My Everyday Heroes: Auntie Juanita

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She was a washerwoman. They were poor, so every peso she made meant a difference on the dinner table. But as she related to us that Wednesday prayer meeting so long ago, the purse-full of money on the table at her employer’s house did not even appeal to her. It didn’t matter that she was all by herself. God was watching, she said, and she knew she could never live with herself if she resorted to stealing.

Long before CNN started honoring everyday people who were making a difference in the world, Auntie Juanita (as we called her out of respect) made a difference in mine.

Ten years ago, I used her story as an example of faithfulness. This was published, though I doubt she ever knew about it. And now, I write about her again. Because I still haven’t forgotten. And although I’m certain she will never read this as she no longer calls this world home, in remembering her I remind myself once again of how to live a better story.

Auntie Juanita, she used to work for us too.

First, she would come and wash clothes. I always thought it was funny how she eschewed the washing machine, believing it couldn’t really clean clothes. It was quite an amusing sight–her standing by the outside sink, kneading, scrubbing, and rinsing, right beside the silent and mostly ignored washing machine. She would only use this to pile the wet and pretzel-twisted clothes on.

Then she would come back a few days later, right when the clothes were dry enough to iron. In my house, we ironed everything–from underwear to pajamas to our uniforms to my parents’ office clothes. Auntie Juanita would iron all day. She was always invited to eat meals with us, and join us during the many merienda (snack) breaks we would take throughout the day.

I remember one hot afternoon when my mother asked me to ask Auntie Juanita if she wanted a drink to refresh her, and a bite to go with it. She looked at me in surprise, “But we just ate lunch! Go ahead, I want to iron as many of the clothes in this box as I can so your mother doesn’t have to do it when I leave.”

Apart from her work-visits, I saw Auntie Juanita regularly at church. Especially during prayer meetings. As young as I was, I knew prayer marked the life of this simple woman. But in my youthful arrogance, I admired her but resolved to never have to live the life she was living. I came to the same conclusion many of us who live sheltered, church lives make: prayer is good and God will provide, but I will make of myself a life where I won’t need to come to church to ask for prayer because I couldn’t provide.

And oh how the years have stripped me of that ignorant thought, and how much dearer has the memory of this woman become as I face life empty-handed, living by faith alone. In her I saw integrity, hard work, simplicity and humility. And child-like faith. I’m hard put to think of any other person who took God’s promises as literally as she did. He said He would provide, and He will. Period. He said He will be with me, and He is. Period.

My whole family was drawn to her, that simple lady who wore the same clothes all the time, who walked to church because there never was enough for the jeepney fare, and who always smiled no matter what.

The years pass, and we get caught up with life. But for the few times I went back home, I would look out for her knowing she would still have a smile for me.

And the years pass some more. And we all get older.

Auntie Juanita died some years ago. She left this world as simply as she lived in it. There was no impressive estate, no long-winded speeches and overflowing rows of flowers and other tokens of grief. But I’m pretty sure she walked into quite a mansion in heaven that day she closed her eyes in death on earth.

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