By Jim Bea Sampaga
At 95 years old, Lola Filipina Caliboso has been living her life filled with love and care. She’s funny, friendly, kind and helpful. She’s selfless despite what she had to go through during her childhood.
Born on Jan. 2, 1925, Lola Filipina grew up in Rosales, Pangasinan with her older sister, Pacita. Their lives changed when their mother Irenea passed away when they were still young. Lola Filipina still remembers the moment their grandmother took her and left her at her Aunt’s place to live.
Growing Up in Pangasinan
“I sat on the stairs [of my Aunt’s house] waiting for my grandmother, but she never returned. I was told later that this was my mother’s wish, for me to live with my aunt and her family. It was hard and tough living with my mother’s sister,” Lola Filipina recalled.
Lola Filipina’s Aunt and Uncle didn’t support her education. She worked around the house and earned her own money just so she could attend elementary school. “[They] didn’t support me even just for one centavo to buy for my school supplies. I had to earn it myself,” she said. “Not just my Aunt but her husband is also abusive.”
In her childhood, Lola Filipina suffered bruises and wounds from enduring the physical abuse from her Aunt and Uncle. Her elementary best friend would cry and pity her every time she would see her bruises.
Passion for Education
Despite having no support for her education, Lola Filipina was an active elementary student and leader at Villasis Central School. She loved going to school and interacting with her classmates and teachers. Instead of playing around, she spent time with her teachers and helping them keep things in order around the classroom. She enjoyed learning about catechism and prioritized finishing her homework early.
Lola Filipina’s love, dedication and passion for education didn’t stop after she attended school. She made sure to pass the same values and passion to her children and grandchildren. She believes that having a good education will give them better opportunities in life.
When her children were young, she always made sure that they focused in school to achieve a good education. With her grandchildren, she built a relationship with them with her outgoing and funny attitude. She used to play with them, acting as if she was their age.
As a hands-on grandmother to her grandchildren, she taught them the basics such as the alphabet and counting numbers before they even started going to kindergarten. One of her grandchildren would even tell her kindergarten teacher that her real teacher was her Lola Filipina.
Raising her two children in Ifugao
Lola Filipina married a soldier at age 21 and had two children, daughter Pat Mencias and son Romeo Caliboso. She became a widow at age 28 and had to raise her two children on her own.
The thought of remarrying never crossed her mind. Lola Filipina didn’t want her children to suffer and be treated differently as stepchildren, similar to what she had gone through in her childhood.
“She didn’t need a man in her life. She has us and we were a blessing to her. She worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices raising us,” said her daughter Pat, who is now 71 years old.
Lola Filipina and her children moved to Lamut, Ifugao after her older sister Pacita’s persistence and constant nudging. In Lamut, she had a small sari-sari store (convenient store) and a buy and sell rice and corn business which helped her raise and support her two children’s education until they graduated from college.
She also owned a coffee shop in Lamut. People used to call her “coffee lady” for being the first one to introduce that type of business in the area.
Lola Filipina was also an active member of the Catholic Women’s League in the Philippines. According to Pat, Lola Filipina enjoys helping the community through activities such as visiting the sick, holding family prayers, fundraising and being active in church activities during the Holy Week.
“The traits that I look up to the most about my mother is her dignity and being helpful to others,” Pat said. “She’s very religious, hard-working and kind.”
Moving to Hawaii
In 1981, Lola Filipina immigrated to Hawaii when her daughter Pat petitioned her to help with babysitting. Eventually, she was able to petition her son Romeo who now lives in Seattle. She has seven grandchildren and eight great grandchildren with one on the way in October.
Currently, she lives with Pat and her husband in Waipahu. Lita Segui, the daughter of Lola Filipina’s older sister Pacita, has also been living with them for the past four years.
Pat petitioned her mother so she can experience and enjoy life in the US after working hard in the Philippines. “She worked hard raising me and my brother, assuming both roles of father and mother. It’s time for her to enjoy life here in the US,” Pat shared.
“I love Hawaii and still like living here. I also traveled to Seattle, Washington to visit relatives. I’ve also been to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and visited my sister Pacita Cawagdan, nieces and nephews and their families,” Lola Filipina shared.
Lola Filipina held different jobs across Oahu. She worked at the Tuna Canning Factory in Waikiki in 1983 and at a burger stand along Ala Moana Beach Park. She was a housekeeper for a while for a family in Hawaii Kai. She was a dishwasher at the Cocina Kitchen in Dillingham Boulevard. She also started cooking and selling Filipino desserts such as puto (Filipino steamed cake) that people often ordered for parties. Known as the “puto lady,” she stopped cooking Filipino desserts for orders in 2017.
Living a long and healthy life
According to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy of Filipinos are 66 years old for men and 73 years old for women. Lola Filipina is turning 96 years old on Jan. 2.
“I am truly grateful to God for giving me good health and strength every day,” she said. “I am most thankful to God for giving me my life. I was able to raise my kids on my own without anyone’s help. I was able to help other people whenever I can without expecting anything in return.”
To keep up with her active lifestyle during her adulthood, Lola Filipina makes sure that she’s active and healthy at home, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Pat, she has a set routine like sweeping around the house and doing the laundry either by hand or using the washing machine.
“Upon waking up in the morning, I drink my coffee, eat my breakfast, and then clean up after breakfast, mop floor if needed, and then go outside. Sweep outside the yard and water my plants. I usually go back inside the house when I’m done,” Lola Filipina explained. “I wash up and then sit down to either watch TV or call friends to catch up on the phone. I make sure to take my medicine after lunch.”
Aside from doing various chores around the house, Lola Filipina’s energetic sense of humor keeps her moving. The house is always filled with laughter and entertainment every time she starts swaying her hips and showing her graceful movements in dancing.
When asked about her secret for living a long and healthy life, she shared that she eats her meals regularly. Since she was young, her diet consists of vegetables, fish and a little bit of lean meat.
“I usually eat Cheerios or bread with eggs for breakfast along with my coffee. My diet usually consists mostly of vegetables and fish. I seldom eat meat,” Lola Filipina shared. “Eat more vegetables, less or no meat at all. Eat less rice.”
Caring for the Elderly
Pat and Lita emphasized the importance of patience when caring for the elderly. “Always be patient with the elderly when taking care of them. Listen to their life stories even if they repeatedly tell you about it,” said Lita, Lola Filipina’s niece.
For Pat, patience and respect goes hand in hand. “Hear and listen to them. Say less and don’t argue with them. They have a set mind,” she said.
They also make sure to care for Lola Filipina, especially now that we’re experiencing a pandemic. “I do the shopping for her according to her likes or taste: more vegetables, fish and soup. I make sure she has her bananas and not run out of her Ensure,” Pat said.
“I make sure that she’s eating well. I cook for her and keep her company,” Lita added.
For her 96th Birthday
As Lola Filipina looks forward to her 96th birthday in January, Pat shares a message she would like to say to her mother.
“Thank you for everything you did for me and my brother, raising me for what I am today,” Pat said. “You are a hard-working loving mother. You always think of our welfare as well as Manang Lita, her sibling and children and other people.”
Pat extends her thanks to her Aunt Pacita, Lola Filipina’s sister. Aunt Pacita’s persistence of having them move to Lamut, Ifugao from Pangasinan greatly helped their family.
“We were raised in a nurturing environment with so much love and support. Aunt Pacita’s love for each other as sisters was inculcated in my heart–loving, kind and always looking out for each other’s welfare,” Pat shared.
Pacita’s daughter, Lita, thanks Lola Filipina for treating her like a daughter. “She’s kind to us and helpful to others as well. I learned so much from her. She provides good advice to anyone who seeks for help morally, spiritually, mentally and financially,” Lita said.
When asked about her message for Hawaii Filipino Chronicle readers about living one’s life and staying healthy and active on their senior years, Lola Filipina said, “Pray and be thankful each day. Eat healthily. Smile and always have a happy face, have a sense of humor in life. God is Love. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
By Jim Bea Sampaga