These are my shoes now, but they have never fit my feet. They were my Nanang's. She passed away last November, and I inherited them during the hugging-and-crying-and-laughing-and-surprise filled sorting-of-a-lifetime-of-stuff that followed.
They delight me because they are so *her*. Tiny and sparkly and well-made and sensible.
Nanang means Grandmother.
She was not mine by birth, but by marriage. A scandalous marriage, no less. I married her granddaughter, the only girl in a Catholic family from the Philippines. I was terrified to meet her family, of course. They were everything my own family had not been: west coast, military, close, loving. Safely middle class. A world away from everything I knew. I'm female, white, raised without religion by a single mom who was quite literally crazy, and who was anything-but-safely poor, with a splintered family I haven't spoken to in years. The only family in my daily life is the one I have made and found and collected, and I love them to pieces.
But this woman, this grandmother, this Catholic matriarch all of four and a half feet tall, took my hand the instant she met me, and dragged me off to the garden to show me her beloved orchids, and her succulents, and all of the flowers she nurtured in the arid California desert, and from that moment she was mine. Worlds fell into place.
She gave me not one second to feel insecure. I arrived at her door, and her arms and heart were wide open, waiting for me. She spoke almost no English and I spoke no llocano, and yet we were bonded in an instant. She pored over dozens of her old photo albums with me, carefully pointing out Buemils and Bañagas from a hundred years ago, and I memorized as many as I could because she was giving them to me, gifting me with a family that went back for eons. With a look, she demanded that I paint her fingernails with my most shocking pink laquer, and when I was finished, she twitched her nightgown hem aside to reveal her toes, painted an identical pink from her own collection. I loved her completely, without reservation.
This November, we will travel again to Cali for the one year anniversary of her death. We will gather with the rest of the family and friends to whom she meant everything, and who against all odds accepted me as quickly and easily as my beloved Nanang did. We will celebrate her life, and grieve our loss together. We will say the prayers, and we will laugh and cry and strengthen the bonds she started, and we will remember her example of how to be a human: be kind, be humble and still be proud, work hard at whatever you do, don't be wasteful, include and hug all the children, love without reservation. And glitter every single chance you get.