Why I hoard our clan mementos
The cincture is an exquisite cord made of linen fiber and worn by a priest at the waist as part of his liturgical vestments when offering Mass. It was used first by Padre Vicente Gozo, my Inay Aurea’s priest brother, during his inaugural Mass in 1928.
Ninety-five years later, the cincture reappeared in 2007 in Cagayan de Oro city as the matrimonial cord at the wedding of my inaanak sa kasal, Carla Gozo Dy, youngest daughter of my first cousin, Dr. Estelita Gozo Dy.
I was surprised and deeply touched that an ancient heirloom was still around to connect clan relationships between our families, separated by hundreds of kilometers between our homes in Luzon and Mindanao. In 1962, my late Inay Aurea gave the cincture to Estelita as a memento after my uncle Padre Vicente died in 1961.
Mementos and family heirlooms are objects that, upon sight, upon touch and upon usage, connect us intimately with loved ones and relatives long gone.
In our clan, I’m the obsessed collector and hoarder of old objects and things that belong to the family tree. Nothing escapes my eyes—prewar garapons, chocolate batidors, bandehado ni Lola, almirez na bato noong panahon ng hapon—anything that’s fit to throw away, I save and keep on the chance that I can display them as family antiques.
180 years old
I was only 12 years old when I finagled my first big antique hoard, a 180-year-old beauty—a fully carved rococo-style hardwood chest cabinet that stood idly in my Lolo Pio Gozo’s empty ancestral home, anay-eaten and about to collapse. I asked Inay Aurea if pwedeng ipamana na sa akin, and she said she’d ask permission from Lola Poten, the oldest living heir. Lola Poten said yes. Swerte talaga!
Lola Poten was fond of me. I used to spend my vacation in her wooden house in Kalayaan, Laguna, and once she gave me an old prewar garapon, the kind that contained hopia in the Chinese store. Bless her generous soul!
I’ve kept the chest cabinet since 1967, and it’s now the centerpiece on the second-floor hall of my home in Alabang. It also serves as the oratorio where we pray the rosary. The prewar garapon is in my den, where I place my Eng Bee Tin hopia for my snacks.
My next heirloom hoards were 1930s chairs and tables from Lola Angge, Lola Poten’s youngest sister. Lola Angge was the town’s pharmacist in the 1930s. I used to spend my Sunday morning in their ancestral house in Plaza Rizal in my hometown, Majayjay, Laguna.
Kuya Ruding, Lola Angge’s son, was my close chum, and he would let me sit beside him near the piano as he played music for me. Their living room had an all-wood French-style table and chairs with decorative flower carvings.
Those pieces of furniture had a brand name: Amparo Caragdag, a beautiful movie star rumored to be the object of President Manuel Quezon’s affection. President Quezon brought to the office of the presidency dapper dressing, ballroom tango dancing, an eye for pretty women and, of course, his chutzpah nationalism called “a government run like hell by Filipinos.”
Lola Angge’s family moved to Mandaluyong in the mid ’50s. During our Christmas get-together, I noticed that the Amparo Caragdag chairs and tables were not around anymore. Nasira na daw. Nasa bodega—pwede ng panggatong sa kusina. Oh no! Can I have them? I got them, and had them fixed and reassembled like new. I placed them in my executive office at Basic Advertising as the sale set. Amparo Caragdag lived again, sexy as ever!
From my Inay Aurea’s mother, Lola Genia of the Estella clan, I was able to get an ivory statue of the Virgin Mary encased in a glass picture frame. The ivory Virgin Mary belonged to Lolo Ello’s family, whose unica hija, Aunt Naty, was the best friend of Inay Aurea.
The Estellas suffered one tragedy after another during the cruel years of Japanese military occupation in the ’40s. Lolo Ello died of a stroke while locked up in the dreaded zona prison. Aunt Naty’s alcalde husband, Felix Solisa, was killed by Japanese Kempetai for being a guerilla. Auntie Naty died of a heart attack shortly after being told that her husband was killed.
When Lolo Ello’s family were all gone, I always thought of the ivory Virgin Mary. My concern proved providential. The ivory Virgin Mary was in a state of deterioration, with all its clothes in tatters. Luckily, the housekeepers gave it to us and I had it restored to its former beauty, with new beaded garments, installed inside a new viriña, or glass dome.
As soon as my daughters Karen and Claudine got married and had established their own homes, I passed on to them the heirlooms na minana ko kay Inay Aurea, na minana naman kay Lola Genia.
I gave to Karen Lola Genia’s seven-foot aparador with full-door mirror and the Amparo Caragdag sala set from Lola Angge, and the ivory Virgin Mary which I got from the house of Lolo Ello.
From my personal collection, I gave to Claudine the ivory Immaculate Concepcion encased in a viriña.
The 180-year-old chest drawer with callado woodcarvings from our great grandmother Untiang Rosal is my pamana to my wife, Encar Benedicto. My other antique ivory figurines, the Nativity, the Mater Dolorosa and the crucifix I give to my son Nico, and the St. Joseph to my eldest son, Mark.
I’m not sure my grandchildren, Pablo, Carlos, Benito and Julian, will regard the pamanas in their homes with the same interest and love that I have for them. These kids belong to the clutter generation characterized by instant data, mouse-speed communication, throwaway ideas and short attention span.
My mushy sentimentalism may not be their kind of thing.
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