, like me, she can easily turn serious and sentimental. On Christmas Day, while I was comfortably napping in her rocking chair, she sneaked up from behind and gave me a card. "Ano, pasensya na, 'yan lang ang ano ni Mama mo," she whispered before quickly slipping away.
I opened the card and read:
Always Be True to Yourself, My Son,
for There Is Greatness Within You
Throughout your life, I hope you will always
pursue sensitivity and kindness
as your chosen way.
Your sense of humor is wonderful;
hold on to it.
Being able to laugh at the world
will see you through many hard times.
Guard against bitterness and sarcasm;
they can destroy you.
Be yourself: the world will benefit
from your talent and humor.
Search for people who love and
appreciate you for who you are
and who encourage you to improve.
Don't be satisfied with less
than all you can be,
for you have greatness within you.
Not her original words, but surely her heartfelt sentiments for me. The message couldn't have been more fitting and touching. I was deeply moved (one blink and a gulp to hold back the tears).
On the left panel of the card she had written: "I love you with the love of the Lord... Just me, Mama." Her own words, in her distinct handwriting.
I went to her and embraced her and held her in my arms for a long time. I didn't need to say anything. For she, the woman who gave birth to me and insists on seeing greatness in me, understood exactly what I wanted to say.
Sure, I can decode Mama's endearing "ano" language. But the truth is, try as I may, I can never ever understand my mother more than she understands me. It's just ... "ano."
Alexander C. Tan, 28, is the creative head of a publishing house in Mandaluyong City.