Fe (excerpt from A Reason For Being)

Fe, ca. 1960s. Photo by Mr. Fred Ellis.


I was once told of a story about my grandmother, Fe. She was spending the night at their field house. The field house was where her husband had the grove workers (all men) sleep overnight to keep an eye out for any intruders that may step into their land. Her husband Kiko fired the most recent watch man, and there was no one available to do the job in a day’s notice. Fe decided that she can sacrifice one good night’s rest, and spend it at the field house. Kiko would do it, but he told her that he is needed in their home. He volunteered one of their sons, but Fe told him that they were needed for the fields in the morning and cannot be spared to not get a good night’s rest.

So, it was up to Fe to become the watchman for the night.

The field house couldn’t be called a house at all. It was only big enough to have one man sleep in it to stay on guard. The only supplies with her included one pillow, a blanket, a flashlight and a gun. She had to get up to use the bathroom, but the bathroom was several feet away from the field house.

She would need to walk out in the dark to urinate. She grabbed her shot gun, and irritated with her full bladder, walked out of the field house and into the dark.

The idea of walking several feet away felt much quicker during the day. In the dark, Fe had to be cautious of what she was stepping on. She did not want to cut her feet in the dark without knowing what it was that cut her. As she got closer to the outhouse, she noticed that someone had left a rope near the door. Her sons must have been too lazy to put this away, she thought. She’ll make sure that one of them admits to their laziness in the morning. She picked up the rope to toss it to the other side of the outhouse. The rope felt slippery and not the tough material-like texture that a rope was supposed to be.

The rope wiggled, and Fe knew what it was and dropped it immediately on the ground. She positioned her shotgun and pulled the trigger.


I’ve felt fear one too many times in life. The fears I have felt occurred far more in my childhood, than as an adult—and when those fears surfaced, there was always someone there with me. While there may have been comfort in that, it was always my fear for them that resonated deep within my bones. To this day, whenever a memory flashes itself that contained such anxiety, I return to that emotion and memory instantly.

My first memory of fear was when I was only 6 years old. It was a time where my grandmother’s presence in my life was significant and important. All I can recall was that I was aware enough that I understood my grandmother’s fear of guns. It was a gun that killed her husband after all. He was assassinated as he sat on his rocking chair reading a story to my cousins. I wasn’t born then, and therefore, the only story I have of his death are the leftover versions told to me by various people in my family. The reason for his assassination also had its various versions.

“Your Lolo Kiko was shot because he fired a lazy worker at the fields.”

“Your Lolo Kiko was shot because he was feared by many, loved by women, and hated by men.”

“Your Lolo Kiko was shot because he was a good man, and many were jealous of him and his success.”

“Your Lolo Kiko was shot because God knew you were going to disobey your mother and father by eating those raisins and lying about it.”

“Your Lolo Kiko was shot. That’s all you need to know.”

I was told that if my Lolo Kiko had lived and found out about me lying about eating those raisins, he would have hung me upside down on a tree and used a paddle to spank my ass. But, I believe that if my Lolo Kiko had lived, he would have loved me, and spoiled me. He would let me get away with eating the raisins that my Nanny told me not to eat, and he would have been just like my paternal grandfather—swayed by my brattiness and loved me for it, regardless.

None of this mattered when it came to the object that took his life away. As fearless as my grandfather was, he had no chance against a man with a gun and the bullet that killed him.

The memory of my own fear was when Lola Fe and I were ran errands one day. I ran errands with her so that she would have someone to talk to. As cultural practices of that time went, it was the responsibility of the eldest child to accompany her Lola as a means to provide help. I remembered hating the task, and only wanted to play with my sisters. But, Lola Fe promised to treat me to ice cream, and the temptation of food one was of the keys to adhering to my filial duty, as well as avoiding the inevitable spanking from a pair of tsinelas should I not fulfill such duty.

I remember for that particular errand, we had to go to this woman’s place of business. My grandmother needed to pick up her jewelry. I never questioned what the errand really was. All that my memory could recall was the scene, like a dream, that oftentimes would snap me back as if it happened only a minute ago, instead of 29 or so years ago.

There were a group of men sitting around what looked like a garage, but was actually an entry place for a shop. This was common in the Philippines. People often hung out in places like these, drinking their Miguel beer, smoking, and joking around. Sometimes they played mahjong, until someone got drunk, rowdy, obnoxious, and a fight would break up the party. This group of men was sitting around playing cards. As we got closer, my grandmother held my hand as she whispered to me that real men don’t waste their time sitting around doing nothing in the middle of the day.

“Someday, Jeng, when you marry, you will marry a man of lighter skin and who willnever sit still. Because he will know that he needs to keep moving and working so that he can provide for your family. Do you understand, Jeng?” she asked me.

My grandmother must have been a clairvoyant for she knew that I would marry a man who is half Caucasian, and whose hapa ass couldn’t sit still.

Opo, Lola,” I nodded.

As soon as we got to where the men were, they stopped talking and looked at my grandmother. She asked for someone’s wife, and as soon as she did, a short, stout woman came running out to greet us. She bowed to my grandmother, and took my grandmother’s hand to her forehead. A woman’s act of respect towards my grandmother.

“Jeng, please wait right over there for Lola, ok?”

I walked away from the men who grew silent and looked at my grandmother with hesitation and perhaps wondered how they should approach this dignified woman.

“Ooo, Lola is here to pick up her jewelry! Are you interested in buying other things, Lola?” asked the man who I believed to be the woman’s husband. He was ugly and he was mocking her. He was skinny, dark skinned, with oily greasy hair, and the kind of man my nanny told me to stay away from because you can never tell the kind of dirt that he collected beneath his fingernails. Dirt that may include his or someone else’s shit, or germs that lurked in hidden places that could spread malaria.

My grandmother nodded at him in disapproval; the disdain in her eyes pierced right through him. You are a disgusting man; filth runs through your bones. “No, thank you. I will just wait awhile for your wife,” my grandmother replied curtly dismissing him with the same look I once saw her give one of her field workers when she fired for stealing. Out of nowhere and with such brutal brashness I heard him say, “Lola, look here, I can sell you a gun!” The ugly man pulled out a gun from nowhere and was caressing the object as if it was the most priceless thing in this world. It was a gesture of not only disrespect, but he was caressing the gun as if it was his own dick.

My grandmother looked at the gun, and immediately looked at me. In an instant, I felt her fear. Such fear that can only be transferred through the innate knowledge of the history that this object has had with our family. I saw the remnant of emotion my grandmother must have felt when she saw her husband bleed to death. This emotion can shock the soul into a paralyzed state, and to seek out something more calcified was the only way to remove the soul from such state.

My grandmother saw me and immediately knew that at that point, she could not succumb to her fear. She knew that if I had witnessed her state of being, that I would know such a weakness and she worried, above all else, that I would grow up and become a weak woman, vulnerable to succumbing to such fear instead of overcoming it.

The woman ran from inside her house, and she looked at the scene before her. She took her tsinelas off her feet and smacked her husband across the head with it.

“What do you think you doing?!? You can’t disrespect Lola! Put that away, or I will use it to shoot your dick off!” she yelled.

My grandmother looked at the woman and the ugly man. Calm as a summer breeze, she smiled and said, “Mare, you do not need to worry. Never you mind, na. Your husband was just joking. I had a shotgun once when I was a little girl. I used it to kill snakes in the fields. I killed a lot of them. So, your husband would be an easy shot.”

My grandmother took the bag that the woman handed her, and she walked towards me. She grabbed my hand and we started to walk away from the house quietly.

There were no words that needed to be expressed. No moral code that she felt she needed to explain in a story. After a few more paces of walking I asked her, “Lola, can I tell that to my classmates for show and tell?”

“No, you may not. But you can tell your children one day,” my grandmother looked down at me and smiled.


Fe, ca. 1960s. Photo by Fred Ellis. So, it seems that the women in my family had an affinity for Jackie O sunglasses. Photo taken in Zamboanga City, Philippines.

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