In Filipino, we have a word for “big sister” – it is ATE (ah-teh). In several Philippine dialects, it is Manang (mah-nahng). We also have other words for elder sister, according to whether they are eldest, second eldest, third eldest, and so on.
In my mom’s family, there is an Ate, a Ditse, a Sanse and a bunso. My Lolo Osiong and Lola Gening had 8 living children – 4 boys and 4 girls.
The Ate in my mom’s family was my Tita Margie. Tita Margie was, to me, the paragon of all Ate virtues. Without any exaggeration, I’ve always felt that Tita Margie epitomised the perfect “Ate”. She took care of her family. She took care of my Lolo and Lola. She took care of her siblings. She was at least 10 years older than the second eldest girl and she took her role as big sister seriously.
Mom often recalled that her Manang Margie made matching clothes for them, my Tita Migen, my Mom and my Tita Bing. They had pictures of the three of them wearing matching outfits that Tita Margie had sewn for them. Mama always said that Tita Margie always insisted on all of them being turned out well, that she would sew them outfits if they had something important to go to. She was the same with us. She would insist we dressed up properly and dressed appropriately.
Tita Margie started sewing when she was in high school and never really stopped. I remember she would sew clothes for my cousins and me. I remember all the clothes she sewed for me. Her sewing machine and sewing kit were a never-ending bag of surprises and she created magic with needle, thread, cloth and her Singer sewing machine. Once, my brother Aryeh asked for a plane-shaped soft toy and Tita Margie, even though she had never made a toy like that before, gamely took the challenge on. That toy is still at home, in Don Jose, somewhere. Tita Margie always made things to last.
Tita Margie was the constant in my mom’s family…at least to me she was. She was always there for everyone – for her brothers and sisters, for her nieces and nephews. She was the head cheerleader for her family. She was proud of her siblings and their achievements and I know that in her own way, she made sure that her siblings knew that. She let them shine and she helped them shine.
Tita Margie always wanted the best for her family. She was the same with her nieces and nephews. In a way that was uniquely Tita Margie, she encouraged all of us to be the best we could be. She supported us in whatever way she could. She cheered us on but at the same time, if she felt we were behaving in a manner that was less than acceptable, she would tell us, in no uncertain terms. She had rules and she had standards. But she had a way of calling out bad behaviour that only she could. We may not have felt it at the time, but in hindsight, everything she did, she did in love, because, she always wanted what was best for us.
Everything she did, she did because she loved us. Everything she did, she did for her family. Her love for her family was in everything she did, in every word, in every deed, in every stitch, in every treat, in every gift.
I cannot imagine Manila without Tita Margie. I cannot imagine not seeing her cheeky smile and hearing her witty conversation. But at the same time, I am relieved that she is no longer in pain, no longer uncomfortable, no longer struggling to move. I am thankful that she is now healthy and whole, with my Lolo and Lola, with my Uncle Magni, Uncle Franklin and Uncle Wawell. I am thankful that she is now with the Lord. I am thankfully reassured that when the time comes, I will be with her again.
I love you Tita Margie.