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Birthday cards from home

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

And I’ll be making another wish – for a hundred more lifetimes to share with you

- Love Nanay, Titas, and Titos


We have grown accustomed to the distance, the silence forgotten until birthday cards are sent in the mail. Susan Giffen, employee of Hallmark, expresses what they can’t. I'm sure that when she finished her college degree with a major in Creative Writing, Hallmark greeting cards were not what she had in mind. Maybe she wanted to write a novel – yes, I do think she would have written a novel. Perhaps she is writing one as you read this. The kind of novel that one imagines writing with conviction, and after finally getting to the table, the paper and pen lay restless next to a cup of cold coffee.

Her LinkedIn profile says she's retired now. While it seems an unlikely imagination of mine, I see her writing thoughtful, beautiful words in cards to loved ones. Or maybe she doesn't, and spends hers retirement yelling at customer service workers. Either way, I giving the lady some recognition for bridging the communication gap between my extended family.

I started to keep my birthday cards in a box when Facebook became a popular form of communication for people my age. This was in 2009 when MySpace and Bebo became unpopular. I made a Facebook account thinking I would have to make another online profile in another year or so to catch up. On the 7th of December, I had more people greeting me a happy birthday on my Facebook timeline than I did in person. I like to think I started a card collection to remember the kind of relationships I had, that someone sat down and really thought about what they wanted to say.


We wish you the very best in life and your dream/want come true, and have a good loving daughter

Happy happy birthday

- Love Nanay, Titas and Titos


I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be a good loving daughter or have a good loving daughter one day. When I received this card, I was too young to even have a coherent idea of what my dreams were. I think my tita Ace was the one who wrote that card – my other relatives can’t bear to speak, let alone write in English, because they say it gives them nose bleeds. It’s quite a common expression – to say that English gives you nosebleeds. I’m not sure why. I’m also not sure why they say brownout instead of blackout when the sub-division loses power. I had asked my cousin, who I call Kuya Pongpong, and he had said that it was because blackout was an American word and there are more black people in America – in the Philippines we’re brown, not black.

Tita Ace was the only tita who made a consistent effort to speak English with me, and I think this is because she learnt English when she was in university. My mother and my grandmother learnt Spanish during their schooling, but they all have the same accent when they speak English, much like people from South America (apparently). I met a poet from Argentina, and after a brief conversation with him about where I was from, he said, ‘If you’re from the Philippines, you should know Spanish. We’re the same.’

I disagreed.

Ace’s hair is permanently straightened, parted at the centre and cut 5cm below her ears. Along with her big smile, and high-pitched laughter, she is genuinely interested in the lives of others, which is the reason I warmed to her the first time we met. She’s my favourite tita, mostly because she’s unmarried and unashamed about the matter.


We hope you come back to see us soon.

Happy birthday!

- Love Nanay, Titas, and Titos


Milagros married at 17 at the end of the Second World War. I know her as Nanay, but more accurately she is my grandmother, abuela in Spanish, or lola in Tagalog. I was born on her living room floor. Measuring at 2m by 5m, her living room is smaller than my bedroom back in Australia. It fits a small, grey, box TV with a DVD player, a hard and worn out loveseat.

I asked Nanay about how she met my grandfather, since he died where I was born. She said the Americans saved us. When they left, and the Japanese arrived, many we once knew disappeared. I can’t tell you if I loved her; ah, sorry – him. He was older, not much older, and very handsome. We held hands and got married. Back then we weren’t taught about how babies were made – and it was serious if you touched someone. Back then, they thought that if you held hands with a boy, you were pregnant already.

I think she lied to me because I was 11, and it was the ‘first’ time I was truly meeting her, truly speaking to her. I knew her voice before I knew her face. I spoke to her on the phone once every few months when my mother called her family back home. The wedding photos hung upon her living room walls were a crime scene - she was pregnant.

I knew better than to ask her how my grandfather died, but she told me after she laughed, a deep, eyes-closed laugh which accentuated her wrinkles, that I was sitting exactly where I was born. My grandfather was electrocuted when he tried to reconnect the electricity during a brownout.


I’m sitting on my living room floor reading all the birthday cards I’ve kept safe throughout the years. There are Christmas cards, cards from graduation, some letters that were shoved into my hand from young family friends, nice messages I received from my peers at SRC camp.

Happy Birthday! We hope your dreams come true and study hard for your future.

We miss you all.

When are you back here?

Seen 07/12/2009

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