How to fill an empty nestBy Chits Melchor Hechanova Concio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
As the years roll by, numbers seem to have added significance—especially when they pertain to age.
Forty was once the most feared age. When you’re 20, you’re filled with dreams and plans; by the time you reach 40, if none of your dreams have come true, you rush to achieve something.
But in this modern time, 40 has become 30, 50 has become 40, and 60 has become 50. Unfortunately, I belong to the generation that has not claimed eternal youth. I guess I am already in the terminal for the last plane out.
This happens to all people, coming to that stage in life when they feel useless. That’s why I remarried before I reached 70. I finally met a man with whom I have so much in common.
I have six daughters, five sons-in-law, 11 grandsons, one granddaughter, and two “apo sa tuhod,” plus three stepsons and a stepdaughter. My life was always filled with action—with my children and grandchildren, with my outside activities (teaching humanities and English lit in several colleges, the Citizens Council for Mass Media, the Wheelchair & Disabled Association of the Philippines, my column, my radio program, and many other projects spread out over this past half century).
It was during my short stint as a trustee of Nayong Pilipino that I met Augusto Concio. At a luncheon meeting honoring University of Santo Tomas (UST) Architecture students who had won the award for best design, all the trustees queued for a reception line.
When the Dean walked through the line, he formally shook hands with all of the ladies until he came to me. He kissed me on both cheeks, and his greeting felt very natural to me. So that was the beginning of our “romance.”
I had known his father since I was born—his father Cesar Concio was a student of my father at the University of the Philippines, and only recently designed the tomb of my first husband, Fenny Hechanova. So it was almost like a family affair. After five months, Titos and I exchanged marriage vows. We’ll be celebrating our 10th anniversary next year!
Titos used to be the Dean of the UST College of Architecture after his studies in Harvard and Berkeley. His colleagues say he used to teach young architects design; now he is taking a deep breath to design four buildings as part of the College of Engineering, which was designed by his renowned father.
This job is rightly his, since he graduated with a Chemistry degree from UP, and the building he is now renovating is named after his father-in-law Col. Alejandro Melchor, my father. So now Titos is extremely busy, but I am not.
My life is very simple—I take care of my husband and my household of two. I’m not complaining, but it’s extremely difficult to get used to an empty nest.
My neighbors have been getting pets to enliven their households, which reminded me of my own favorite dogs during my childhood in the States. I decided to buy a puppy to keep me company.
Max was my first puppy. He was a miniature Doberman Pincher, short-haired, black with brown markings. Titos called him Maximillian because he looked so haughty, like a king, although he only cost me P5,000 because he had no papers.
For help, I called my neighbor Jojo Isorena, who owns the Better Dog Canine Behavior Center in Makati. Jojo was able to teach him how to fetch the ball, etc., and the two really bonded. Even my husband felt a close bond with Max. Whenever he would watch TV, there would Max be, lying at his feet.
But Max had hang-ups also. He would run around the house like a bullet or a madman, and he was a fierce guard dog, which was in his nature. Most of my children and grandchildren were scared of him. Also, he had an adventurous streak, which would make him get out of our gate and wander around. Once I was called by another neighbor who said I could pick up Max at the Barangay Hall.
I tried to give Max to Jojo once, but I got him back again after only two weeks because I missed him. Then Jojo talked about a dog race in the province where he could include Max. That gave me a great idea! If Jojo would just buy Max from me and include him in the races, that would be great! I would not ask him back, and try to buy a replacement.
The next week, I was walking in Tiendesitas with my housekeeper Lorie when we turned into a pet shop. I asked for a puppy. The shopkeeper showed me a cute Shih Tzu, but my asthma history told me “no.” He showed me a tan Chihuahua, but I rather disinterestedly asked for a black and white one, since I felt black and white Chihuahuas were rather rare.
The shopkeeper answered that if I would wait a while, he would have one brought over. So I waited until a disheveled, tiny black and white creature was carried in. Poor thing—he was trembling all over with fear! Ten thousand pesos the shopkeeper said; I paid P8,000. The shopkeeper gave me his papers, then I carried him home, put him in his comfortable bed in Lorie’s room, and he fell asleep, already feeling at home.
Since his name Harry in the certificate was so innocuous, the next day we chose another more fitting name. Titos chose Chico, which was a perfect name. It was also Titos who first called him handsome.
Chico has bulging black eyes camouflaged by black spots and a white line that goes down into his chest. He has a tiny but long tongue, which always juts out of his mouth. He has some royal blood in him, because he always carries his head high.
When I brought him to a nearby lady veterinarian, she also complimented him, saying he should be called Prince since he looks like one. But my puppy’s name is still Chico—I don’t want him to become swellheaded!
I have taught him his name and how to fetch the ball, though it took a while for me to get a ball small enough to fit his mouth. As it is now, Chico has to push the ball toward me with his nose! The other problems like toilet training, for example, I read about in Jojo’s excellent dog training book, “Happy Dog, Happy You.” It is a must for dog owners. Now, after his extensive study of family life at home, Chico makes poopoo in my bathroom!
He is quite comfortable in his bed, but he prefers my king-sized bed, of course. So Titos has agreed that on Saturdays, after his warm bath, he can sleep in our bed for the weekend.
Chico starts by standing by my bed while I’m lying on it and putting his paws on my arm. Then he’ll look pleadingly into my eyes, asking permission to come up. All of that is a ploy, because he can actually jump on our bed easily.
He looks to see what is the most comfortable position for him, then he cuddles up to me, puts his head on my lap or shoulder, and stays there until I move. Then he either jumps off the bed or follows me.
Chico has become my constant companion. He comes with me for weekly grocery shopping. He gets into a stylish black bag with gold trim which Jojo gave me for Max to use, but never did because Max was too big. I would bring Chico into the shop proudly in his bag, unnoticed by anyone.
But children, mothers and other people see Chico’s eyes peering from inside the bag, and every time they see him, they smile or even laugh. When I go home, I feel happy because I brought joy to other people through Chico.
He even goes to Mass with us every Sunday at 10 o’clock at the Barangay Hall. Chico sits in his bag at the back of the hall with Lorie. During Mass, Lorie told me that whenever the congregation stands, Chico does likewise. Once when I was the lector, he stuck his head out of the bag and barked a small quick bark for attention—but I never heard it.
After Mass, I had to admonish him for barking, although no one noticed. I warned him that if he barked again, he won’t be able to go to Mass with us anymore. Chico understands English as well as Tagalog—and like a silent angel, he never barked again.
Chico, like most small dogs, is a good watchdog. He knows when someone is about to ring our doorbell; he barks and even growls, depending on the person seeking entrance. If it’s our driver, he barks only once, but a stranger causes him to emit a menacing growl.
Every late afternoon when Titos comes home, Chico doesn’t even bark. He simply knows Titos is home and he stands at the landing to give him a warm, wiggly welcome.
He is a very sweet puppy. I brought him to visit my widowed cousin to cheer her up. He was a big hit! I put him on her lap, and he began licking her face like a long lost child.
My children are happy I have Chico. They have pets of their own, but not as tiny or as adorable as Chico is.
Right now he is at my side while I am typing this article. He has stopped his short, quick barking, which he does for my attention. He is again at my side, looking with those pleading eyes. “Okay, Chico, I’ll stop typing now and play with you! Where on earth did I put your ball?”
Chico is my puppy! No matter what Titos offers him, he goes to me! His loyalty is mine alone.
He has filled my empty nest with joy!
So for widows or other women who are lonely, take my advice and do the same.