My kind of weather, or is it yours

Browsing Vanity Fair back in my youth, when nary a shadow of living in Canada hovered on my palm during those lunch-break visits to Aling Cely — Lolit’s, Eileen’s and my personal fortune teller —I , too had fantasized sashaying along snow-paved sidewalks the likes of New York, suffused in the glamour of a fur-trimmed coat, shod in knee-high leather boots, and fitted with dark goggles. But I didn’t try to live the fantasy, at least.

I knew of one, who really did though; at the steaming building, on Potenciana and Uy Tit streets in Intramuros, we, employees of the then-National Media Production Center, beheld a so unlikely figure everyday—Dading in ridged turtleneck and leather jacket, short velveteen (sometimes leather) A-line skirt, black tights, and yes, knee-high boots. Seeing her would actually bring on a body flush or profuse sweat. And not only did she don such get-up during the ‘ber-months’, she actually kept it up throughout the year. With the many I’ve seen on TFC, especially in programs packed with celebrities, some even sporting light parka (winter coats insulated with either down feathers or synthetic fibers for heat), when temperatures drop a bit, Dading proved to be a trailblazer.

But I’m simply looking back. Had I not left Manila’s summer heat, maybe I would not even recall Dading, much more write with a palpable sense of irony about the Filipino’s un-tamped down “White Christmas” dream. Oh, I loved that song, and the carols that conjure up everything-winter, about which turned out to be just words then—sleigh bells, Jack Frost, mistletoe, and of course, snow. Blame it on the innate clash of cultural influences with which we’ve been brought up, and how we’ve persisted apparently to weave such temperate images into our consciousness.

While more Filipino versions apparently spangle the just-past Philippines Christmas, and millennials might scoff at nostalgia, I hold up to my remembrances of growing up, when we ourselves, made them. Among the few by now, these recollection, for me, remain classic: wads of cotton to make snow, rolls of red and green crepe paper to create holly berries, and sampalok branches, what to us then would be pretend-evergreen for holiday trees. Add to these, a few exchanged gifts I would receive, like a framed winter idyll of winter cottages up in the Rockies or Mt. Shasta, half buried in snow with their pitched roof, plumed by chimney smoke.

Imagine me, then, on my real everything-winter in North America: stunned on my first snowfall in Manhattan, which happened in March, not Christmas—virgin snow, which woke me up with an eerie but glorious iridescent glow through the blinds, the hush as if rising from depths of seas. What a soft heavenly world, I had thought, wrapped in awe. Eight years ago, on my arrival as immigrant to Vancouver, as if by design a twilight snowfall welcomed me, too. Were that succeeding snowfalls I’ve experienced through the years duplicated both waking dreams. Depending on the barometer’s rise and fall from freezing to sub-freezing, downy flakes could be wet swatches driven by the wind as in a blizzard, or as storm, steady crystals burying the world in a white grave, or by some other fanged combination snow turns to sleet, falling as frozen rain, that on pavements could be black ice. Road accidents, fallen roofs, avalanche, and power outage have cost lives and millions of dollars; surveying the aftermath of an ice storm in Toronto last year, for instance, estimated cost peaked at CAN$106 million for relief funds, as well as to help the city from cleanup to restoration of power and other utilities.

I’ve realized since I lived it that winter being of Nature, affects lives beyond the scintillating beauty and allure it projects. Indeed, if inadequately layered for warmth—whether in the snow or under a sunlit-freeze—we could contract flu with intermittent coughing, or as it happens to the elderly, die of hypothermia. Garbed though, in de rigueur thermal inner wear, woolen sweater, down coat with furred hood, a woolen or fur-lined hat or knitted cap, scarf also, woolen or knitted, to wrap the neck up to the nose, goggles to save the eyes from blindness in the snow and frozen air, gloves and yes, boots, also both heat insulated, all together often makes one feel thick as a bear.

Still, even indoors with heaters set at 30 degrees, and a fireplace throwing off tempered heat, sweaters and sweatpants, as well as fleece or towel socks replace the all-cotton wear and strap slippers of a seemingly long-ago summer; or else, a chill that creeps through your feet would catch you padding around soon, with 10 white freezing crinkly toes. Now, all these make me wonder if Dading ever came to North America and lived her fantasy.

Peregrine Notes/The Market Monitor (Manila)/January 19, 2015

About me:
Alegria Albano-Imperial, now an internationally published and awarded poet of haiku and other Japanese short poetry forms, writes from Vancouver, BC, Canada, where she has immigrated. She left behind an established career in journalism, including public relations and development communications in education, government, and arts and culture, in the Philippines. She was married to the late Felix N Imperial, II, restoration architect.

A caregiver is: Prepared for this?

April drizzle maybe less gray and likened to baby’s hair, deceitful in lightness, but still seeps to the bones. Fewer layers of inner wear maybe warm enough but with thin cotton outerwear, you could get soaked with yet icy water.

That’s why I imagined she must have been shivering, even if hardly obvious, as we came closer to each other by the garden shop on my way home. The zipped-up pram she pushed looked like that of a baby, while walking with her, a woman hooded for the rain, who had seemed, to me like her Canadian employer, gesturing instructions. Up close, she met my eyes in that wordless supplicating look, recognizably Filipino, framed by her hair now drenched in soft rain.

Warm and dry back home, remorse assailed me as to why I didn’t offer my umbrella—I could have covered my head with my coat’s hood. But ignorant of the truth, it would have been simply impolite. Still I kept wondering if she had come to Canada unprepared not only about the weather but much more of the unexpected—though apparently, there’s less of these with recent changes made in the Live-in Caregiver Program.

Could the baby be the only one in her care, hence, merely a childcare provider? Or does her job include housekeeping, laundry and meal preparation? Wouldn’t that sound like a “domestic” then? Indeed, a typical wanted ad for a fulltime caregiver in the dailies reads like this: “For a family of four but job mainly for our four-year old son from feeding, bathing, taking him to prep school, organizing indoor/outdoor educational activities, such as reading kids’ books, doing craft, also bringing him to libraries, parks, a swimming pool, and wherever he can play with other children.” The ad underscores, “flexible time a must,” and inclusive of household work though Live-out “paid CAD11/hrs with medical insurance and monthly bus pass.”

We’ve known this all along, haven’t we? But even with imaginings of flawless blue Canadian skies, I, for one, have dwelt only on snippets of their stories, especially their dramatized sacrifices to make life possible back in the Philippines, which had virtually be-medalled them. Live-out as a choice, however, has lessened rather horrifying stories since, like that of Cita’s first job—her quarters in a basement had no real flooring, hence, winters had been brutal. For Faye, who left a teaching job and a father’s lingering heartache, loss of freedom or the sense of being “owned” proved quite a struggle to rein in. But pining for home, especially during winter’s early darkness, almost drove Rebecca to just break away like many others during those years when Smartphones and iPhones have not yet had the instant connections now possible. Too, a live-out arrangement has opened possibilities of renting a three-bedroom Recent sightings, indeed, paint brighter frames: it’s easy to spot them with their wards, a few carrying the child a la Nanay—in that heartbeat-leap we cradle a baby close to our breast; picture a little boy’s blond head at rest on his nanny’s shoulder, though most just bundle a baby with toys in a stroller.

Sparks of our ka-artehan, also tend to cheer jaded mornings on the bus as in a little girl, sometime ago—dolled up in a frock with matching ribbons, socks, and even a small purse, who, maybe sensing admiration, would smile back at us while her nanny fussed over the tiniest that might fall out of place.

No matter, my sentiments peaked to melodramatic heights by the time my sister came home; having had more interactions with them, she waved off my suppositions, declaring, not to worry about the Filipina in the rain, who like most caregivers without doubt, carries an inner strength of steel. “I knew of one who fed horses and pastured sheep yet laughed about it,” she closed the subject.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, The Market Monitor, Manila, Philippines April 17, 2016