Cristy Mary Sycip
Updated: Apr 21
My paternal grandmother was born on Christmas Day and which led to her unusual name: Natividad Angeles. She was a native Filipina with some Spanish ancestry and lived most of her life in Manila, Philippines. She was exceptionally strong willed and beautiful.
Natividad married an affluent Chinese man, who courted her for a long time. After they were married, she tried very hard to fit into the expectations set by his family. She was educated, hardworking, and very religious. While she was raised Catholic, she joined my grandfather’s Baptist church. They were both members of The Gideons International and it was through this organization that my grandma eventually started her own private protestant co-op school. She and my grandfather always had copies of the King James Bibles to give to those that crossed their everyday paths. I was loved and protectively raised by them and for a long time I thought that every person on Earth was a Christian.
My parents met when they were students at my grandmother’s school. They were very young when they married and separated when I was only 3-years-old. We all lived in my grandparents’ house, and I vividly remember this one morning when I walked into my parents’ disheveled bedroom and found out they were both gone. They went their separate ways while I stayed with Natividad.
Before WW2, my grandparents lived in a big Spanish-style house in Manila with lots of servants. However, during the Japanese invasion in 1941 the entire family had to evacuate to Fuga Island where they lived for a year. My grandmother was a translator to the other Japanese soldiers in hiding while in Fuga Island. She traded her pretty dresses for food. One unfortunate day, however, their settlement was bombed by the Americans and 21 members of my family died in this attack. My grandmother was among people who picked up the bodies scattered all over the island and buried them. She never fully recovered from this experience and for the rest of her life suffered from unaddressed PTSD. Fuga Island was so isolated that they did not know when the war ended and stayed there for some time after the peace treaty was signed before they were eventually rescued by General MacArthur’s orders.
Possibly because she grew up poor, my grandmother was always compassionate and charitable. She was a very giving person and definitely one of the most generous tippers in the world. While she was often hard on herself, she was understanding and caring when it came to others. Later in life, she took care of both my uncle and my father who were avid drug users and welcomed them to live in her home.
Paradoxically, her good intentions, together with sense of duty and self-sacrifice which my grandma installed in me, backfired at me in various ways. My father, uncle and I generously shared our abundance of drugs with each other and I eventually became dependent on drugs. At that time, I was healing from my broken, toxic marriage. I was taught to be loving and forgiving with dysfunctional men.
When I was 18-years old, I decided to join my mom, who lived in the US. However, I missed life in Manila and my grandparents too much, so eventually I ended up going back and forth all the time. At the same time, the calamity befell to my grandparents. My elderly grandfather got swindled and lost all his money. In one day, the family went from being affluent to penniless. To make things worse, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. While it was most painful for us, her condition turned out to be a blessing for her. She knew nothing of the family’s financial demise and till the end of her life remained peaceful, playing the piano and marimba singing hymns with her beautiful operatic voice.