“I’m baking a turkey for my birthday dinner on Saturday,” announced my friend Hedy.
“Oh, great, an early Thanksgiving,” I replied.
“But every birthday should be a thanksgiving, don’t you think?” she said.
Indeed, nobody ought to know better than us seniors. High-school friends and I have made it a tradition, established by pact upon gaining seniorhood, that birthday girls of the month would cohost potluck lunches and, more recently, that in lieu of gifts we’d do some philanthropy on our own modestly affordable scale.
(Don’t make the mistake of dropping the big word on my husband, or you’ll get him going again on his great hang-up: What philanthropy? In our criminally lopsided society, there’s only payback—a moral obligation toward the deprived needy.)
Anyway, our own simple circumstances don’t stop us from becoming philanthropists—even if only of the chinelas kind. Chit Noriega Reodica, our St. Theresa’s alumni president, a medical doctor and former secretary of health, has inspired the idea: flip-flops for the unshod grade-school pupils of the countryside.
Dr. Chit and members of her board, posthaste and personally, delivered the last thousand pairs of the target 10,000, with other donations like books and canned goods, to children of the little town of Madlum, San Miguel, Bulacan, only last Tuesday.
It seems Dr. Chit couldn’t sleep after reading an Inquirer story about the 10-year-old boy who crosses a makeshift cable bridge barefoot over a stream just to get to school.
Last month, at our last birthday affair (come to think of it, we then served turkey, too), another project was launched on Dr. Chit’s “Looking out for others” program for her three-year term: hygiene kits for the women of war-torn Zamboanga.
Going along, we all confess to a high from a fulfilled sense of purpose, although admittedly, we don’t neglect the more mundane and personal joys of seniorhood.
On Saturday, members of our class braved bad traffic and weather for the Parangal of our very own Vella Damian, the ballet soloist of our era, whose interpretation of Carmen, well-remembered to this day, made the role her own for a long time.
The tribute, called “Viva Vella,” planned with our connivance, was a labor of love and presented by former dance partners, art and stage directors, two generations of students, fellow artists, family, and friends at the Little Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines with the cooperation of its president, Raul Sunico.
Until the last minute, with only enough time for her to prepare a dance number, Vella, who will turn 75 next month, didn’t have a clue.
That night, Vella showed off some of the old grace and stamina, doing a mean tango with four male dancers (two original partners—Rupert Acuña and Eric V. Cruz—and two former students) and looking dramatic, even saucy in a long red gown with a slit that allowed the audience a glimpse of still firm and shapely legs.
She went on to show us up after the show by dwarfing us all in her six-inch heels, as we stood around her in our safe flats, to raise our glasses of champagne brought by a fellow artist friend who had flown in from Australia just for the occasion.
Surveying class members at our table, I felt consoled that time had been generally kind. Vella would seem the most active. She has stayed single, but is neither alone nor unloved, and hardly needs a tribute to be convinced of it.
With siblings, nieces and nephews often around her, with friends in and outside the arts, and with her dance school, a community in itself, surely she has all the family needs.
Suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by our indefatigable, long-visioned alumni president. She was reminding us of 2015, our high-school Diamond Jubilee (60 years by our realistic reckoning), saying we’d better start thinking about it, if not planning for it, now. I was afraid she had become emboldened by tonight’s show and could be setting her sights too high.
Soon enough reality dawned again, accelerated perhaps by the sight of me, the pinup girl of the talentless majority of our class, who couldn’t sing to save her life, whose boogie days were definitely over, if they had ever begun.
The truth is, aside from Vella and Carminda, the concert pianist, and Cynthia, the piano teacher, there just seems nobody else in their category from our two class sections.
“Wala na ba tayong mga talent?” Dr. Chit asked.
“Depends,” I said in defense of the talentless I represented. “If you’re looking for serious stuff like piano and ballet, I suppose that’s it.” But there’s Lily, who not too long ago could yet outlast younger women at ballroom dancing.
“No,” Lily pleaded, “after my eye operation, I suffer from vertigo.”
Carminda the concert pianist herself had her own misgivings: “Sure, I can still play, my problem is getting to the piano.”
As we went through the list of our class, one by one, we began to discover concerns that didn’t even exist a year ago. Today we’d be happy just to be able to take a bow onstage, but, as Carminda feared, how do we get there?
What I’m afraid we’ve become are naturals for a comedy show. We can bring the house down by just showing up.
Making whoopee with friends and being able yet to help others are a good enough bet for us, before things take a turn for the truly worse. The thought was affirmed when I spotted a member of an even older class, now well into her 80s, standing by the elevator. Every year, reunion attendees from her class have seemed to dwindle, until absolutely no one came last year.
“Ayaw na namin,” she told me when I asked. “Eh kasi, last time, isa’t kalahati na lang kaming dumating.”
As if to foreshadow a further dwindling of their ranks from the last one-and-a-half who last attended, she sat down, giggling at her own little joke, to be wheeled away by a caregiver.