What’s Inside Nanay’s Armoire?


I hold a personal theory that the moment you step foot in the Philippines all family secrets start to surface. It is as though once a family member crosses the Pacific Ocean a cloak hides the truths of his/her life in the Philippines. But with each trip back to the Philippines, any reinvented persona is gradually demystified and a real picture comes to light.

One of the many discoveries found in Nanay’s armoire.

My Nanay (grandmother) passed away this last October at the age of 95. Nanay spent her entire life in the provinces of the Philippines. Over the years, our family visited her back home and once Nanay even came to the United States for an extended trip. Truthfully you can never really be that close to someone who lives so far away. However no matter the distance and time, every phone call with Nanay ended with an “I love you” and every moment spent together I absolutely treasured.

Although Nanay was a petite woman who barely weighed 90lbs, her presence always dominated. She could cut you with sharp comments and colorful commentary about the people around her. But towards me, Nanay only showed sweetness and that loving grandmother spirit we all yearn for in our life.

Once we received the news of Nanay’s death, my parents and I left immediately for the Philippines to attend her funeral. St. Bernard is a remote province and there is no mortuary in the area. Circumstances dictate the deceased usually rests in the living room until buried. Basically, the living room is the funeral home. Once we arrived at our family home in the province, I walked right into Nanay’s coffin resting in the living room (adjacent to the dining table). Clearly, I was not in America and whatever recent modernization I thought the Philippines had gone through did not yet reach the remote provinces.

While in St. Bernard, my family educated me of a Filipino superstition where you never leave the dead alone. As explained, family members and friends are on “duty” and each takes turn staying awake night and day with the deceased. To help stay up during my night of “duty,” my aunt and I decided to go through Nanay’s personal belongings. During my shift, I was introduced to a side of Nanay I never knew.

Nanay kept an armoire in her bedroom that remained locked up at all times. I first noticed that Nanay saved all these perfumes and lotions she received as gift from the United States over the years. She never used these products but instead neatly kept a collection of fancy bottles and Old Spice (she loved the scent of Old Spice) stashed inside her armoire. How she treasured these gifts and held on to them throughout her lifetime.

Interestingly, Nanay kept only a few pictures taped to the inside walls of the armoire: a photo of my Tatay (my grandfather who passed away years ago), an 8×11 photo of my dad in his med school graduation robe and the exact same photo of my dad but wallet size, another picture of herself with Tatay and a picture of my cousins in Florida. Without hearing from Nanay directly, these two photos of my dad spoke volumes to how beloved my dad was to her.

As my aunt and I continued to go through her armoire, I discover multiple tiny jewelry boxes and numerous tiny coin bags. Inside each of the coin bags, I found random receipts. The receipts told a story of Nanay giving to the local church group and of her purchases of this and that over the years. For real Nanay did not throw away any piece of paper!

By exploring her belongings, I also learned that Nanay kept dozens of handkerchiefs and 3 worn out folding fans. I like to imagine she kept these fans on rotation for hot humid days and for some reason I picture her on Sundays taking time to choose a fan that matched her outfit.

Sorting through all her papers, we found her 1943 marriage certificate. The certificate was typewritten on very thin, almost translucent paper. This delicate piece of paper documented a beautiful marriage that lasted decades. Amongst all these papers, I also discovered a random document where Nanay attests to be an illegitimate child. Mysteriously, my Tatay notarized the form. In that moment, I wished either one of them could have explained to me the purpose of attesting to this fact. I will never know.

As we continued searching through Nanay’s armoire, my aunt uncovered an envelope full of cash totaling almost $1,300 USD hidden between her skirts and blouses. My aunt and I laughed and laughed knowing a large sum of money remained hidden in this locked armoire. It’s a lot of money to be stashed in a locked armoire!

After double counting the cash, I noticed another thick envelope sitting next to the piles of papers. Inside the envelope was a stack of old 2×3 pictures (sepia color and everything). Instantly I am excited because I thought I hit a jackpot of pictures of young Nanay and Tatay as a couple. The dreamy romantic in me started planning how I would take these undiscovered pictures of my grandparents back home to hang on my wall.

What did I find instead? Horror. I uncovered naked pictures of some skinny Filipino guy getting his freak on. Instead of romantic young couple pictures, I found a pile of sexually explicit photos in sepia color. I went through just 2-3 pictures when beyond embarrassed I return the stack of pictures back into the envelope. I felt as though I just walked in on my grandparents having sex. To be clear, it wasn’t just a couple pictures but literally a stack of these photos. I couldn’t believe it. Did I just find my grandparents’ version of a 1940’s sex tape?

After taking some time to reflect on my discovery, I am choosing to believe with complete conviction that what I actually found is some vintage 1940’s porn and not actually my grandparents’ personal photo shoot. Since I didn’t have the stomach to look long enough at the faces of the individuals in the pictures (the sepia nakedness distracted me), I choose to wholeheartedly believe that the individuals in the photos are just some random 1940’s Filipino equivalent of Playboy/Playgirl. When I really think about it, who the heck in the 1940’s would take these pictures of my grandparents in such explicit positions anyways? Other than my grandparents, I might be the only other person who ever saw these pictures so I’m going to say it is not Tatay and Nanay. It’s not them and no one can say otherwise to me. Ever.

With the contents of Nanay’s armoire, I learned so much of this woman who despite living far always remained a relevant fixture in my life. While the truth serum permeating the Philippine soil is real, I know there are just some realities I much rather never learn.


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