The houses that are important to us are the ones that allow us to dream in peace.
- Frances Mayes, Under The Tuscan Sun
It's almost 10pm and the electric fan is on full blast. My younger brother and I have resigned to the fact that there will be no evening breeze to lull us to sleep in this humidity. Still, we keep our bedroom windows open just in case. Feels like only yesterday we've shut our windows and wrapped ourselves in blankets and comforters to keep the cold January nights from soaking into our bones. The concept of a siesta begins to make an awful lot of sense in this inevitable, searing summer heat. No one can blame you for taking longer showers or taking two showers a day. ("Masarap maligo in the Philippines forever", a friend tweets.)
For my mom, however, it is one of the best times to revive the house and give it a makeover before the monsoon season hits the country.
The ancestral house is as old as my grandparents, if not older. It has been renovated once or twice in the past. Parts of the house nearly succumbed to termites: our former househelps' idea of termite control is to cover the infested areas with packaging tape. Some of the furniture is ancient but still holds sentimental value. ("Your great-grandfather died on this," my mom boasts, referring to the bed frame I'm using.) The roof needs to be re-roofed at some point. The ceiling is warped and weathered from years of typhoons beating down on it. The bedrooms beg to be repainted. Otherwise, everything still stands and works. It is impressive though that the house has withstood countless floods and a 6-point magnitude earthquake.
Ever since her siblings have all migrated to other countries, my mom took on the task to transform the house into a comfortable, charming little home. I lack the Pinoy disposition of hospitality but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate one's effort to make an accomodating atmosphere. My mom has hired a painter to clear and re-paint some parts of the house. The painter happens to have a wife who can clean like you wouldn't believe. (And by clean, it feels like Mary Poppins has swooped by.)
The ancestral house seems to be just a house to some of our relatives- a convenient place to stay when they're in the country, a roof over their heads. But my mom sees it as a nest where her little doves can rest and restore themselves after a hectic school term. A haven where she and her girlfriends gather, have potluck, as they air out their latest gossip and grievances. A summer home out of the same house; a sanctuary where everyone is free to dream of rainy mornings, creaking bamboos, and flying cats.