Their 60-year romance is a tough act to follow
In the summer of 1949, 17-year-old Sally Lopez was a perky high school graduate anticipating college and her future career. She lived on Constancia Street in Sampaloc, Manila, a stone’s throw from Economia, where Manila Council president Vicente G. Cruz and his brood resided.
Propinquity fed romance: Sally’s eldest brother wooed and won the Councilor’s youngest daughter, and the clans formed a friendly connection. When the eldest Cruz boy, Viling, passed the bar, and the Economia household announced a fete, Sally was among the inner circle recruited for kitchen duty.
She came to the Cruz abode in a sensible but fashionable frock, with the cinched waist of the era that so became her. Ascending the stairs, she found Isagani, the second son, and his best friend Nonoy, lounging in the ante-sala. Being seven years their junior and altogether of a different world, she paid them no mind.
Though handsome enough, Isagani was a lean, rather aloof young man, a too-serious law student whose head was perpetually caught in some book; Nonoy was amiable, but she had little in common with him. As she walked past them, Isagani, as usual, ignored her, but Nonoy hastened after her with an unexpected and intriguing request: Would she allow Isagani to walk her home from the party? Flattered, she agreed.
That inaugural stroll, however, was peculiar, to say the least. The only sounds besides their steps were a few tongue-clicks and mumblings from her squire that Sally took to be ragged starts at conversation. Isagani was an accomplished writer—indeed, by that time an awarded poet—yet on that warm April night this beautiful, curly-haired young mestiza muted him.
He dutifully delivered her to her doorstep and hied himself home. She saw nothing of him until June, when one day at church she spotted Nonoy, and believed—was certain!—that she espied Isagani hiding behind a pillar. She puzzled about his strange behavior all the way home, where the answer was waiting in the mail: Isagani had written to formally ask if he could court her.
In the ensuing flurry of missives and visits, Sally succumbed to Isagani’s elegant pursuit. (Years later, she would describe his courtship style as “matinik.”) When he called on her at home, Isagani was attended not only by the winsome Sally, but also her inscrutable Lola Loleng, the embodiment and enforcer of propriety. With Lola Loleng monitoring proceedings, they might as well have been in Loreto church.
Inventive and conniving
However, love is inventive and lovers conniving. There were days when Sally would ingenuously drop her handkerchief, and Isagani would pick it up just as she did, and their fingers would brush. Lola Loleng, who could not stoop, was oblivious to the underhanded actions. On their dates, they were chaperoned by the dependable Purita, Sally’s distant cousin, who was always available and willing to turn a blind eye.
Eventually they spoke of marriage, but Sally insisted that Isagani pass the bar first. When in 1951 he did that, placing eighth to boot, they made it official—they even had a song: Jo Stafford’s “No Other Love.” Now that they were engaged, Lola Loleng allowed them to go on unchaperoned dates.
Isagani was finally permitted to escort Sally by himself to and from the US Veterans Administration office where she worked, and he did so with alacrity. Their routine provided a nightly tableau for the old dentist living on the corner of Constancia, who delighted to watch the sweethearts alight from the jeepney and walk home.
To his credit, he made no attempt to disguise his eavesdropping, but rather would bestow on them an avuncular smile of approval. As the couple neared Sally’s home, they would find waiting on the street a pair of sentinels, Sally’s dear Tia Mameng and the formidable Lola Loleng, who by their vigilance suggested that young Attorney Cruz was still suspected of attempted elopement.
They were married at San Miguel Pro-Cathedral on May 3, 1952, in simple rites but a profusion of joy. Nonoy was best man, of course. To accommodate Councilor Cruz’s slew of friends, Nacionalista partymates, leaders and supporters, the reception was held at the new Selecta restaurant on Roxas Boulevard. The cake fell en route and was slightly disfigured, but it was reassembled and held up well enough.
As the couple said their goodbyes before heading off on their Baguio honeymoon, Isagani’s mother Aurora clasped Sally’s hands with affection and fervently said, “Iyong-iyo na!” Which moved Sally immensely, but also caused her some bewilderment and not a little trepidation.
In a handful of years, the couple had five sons: Cesar, Claro, Celso, Carlo and Isagani Jr. Isagani rose from being an executive assistant at the Jaycees to become a professor of law at the Lyceum and eventually its dean. In the mid-1960s, Isagani moved his family from bustling Manila to quiet Parañaque, where they had a daughter, Cynthia, whose birth seemed to coincide with their new suburban life.
Light of the household
While Isagani’s career soared, Sally gave up her job at the USVA and concentrated on building family and home. She was excellent at it, causing Isagani to extol her as the light of his household and her children’s beacon. Even when Isagani was appointed chair of the Code Commission in the early ’70s and to the Supreme Court in 1986, Sally ignored celebrity.
She preferred to be his quiet helpmeet and the pillar of his home, although she could stand beautifully beside him and supply grace and glamour when necessary. In their Supreme Court years, she was often hailed as the life of the party; however, she simply preferred not to be.
Their marriage has had its swells and dips, but has withstood the vicissitudes that have dismantled lesser relationships. Even illness has not managed to weaken their bond. When Isagani suffered a prolonged ailment in 2004 and again in 2010 and 2011, Sally stayed by him and served as his primary caregiver. She has done so to this day.
On his path to recovery, she cheers him on. He cannot bear to be without her for more than an hour. Even now, he calls her hija, delights in her beauty, and tells her “mahal na mahal kita,” somehow forgetting that his darling is an octogenarian like him. She does likewise by caring for his every need, and by reminding him what a generous man he is, what a brilliant jurist, what a superb provider, what a loving husband and father.
Daddy and Mommy, you are a tough act to follow. You have set an excellent example for us and taught us all we have needed to know. You have done right by us, and you have taught us to do right. The fifth commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother, so that all may go well with you and that you may live a long life.”
You both honored your parents, and you are reaping just rewards. Your 60 years together are a testimony to your fidelity to God and to each other, and, clearly, they are evidence of God’s favor upon you.
Happy 60th anniversary, Daddy and Mommy. We honor you, we admire you, we love you.