Deprived of the communication technologies we have today, my mother used the spirits to send messages. My sister Virgie was studying in Mindanao, and telegram was too costly, so Nanay Pepang used the next best thing: our old earthen jar, what we call tagjaw.
Wanting my sister to come home for the summer, she placed Virgie’s used clothes inside the jar and whispered, “Virgie, come home!” several times until the echo was strong enough for the winds to carry her voice all the way to Central Mindanao University.
Indeed, my sister arrived three days later. Nanay offered a prayer to thank the tagjaw. It never failed her.
Nothing in the house connected our family more than the earthen jar, except perhaps the statue of the Immaculate Conception. The tagjaw contained our drinking water. No other object was as touched by our hands. We handled it with care.
Filling the jar with water was my initiation to family responsibility. I knew I was already old enough because Nanay gave me the task of filling it up. I loved the idea that, yes my Tatay and Nanay provided food, but I, the eight year old child, provided the water. Besides, I loved doing it because the houses where we fetched water (Manding Abon, Nang Toray, sometimes Nong Anoy) were where all the other children gathered and played as we waited for our turn at the faucet. If not, we went to Bolocboloc spring at the foot of the mountain.
Friendships were forged in those faucets. Stories were shared, news were announced, gossips were exchanged, lessons were learned there. Many of my best childhood memories, those that helped define who I am, happened because I was considered responsible enough to fill the earthen jar.
Nanay strictly told me to never ever let the jar be dry. “The spirits will escape”, she said. The table where the jar was placed became the second family altar. The jar became a repository of our dreams. It heard everything that was shared in the table – stories, plans, jokes, songs, reprimands, and arguments. It remained silent when the family hushed around the old transistor radio listening to then President Ferdinand Marcos proclaiming Martial Law. Its waters washed away our fears just it cooled heated discussions, healed inflictions, and restored tiredness.
So when Nanay used the jar to communicate to any of her children, it made sense. She was merely accessing the strongest signal that connected her to all of us – a shared memory. That, and her faith that a mother’s hope travels faster than the wind.
My mother and her jar are both gone now. But as we take care of a comatose sister, we find comfort in the belief that her spirit still communicates with us in the jars of our hearts.
Photo grabbed without permission from mannaismayaadventure.com. No copyright infringement intended