She was a Teacher.
She was born in Tiwi, Albay to a Chinese-Filipino couple, and the third child in a brood of eight. Her parents owned a large grocery store that took up the first storey of their house. As a child, she and her siblings would play underneath the rice boxes and in the bodega (warehouse). One time, they tied dilis (salted small fish) to the skirts of the wives who were buying rice, so when the women left the store, dogs would chase them. It was one of their pranks, she claimed, with a twinkle in her eye.
Her father would harvest fresh cacao fruits from their back yard and roast the seeds in their pugon (clay oven). He would then grind up the seeds using a hand stone grinder and she would enjoy watching the oily powder fall into a bucket at the edge of the table, knowing, anticipating the delicious hot chocolate it would be made into later. During stormy weather, her mother would cook large vats of champorado (rice boiled in native chocolate) for the neighbors who would seek shelter in their house, which was the only concrete house in their village. Of course, with the neighbors came their children and they would all have a grand time playing.
As a young girl growing up near rice fields, it was common for the whole family to pitch in when it was harvest time. Of course, it was the men who pounded and threshed the stalks to detach the grains, but it was the women who separated the rice from their hulls and the young people helped clean up. And sometimes, just for the sheer joy of it and on nights with full moon, they would find themselves breaking into song.
She remembers when, in college, her father rented an apartment for them (her brothers and sisters all went to the University of Santo Tomas) in Manila and her mother would bring supplies from the province on the train, and would have to hire a whole jeepney to transport them to the apartment. What were the supplies? Everything from salt to rice to coconuts to fish and meats. Now I know.
She was a graduating student when she was invited to a local dance. Back then (1950s) night life consisted of organized dances held at the school halls and everyone from the other universities was invited, heavily chaperoned, of course. Even if you didn’t want to go, you had to because this was where you applied the social graces your parents so painstakingly taught you at home.
So she went (against her will, she says) with her eldest brother as her chaperone. Her brother was a young doctor, so he introduced her to all his doctor friends (and lawyer and engineer friends as well) in the hopes of her liking maybe just one of them.
He was an Engineer.
Coincidentally, he was also born in Tiwi, Albay and had gone to the same public elementary school in town as she did, albeit a couple of years ahead. His family knew her family and they socialized in more or less the same circles. Both his father and her father dabbled in politics but they both were elected Councilor at the same time.
He was the second child in seven and the first son. And because of this, a big burden of responsibility was placed on his shoulders. Though his older sister also graduated from college and became a court stenographer, it was he who was being groomed for something greater. It was he who would bring the family name to its glory. First, though, he had to find a niche for himself.
He didn’t have much of a childhood, but because of it, he learned to be a good worker. And because he saw a lot during his working years, he developed his own practical sense of humor. During his off days, he and his friends would buy and sell goods. You could say he was one of the first mobile salesmen of his time. Once, during lanzones season, they divided their purchase among themselves and went off to sell their shares at different corners of the market. They all had their marketing strategies – one was to drop a bag-full of black ants into the pile so that customers would think the fruits were really sweet. Another was to bad-mouth the other guy across the way, but when his basket of fruit was emptied, he would go across the way to the other guy and get some more.. and they would share the profit.
He chose to study at Araneta University, the best agricultural college at the time. For their practicum, he and his classmates were sent to Bulacan for a few months. Their mission was to build a house and live off the land efficiently and effectively, even selling their goods for a good price. During that time, they were to make notes and journals of all their activities and, afterwards, submit to the school their project report. Needless to say, he and his mates enjoyed their assignment together and did a fantastic job and were allowed to graduate with honors.
It was his school’s Senior Prom and he was without a date. He saw a friend in the crowd, a doctor, who seemed to be introducing a beautiful young lady around. He approached them and met.. her. A week later, he received a telegram announcing a new job waiting for him in Cotabato. He had been so enamored by her that night that he dressed in his Sunday Best and hied over to her house immediately, and in the presence of her parents and his grandfather, asked for her hand. He would not go if she did not say YES.
Their courtship wasn’t all roses and chocolates. He had a lot of distractions. He came from a family that was of Spanish descent and was the heir apparent but her parents didn’t care about that. At every opportunity, they tried their best to show his family that they (hers) were of a higher class and that she deserved better. (Does this sound familiar, like as in a soap opera?) On the other hand, she also had a lot of distractions thrown at her by the community. Remember those doctor-lawyer-engineer friends of her brother? And each time one paid attention to her, she would write a letter or telegram or note to him, citing real and imagined reasons why they were not meant to be.
Finally, after receiving and reading a meticulously long discourse relating how his mother seemed to show particular favor towards another teacher (of Spanish descent), who just happened to be a boarder in his family’s house, he decided to conclude it once and for all. Unknown to her (but I think her brother knew), he flew in from Cotabato. She was at another dance, this time, held by Tabaco High School, where she was teaching Home Economics, and she was dancing with a very persistent suitor – a doctor, who could have been one of her brother’s friends, but who had spent a substantial amount of time trying to woo her until that moment.
Without care for the other people in the room, he cut in and solved the problem she had presented in her letter, saying, “If my mother likes her, let her marry her. I am marrying you.”