Holding Things Constant

Auntie Judith "Odet" Goyena Callos.  Photo I took in a 2009 (age 51) visit when she was most healthy looking.  

In order to have a meaningful economic analysis, economists use the concept "ceteris paribus" or "all things held constant".  There are so many factors that affect economic outcomes that the only way for meaningful analysis is to focus on one variable only while assuming all others are held constant or do not change.  A change in any other variable, except the one being analyzed, will uncontrollably alter or affect the result.

My mother's sister, Auntie Odet (Judith Goyena Callos) recently passed away and I realized she is one of the constants in our lives.   She was born with Down Syndrome, or what other people would call "Mongoloid".  She was a special child but somehow I was the one who always felt special whenever I interacted with her or whenever I would mention her or things related to her.  I think that's what makes them special children, not only because they have special needs but because they make people around them, oddly enough, special also.  I got used to living with a person who was not normal in the sense that we are "normal" and that it was perfectly normal to have her around.  

She was 58 years old and is survived by her 12 other siblings, all but one are older than her, the eldest, Auntie Aida and Uncle Remy are 80+ years old and my mother, the 3rd is approaching 78.  The only sibling younger than her is Uncle Dido, 56.

She was one of the real constants in our lives.  She was a permanent presence in my mother's ancestral house in Daraga, Albay.  For 26 years since I was in college she was the one person I knew would absolutely always be opening the door every time I arrived, announced or unannounced, from Baguio City or Manila or from Manito, Albay, day or night.

She was always there giving me the simple satisfaction of watching a relative eagerly receive a bottle of coke (which she would constantly request), or an ice cream, or money (always 1 peso).

Ice cream, a "pasalubong" she constantly relished.  Year 2010 at 52 years old.

She was a constant.  She grew to the age of 8 and remained that way for 50 more years.  She was always in Grade 2.   

Life in this house of lolo, lola and my aunts and uncles moved fast.  Grandparents passed away in 1978 and 1980 leaving auntie Odet to the care of her siblings who would soon finish college and would move out and build lives of their own.  Auntie Odet was left to the care of Auntie Eppie and Auntie Flav who stayed and grew their respective families in the house.  My brother, Allen, also lived with them while in college when three uncles, the twins Manuel and Melvin and the only sibling younger than Auntie Odet, Uncle Dido still lived there.  Other relatives and house help came and went.  A lot of them I barely remember.

As each sibling became parents in their own right, Auntie Odet remained the 8-year old, grade 2 playmate of every nephew and niece, especially Jude, JP, Joyce and Jomart who grew up in the house. 
She used to extend her arms, shake her head and signal for me to perform the traditional hand kissing (mano) in respect of an elder, which I gladly complied with; until I too started looking and acting more mature that she stopped asking me to "mano".  Yet, she still asked for her usual treats.

From the same 2010 visit with Nerissa my wife.  Aunts Eppie and Flav at center back.  Auntie, Hilda, wife of a Callos first cousin who cooked meals during Auntie Odet's wake.  Cousins ate Ba and Ate Karen and Joyce with her son OJ.  All of us "grew up" with Auntie Odet.

I finished college and more frequently returned from Baguio City or Manila and a new batch of young cousins, especially Joyce and Jomart, started growing up with Auntie Odet.  The cycle of playing and fighting started and wained again as the two matured.  

A couple years onward and even my two youngest cousins in the house grew and one eventually had her own children.  Another cycle of growing up with kids would start for the Constant in our lives.

 For much of my adult life I would always reflect on who is more fortunate, "normal" people like us or those like her.  Which is better, a few decades of mental challenge and routine but with an assurance of God's grace in heaven, or living as rational beings in the rat race of life, struggling with every day issues of what is right and what is wrong, and finding one's niche in the world?

A few weeks ago, the unthinkable happened.  Auntie Odet's health started to dive.  She would not recover.  She became too skinny and complained, even to me, that her thighs and stomach were painful.  Her chief complaint before were only her teeth which no longer troubled her in recent years because she only had one left.  I didn't take her too seriously.  To my mind, she was our constant.  She will always be the same and she will always be there.  

Auntie Odet in the background, looking outside at my brother manoy Allen and cousin Jude.

She always remembered and asked me where my brothers Manoy Allen and Pat or my sister ate  Juvi were.  She was never able to pronounce the "B" in my nickname "Aboy" so I was content being called "Agoy".   My consolation and source of anticipation is that when I finally follow her up in heaven, in the presence of the universe's One true Constant,  I will be met by an Auntie Odet with a complete set of teeth and a loud stutter-less voice calling me "Aboy" with a "B".

Lolo Pedro Callos (former Municipal Mayor of Daraga, Albay), Lola Loleng, Lola Papu (Teresa), all 13 Goyena-Callos children, grand children and great-grand children. (need help identifying everyone)

During her eulogy Ma said (and I believe this goes for the other siblings too) she left Bicol with her family and upon coming back after retirement, she found Odet "still Odet".  She is truly our constant.

She went peacefully.  She didn't want to stay long in the hospital.  Auntie Myrna (who fortunately delayed her trip back to the US) said Auntie Odet asked for the priest or for her to be brought to the Daraga church.  Then on her final day, with tears falling from her eyes, she slowly laid down her arms and took her last few breaths in the presence of my mother and Auntie Eppie.

Farewell, my Aunt.  Gone is my Aunt who will open the door every time I arrive, night or day.  Gone is my Aunt who sits on corners of the house all day, sleeping, eating, watching television, playing with cousins, nephews and nieces, constantly fanning herself with her abaca made abanico (Spanish:  hand fan).  Gone are the days when an open palm would extend and ask for coke, ice cream or piso.

Find Auntie Odet

One of her last trips outside the house when the siblings retraced their past in San Ramon, San Rafael and San Vicente in Daraga.  Places where the family lived before and during World War II and after lolo Pedro's life in politics.  2015  (from left:  my wife, Nerissa, Auntie Eppie, Auntie Odet, Auntie Flav)

Epilogue:  According to Ma and  Auntie Myrna, Auntie Odet unexplainably regained memories and lost her stutter.  She said she was seeing lolo and lola (grandpa and grandma). "Si lolo palan an papa ko" (grandpa {I realize} is my father) and "si Loleng (Dolores) palan an mama ko".  She lived longer under the care of her siblings than under her own parents who passed away when she was 20 and 22 years old.  Lola Loleng died when I was 2 years old and lolo when I was 4.

Uncle Rudy and Aunts Sonia, Eva and Myrna were also already established and out of the house when I was growing up.  Based on Ma's stories long ago, lola took great care of Auntie Odet so much so that Auntie could function well enough to wash her own clothes and wash dishes. Siblings, even with great love, can never match the love and care of parents.

Auntie Aida (82), the eldest sibling said lola was worried she was leaving Auntie Odet behind but Auntie Aida told her, "Mama, you have so many children.  Don't worry about Odet."  Of the 13 Goyena-Callos children, only Auntie Odette didn't get a college degree. 

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