On Feb. 2, 1936 ON a cold and foggy morning, I was born in a farmhouse at the foot of Mt. Banahaw in Laguna.
Inay Aurea did her birthing on a pandan floor mat in one corner of the room, facing the huge mountain. When I let out my first baby cry, the whole household was jubilant. I was the firstborn of my Inay, first grandchild to Lola Genia and Lolo Simeon, the town’s municipal mayor.
On the same morning, the bells of the huge old church tolled because a Mass was being celebrated to honor the feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. “When the day came for the child to be purified as laid down in the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. An upright and devoted man named Simeon took him in his arms and offered him to God.”
Simultaneously, another feast, the candlemass or candelaria, was being commemorated. The townsfolk and my Lola Genia went to church, bringing their candles to be blessed. During prayers and religious rites, when a candle was lit it meant the presence of the Lord. Lighted candles mean illumination.
Even my lucky stars dazzled the firmament. Astrologers classify a February-born as an Aquarian, the birth month of geniuses, half-crazed characters whose state of mind hovers between lunacy and sanity, existing somewhere on the border of reality and fantasy.
Inside my head, psychologists say, lie my left brain (creative and intuitive) and my right brain (rational and logical), but most Aquarians like me use my left brain often.
Old folks and pundits simply called us February-born as “kulang-kulang.”
In 1936, our country was on the verge of achieving independence from the Americans. We had just written and approved our constitution. The Americans had just established the systems and structure of a democratic nation, the first in Asia. Many Filipinos became career conscious.
All the signals and symbols seemed to ensure that my entry into the human race would be a success. Only Inay Aurea had mixed emotions, the agony and ecstasy. My father, Godofredo, died months after my birth, and Inay Aurea wept because I would grow up without a father, but when she first cradled me in her arms her tears became tears of joy.
Now at 78, it’s time for me to look back, evaluate lessons learned and count my blessings.
Character building—Family values were revered by the people of my hometown during my boyhood and teen years. Obedience to parents, respect for elders, performance of errands, and farm and household duties were observed. Prayer was taught to children and practiced daily in the Angelus. Government employees performed their duties efficiently and corruption-free.
There was zero crime rate in most towns, and townsfolk trusted the police to maintain peace and order. Towns were clean and streets were free from pollution. People walked to their place of work, school and churches. Drug addiction was nonexistent. Obesity was a rarity. The ’30s was called peace time.
The war years (1941-1945) shattered the peace, and we became a breed of hard-boiled survivors. The Japanese rule brought violence, hunger, disease, death and other war atrocities into our life. We learned how to endure pain, work hard for our food and share the little that we saved for the day, along with dodging bullets during firefights.
After liberation in 1945, the communist rebellion followed, shattering the peace in the countryside, causing tragedies in village life and disrupting farm work. Filipinos killed fellow Filipinos in a vicious shooting war. We lost our innocence and we developed a tough stance toward danger. We did not fear the unknown.
The hometown way
Career chasing—I had two kinds of educational formation; the hometown way or the native Filipino way, and the Jesuit way or the universal or renaissance way. The native way gave a deep understanding of the sociology of the masang Pilipino, and the Jesuit way introduced me to the wonders of humanism that created the best features of ancient and modern civilization.
An AB course, called Ratio Studiorum, as formulated by Jesuit educators, gave me the best foundation for intellectual endeavors. History, philosophy, theology, literature, arts and the classics gave me the elegant images and vocabulary for persuasive and clear communication. Perfect for my advertising career.
I spent 45 years making advertising my career. It’s a fun job because it’s the business of ideas. Bagay sa Aquarian. If you find fun in your job, you’ll love it and you’ll never get bored. I’ve found mine right away, and I stuck to my knitting for 50 years. At the zenith of my career, my opinions became credible and I earned the respect of my clients.
Jun Urbano, the best TV commercial director in the trade, gave me the biggest compliment of my life. He said, “Minyong’s feet stand firmly in the farm soil of Majayjay, but his head works in the glass skyscrapers of Ayala Avenue.”
I retired in 2007 when I turned 71. I wanted more time with my family, my wife, two daughters, two sons and four apo. To keep my mind alert and my imagination fertile, I wrote commentaries for the opinion pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Business World and The Manila Times.
Three years ago, the Inquirer offered me a column in the Lifestyle pages. I felt lucky once more for finding my second wind. I’m grateful to God for all the blessings I received all these years.