BEtween friends: Brother, my Brother PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 01 September 2014 11:42

By Linda Cababa-Espinosa, Ed.D.

 

I was seven years old when I lost my mother to a deadly combination of heart, kidney and hypertension complication. Being the youngest in the family put me in the center of the attention and concern of two older brothers and two older sisters, plus a widowed father who faced the situation bravely and quietly took over my mother’s chores-going to the market, cooking breakfast and lunch in between his office hours while we went to school.

The woman he decided to marry one year later quietly and simply refused to step into the maternal space left by my mother. She chose to be busy with a vegetable stall she owned in the market which kept her out of the house from early morning till late in the afternoon and which kept my father still doing the marketing and cooking while we were at school.

This went on for several years.  Meanwhile, the domestic situation continued to deteriorate.  Our stepmother didn’t think it was her duty to look after us.  Sometimes there was not even enough food in the house and my brothers and sisters had to give up part of their allowances to buy food. She also ate with us only when my father was home – and of course, he cooked the food. And, of course, he defended her behavior.

When my father finally got assigned to inspect the other offices in other places, she went with him everytime and we were left to fend for ourselves. So we made do with what we could and however we could.

After my third year in high school, my brothers and sisters one day decided that we had enough, that we pack our bags and leave.  We left one day on one of their out-of-town trips.  By this time, only the sister immediately before me, and I, were studying in college and high school. The others had graduated and found jobs out of the city.  One brother, though, found a job in the school he graduated from and so, eventually, two of us were left with him working, and my sister and I studying. Of my four elder brothers and sisters, he wielded the most control and influence in my studies and, eventually, my life.

That summer, my brother told us to give him a chance to save by going on a long vacation. He suggested we go to my married sister in Zamboanga del Sur and stay there for a year.  Which we did.

If there was anything that my brother felt very responsible about, it was making sure I finished my studies and managing his earnings very well to allow him to provide our basic needs.

After a year’s hiatus, from a private school in the city, my brother transferred me to the public school where the tuition was so much cheaper and the classmates more down to earth. Before classes even started, my brother told me I should study well to make sure I passed – even with a 75% - because there was no money to re-enroll on the same year since his salary was barely enough to sustain the three of us on the rent, food and education.  His explanation was plain, calm, and clear. I took that advice very seriously. From then on I would stay with my books till ten or eleven in the evening. Sometime during the year, when he noticed my grades were so good, he asked if I was cheating my way through fourth year. I was embarrassed and resented the suspicion. So I challenged him to go and see my teachers if indeed I did not deserve my grades without having to cheat. I don’t know if he did go. I never tried to find out because I was confident my conscience was clear.

That year ended with exemplary grades in my report card.  My brother looked at them quietly, just nodded his head but made no comments.

At the end of that summer he asked what course I had decided on for college. Foreign Service, I answered excitedly. I had decided on it because I had dreamed of travelling as a way of getting out of our desperate situation.  So I thought the best place to work was at an embassy and the Foreign Service course would be the best preparation. There was deafening silence for several seconds. When he finally spoke he said the nearest city offering Foreign Service at that time was Cebu. We could not afford it. I would have to decide on a local college, take a course available in its curriculum.  My dream of seeing the world shattered into pieces.  It had become an impossible dream. I cried long into the night but I ultimately accepted that what he had decided was the best he could do for me.

That June he enrolled me at the Ateneo de Zamboanga where he had graduated from and was then teaching Chemistry and Physics. Because I was his sister and because of my good grades, I was given the discount we badly needed to lessen his expenses for an Education course. Through the years he never pushed me harder than he needed to. He just kept repeating the same advice: Study hard, pass even with a 75% because there was no money to re-enroll in the same subject.  And study really hard, God knows, I did.

My brother had graduated valedictorian from grade school up to college.  He was also Summa Cum Laude.  He had studied on full scholarships all the way.  He never asked me to be like him. In fact when he would see me studying till late at night, he would stay awake till I closed my books. When I graduated on top of our graduating class with a Magna, there was not the usual and expected blow-out. We could not afford it.

We went home to a simple supper that night while a muted joy, that was almost palpable, pervaded our little apartment. My triumph was the family’s triumph but my brother’s low profile personality kept our feet on the ground.  The quiet euphoria we all felt lasted the whole summer until I left for Davao for my first teaching job.

I learned much later that anyone who congratulated him about me generated a huge smile in return plus a proud conversation about how highly and well I did.

Thank God for a big brother like my brother.