First of two parts
LITTLE lovely thoughts touch me always. This one’s on the video screen in the immaculate hall where sister-in-law Irene was celebrating her birthday last Tuesday. It said: “All that matters is love. The more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it becomes.”
The quote precedes an interplay of photographs of Irene in a continuously playing video presentation beamed from a monitor on a wall: from her maiden days in Dumaguete to her union with Jose, the third eldest of my siblings, to the early years of raising their two kids Adrian and Solomon, to the pursuits of their respective professions: he, a lawyer, first with the Atomic Commission, then with the National Power Corp., there rising to assistant general counsel; she, a teacher at the Arellano Mabini High School in Pasay City.
Attendance from far and wide
I scanned the faces of the people in attendance. I believe there were approximately two score, in fact more had I done a head count. Everybody came in their Sunday best, many sporting bodily decor, accessories and jewelry, indicating a rise in social rung above that of the hoi polloi to whom their common ancestors belonged.
A sudden thought crossed my mind, and I conveyed this to a nephew who with some 10 others had flown all the way from Catanduanes just to attend the affair; my youngest sister Ellen herself must file a sudden request for leave at the Kuwait hospital where she works as a medical technologist in order not to miss the occasion; and my 95-year-old Auntie Clemen had telephoned to express her regrets that though she would have loved to attend as well, her American caretakers in Virginia, USA, the Fosters, would not let her make that long travel which posed risks to her health; San Andres, Catanduanes Mayor Peter Cua had made sure to come a day ahead to convey his greetings because official functions prevented him from being present on the day of Irene’s birthday.
I said, “Imagine all those people having descended from Tatay and Nanay.”
I was referring to a select coterie in attendance made up of Jose, Irene’s husband, and their two sons Adrian and Solomon and the two’s respective kids, Adrian’s Alyssa and Andrei, by his first wife Lulubelle (none yet by his current lovemate Marge), and Solomon’s unica hija Kathleen with wife Lotlot. Jose had not been as prolific with Irene as I, the eldest, for instance, had been with my four-year-departed Beth (all four of them, Maoie, who in turn had sired Thirdy and Tiffany with a former mate, and Cyon and Cali with current partner Maro; Paulo, who is yet to multiply with partner Fatima; Maripaz, who has given me my darling apo Gia; and Ogie, who seems content with his unico hijo Guian with wife Rhea); or Raul, the second eldest (who had with wife Femia three — Cora, Cecile and Raul Junior, respectively contributing to the Samonte clan, the first Netnet, Ejay and Charlotte; the second Jacel Aleia, Patricia and Jake Albert with husband Albert; and the third Toti and Jepoy with wife Janice); or the departed Manuel, the fourth eldest (who with wife Peng sired four, boys all and all still single, Eman, Christian, Noel and Joseph); and matched only by the fifth eldest Violeta who has mothered Jason and Jessa with husband Jess, with Jason himself siring Jetjet, the first grandchild in Violeta’s brood.
As to the youngest in the family, Ellen, she just must have felt she has on her shoulders the burden of establishing some heirloom for our poor parents so that she chose to stay single. Shades of Mamay Oliva, Tatay Simo’s elder sister who, having minded the schooling of many of us her nephews and nieces, chose to stay single till the day she died.
It was while Mamay Oliva was already expectant of a civil engineering diploma from me from the Mapua Institute of Technology when Jose passed the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (Upcat) in the early 1960s. Just the same, financial constraints in the family kept him from availing of the partial scholarship endemic in the Upcat results. So, I talked to Mamay.
“Mamay,” I said, “since you can only support one among us siblings at a time, may you just mind Jose’s studies at UP and let me worry about my engineering course by myself.”
I felt I was already capable of taking a job and doing my studies at night. I got into this janitorial position in a Binondo Chinese trading shop, where aside from regular pay, I had the privilege of using the office typewriter for hours on end at night. That’s how I got to learn how to write.
But this piece is not about my story. It is about how Irene turned from a Sonjaco to a Samonte.
The professor and the pupil
Soon after finishing his political science studies at UP, Jose was brought by a co-graduate in a search of greener pasture to Dumaguete. He ended up teaching at the Foundation College while pursuing his law proper studies there.
Now, the video presentation showed Irene and Jose garbed in wedding attire.
I didn’t remember attending such a wedding of Jose and Irene as depicted in the photograph.
Adrian explained: “Papa was teaching at the Foundation College. Mama was one of the students in his class. Niligawan niya si Mama. Ayun (So there)… They got married in 1972. In 1973, I was born.”
Too far away in Dumaguete, the nuptials didn’t get to have any participation from the Samontes’ side.
“I was too poor to have my relatives come,” recalled Jose during the birthday event.
Those were Jose’s words. I had another notion. The parochial values of Calolbon placed top premium on college graduates such as doctors, engineers and lawyers. If you are not any of these, you are nobody. The marriage of Jose to Irene in utter separation from his family just pictured the loneliness of a young man who could not bring home his wife because he was no lawyer yet at the time. Only after he passed the bar did Jose bring Irene to Calolbon together with the young Adrian and Solomon where they became the cream of sorts of the town’s elite.
Way into their retirement years, the couple were at the helm of the Calolbon Civic Association, doing sociocivic work for the town. They were credited for having established the first public library in the municipality.
Irene’s conversion into the local culture of Calolbon was amazing. Not only had she quickly learned the Bicol dialect so that when she spoke, it sounded like it was her native tongue, but also I became rather embarrassed upon realizing that she had come to know about the town’s geography, history and peopling a lot more than I had. I left the town when I graduated from elementary in 1954, a 12-year-old with nary an adult mindset of my birthplace apart from our daily fare of camote, days of yearning for rice, and the seasonal big catch by Tatay of atuloy (matangbaka in Tagalog), bahul-o (talakitok) and tangigue.
(To be continued)