Helown, Tita Haydee?!?!

You’re sure to hear the word “Helown” each time the phone rings in Little Baguio & Tita Haydee is within meters from the phone — in the kitchen cooking, or in the living room watching Tagalog soap operas. I reckon some callers have actually hung up when they realized it was Tita Haydee picking up.

Yes, she was popular even among our friends.

Many of them who would come to visit us in Little Baguio would ask how Tita Haydee was related to us. As most wartime stories go, my Lola Lourdes was 12 years old when she and Tita Haydee became friends. They were neighbors in Sampaloc, and Tita Haydee would often come over to play, help with the laundry, or other “part time jobs” like selling refreshments on the streets. And like other best friends, Lola Lourdes & Tita Haydee often had bowling nights out and sleepovers. It wasn’t long until Tita Haydee decided she liked it better over at 426 Honradez.

Her parents would often attempt to convince her to come back, but she has become too attached to the Tolentinos that going home (almost just next door) was never again an option for Tita Haydee.

Of the 69 years that Lola Lourd & Tita Haydee have been friends, a full 60 years were spent living under the same roof. 

Those who know Tita Haydee would tell you that she always had a grimace look about her. This, more than anything, scared off Lola Lourd’s long line of suitors. But she made an obvious exception for a fine gentleman from Dimasalang — Herminio Reyes, who would later become my Lola Lourd’s significant other.

On May 25, 1957, Lolo Miniong & Lola Lourd wed and built a new home for the family on 222 V. Ibanez St., Little Baguio – a then sprouting community in San Juan. Tita Haydee was the instant plus one. She looked after Lolo & Lola’s every need and from 1958 onwards, took care of two generations of Reyeses — that would include most of the 13 of us in the third generation.

Having come from a HUGE family (I use HUGE for the lack of a better term; the word itself is an understatement) where Tita Haydee shared the responsibility of raising the children and grandchildren, she was often perceived as the tyrant. But a lovable one. She had a very “special” way of making sure you knew exactly what she was thinking, especially when you’ve done something wrong. For example,  “iispringin kita”, which may (or may not) translate to “isi-spin kita (ng kutsilyo)”. Some of my uncles would even argue that this actually meant “papaluin kita ng spring”, but no one really knows for sure what it meant in Tita Haydee’s world.

As the Reyes children were growing up, Tita Haydee’s clout became pretty obvious. She was the boss when Lolo & Lola were away. Sometimes, even when they were around. She knew everything about Gilbert, Ernie, Tony, Avic, Vanj, Mike, and Chris. She knew how to tell them “Lichiro kayo!”, or call them “Kulasa”, or ask them, “Nag-aadik ka no?!”. And as imperfect as her dishes were, she prepared them with love and made sure the kids had enough to tide them over until they reached home from school — pan de sal with queso de bola, champorado, even tuyo’! Other classic Tita Haydee dishes included extremely salty fried chicken, very pale adobo, and an exquisite Kare-Kare (my personal favorite).

The years passed and after many additions to the family, Tita Haydee was still very much the boss of us all.

Little Baguio was home to me and my Kuya Paolo, and we were lucky enough to have known Tita Haydee the way we did. For as long as I can remember, Tita Haydee was always there to make sure we came home to a nice merienda after school, and often had a hand in disciplining us, when Lola Lourd or Lolo Miniong — or even Dad — didn’t have the heart to do so. If she serves you something for lunch and you refuse to finish what’s on your plate, be prepared to be put on time out under the dining table, followed by a threat that the Indians are out to get you. I even remember taking a blow to my bum with the handle of a broom (In hindsight, I think Dad got his “skills” from Tita Haydee), followed by the words, “Punietera kang babaknet ka!” or “Lintian ka!” Those are just two of the many Haydee-isms over the last 60 years.

Condiments for your meat? Knords (read: Knorr) would do the trick! Getting Tita Avic too exited? Don’t do it; she’s got clipsy (read: Epilepsy)! Sick? Get an x-tray done ASAP!

She was also our very own “jueteng lord” (my uncles would often joke that Tita Haydee’s jueteng “facilitator”, Mang Flores (+), was her soulmate). Long after leaving Little Baguio and four younger siblings later, Tita Haydee would often call our house in Pasig to tell the maid to have us brought to San Juan after school to collect balato. Her winnings would translate to Php500-Php1,000 for each of us.

Most of us are now all grown up, and we still recount the Tita Haydee we had in years past — energetic, always had a lot to say, always enjoyed a game of Mah Jong, always had a ready deck of powdered playing cards, that slipped easily out of her hands and onto the table to tell you — “Panalo ako!”.

When Tita Haydee started getting sick, we saw how this energy deteriorated along with her health, and it was sad to watch her almost wilt away, especially during her senile moments.

We’d often have family councils to discuss her well-being, and part of it was to make sure she had a new environment to look forward to each week, and so the siblings took turns hosting Tita Haydee’s stay in their homes. She would often “instruct” members of the family to tell Manang Ellen to stop sitting on the edge of her bed. Or tell us that Lola Meny was rummaging through her things. Or that Lolo Subring said to take very good care of Kuya Paolo. All of them gone for over 20 years.

Was it difficult to live with her? True to Tita Haydee form, yes — she made it quite difficult for the family, but we eventually learned to take all of it with a grain of salt, and managed to have a good laugh each time she said that the maids didn’t feed her for days, or that they poked fun (and a knife) at her. Of course these were all just in her head. She also hated every one that stood in the way of the fridge and stove — one of Tita Haydee’s passions was cooking, and to say that Manang Adelina (who took over cooking duties in Little Baguio) irritated the “living hell” out of Tita Haydee, was to say the least.

We also knew she was nearing the end of her life. On August 12, 2011 at 12:52pm, Tita Haydee slipped away during another harrowing dialysis treatment. We take comfort in the fact that her years of suffering have finally ended, but we wish it could have ended differently.

Tomorrow morning at 10, we say our last goodbyes to Tita Haydee. And we bid her adieu with black jack, royal flush, pusoy dos, maybe a pack of Philip Morris 100s, and the comfort of knowing that she’s in a much better place, where there is no suffering and where she can tell Lola Meny and Lolo Subring all about the wonderful moments we’ve shared together.

Thank you, Tita Haydee. I wish we could have given you more time, attention, and love. But know that in our little ways and despite the “weirdness” of our expression, we loved you very dearly, and our hearts will be filled with only fond memories of you.

I wish you could have lived to see our future. But I guess you have a better vantage point from up there. 

Three Reyes generations. Thank you, Tita Haydee.

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