Instalment XXII – Wherein our little heroine makes good on a birthday promise

Tales from the Tropics

Blog lesson 508- don’t put off writing ever. I didn’t recount my grandmother’s birthday as promised. Sorry. Now, it just seems like a redundant event left behind in my memory. Dramatic.

If I can lose enthusiasm for retelling a story in nine days what does that say about my ability to remain enthused by people… SJ, not the time.

At midday the heavens open and it rains. It rains on my grandmother’s birthday. Bullshit. I can barely believe my eyes. It does not gentle rain either. It pours. But saints were summoned and faith perseveres and thanks to the will of the Lord so does a birthday party.

My grandmother and my cousin share a birthday. My grandmother is terribly pleased when the cake arrives and it has a photo real picture of both of them smiling widely on the icing like it’s magic. The elderly I have noticed share the same bemused wonderment as children, maybe because they don’t pay attention to the world changing so photography on a cake is a fun surprise. She is often pleasantly surprised by things when not gently criticizing your appearance.

‘Who does your nails, do you? or does a girl?’

‘A girl does them’


She does not compliment me on the white polish nor does she tell me off for my colour choice. This we consider a win. Even at eighty-five she wont leave the house in an outfit that doesn’t match. ‘Does this beige go with this white detail in my blouse? Mm no, bring me my navy skirt’. Fuck you slay a neutral.

For the first time in ten years the family is together. My grandmother, both her children plus all her grandchildren. Total of eight. Full house. This is a strange and exotic experience for the lonely little heroine. But one I enjoy. Even with enlisted troops, there is a lot of preparation to go into a birthday. The day before was my cousin’s funeral; we don’t talk about how this has stalled preparation. Goodness no, we are not inconvenienced. We just work harder to get it done. From 8am, there’s cutting, dicing, furniture moving, floral arrangement, table place settings, serving dishes, good china sets, cutlery polishing, balloon art. We are a seamless team.

Did I tell you that they cut our water? The local water district service is cracking down on illegal water sharing by installing more meters. It is another unnecessary initiative to target the poor for revenue whilst simultaneously inconveniencing everyone and not addressing the real issues of corruption. Welcome to the third world. Practice gratitude for water, electricity and Wi-Fi. We find out during the week that from 5pm to 5am our suburb will have no water. The party starts at 6pm. No big deal. Happens all the time. My Uncle arranges for huge water dispensers for guests to wash their hands. Fine.

We are expecting about a hundred guests, the rain has thankfully been short-lived and our front lawn remains in tact. The party will be hosted both inside and in the front garden. Filipino parties are always open buffet style so we have two identical tables of food set up. It is for this exact reason that my grandmother has ordered two suckling pigs. She doesn’t miss a fucking trick. When she does her final round she says to me ‘you forgot the salad for outside and this is in the wrong serving dish’. The amount of food is opulent. This is thanks to the salt. I’m not kidding. During the day I notice my grandmother carefully cutting white squares of paper. I ask her what she’s doing. As she folds up little parcels of salt she tells me that it is an old tradition that you leave salt under the table clothes so you don’t run out of food. The ethnic food guilt is real. I didn’t understand why she was concerned we would run out of food until I realized that all the guests are given food to take home. A thank-you for attending. She must have gone hard on the salt parcels because nine days later and we still have leftovers.

Another strange tradition is the gifting of desserts and cake. Because it is both my grandmother and my cousin’s birthday they have one cake each. That’s two official birthday cakes and four more that were handed to me throughout the night. Fuck me, lucky that sweet tooth is genetic because we were eating left over birthday cake for breakfast for a few days there. Someone also bought us ice cream as a present. Like six litres of ice cream. O-kay. Food gifting is real.

Highlights- my cousins’ aunt (not my direct blood relation) telling me that I needed to get married because being an old maid or eternal bachelor was in my blood. Staying sober the whole time because not once was I offered a drink. The men of age (that is anyone over 14) gather and get wasted. It is a specific activity. No one enjoys a quiet drink with dinner. The men who chose to drink will drink to get drunk and they will do it over there in their own little corner. And they will tell you to fetch things sweetheart and you as the ever gracious angel will come bearing peanuts and fried spring rolls and pork and ice cubes cause you’re fucking gracious. You’re welcome.

Lowlight- bad blow wave. Too traumatic. Cannot discuss. PTSD. How’d you blow-dry it flat you are a homosexual that does beauty queen hair? Fuck, learn how to use a round brush properly.

More highlights- the fact they still serve soft drinks in glass bottles. Super cute and old school. Very environmentally conscious for a country that also still seems to burn garbage.

The best part of the whole day was when my cousins and I were rearranging all the furniture in the house, again (the chairs were too cramped). And my grandmother gathers us around and tells us that the greatest gift of all is seeing her family working together to throw her a party. She is so genuinely touched that we have pulled this thing off for her that my ice heart thaws and I feel joy. She says ‘you’re exhausting yourselves for me’ (English can’t do this sentiment justice) like the greatest gift is our human effort and of course you raised us and I see why I show love better than I express it and I know that family is loyalty and action. High five to more emotional growth. Fuck knows how we haven’t had one single fight. Prayers probably. That was more miraculous than the rain stopping. So cheers to the best lady I know, who taught her grandchildren about love. Raised us to be kind, generous and to never put a glass down without a coaster. Happy Birthday!

xx SJ

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