June 14, 2014, 4 p.m., The Archbishop’s Palace, Mandaluyong City.
Picture a 99-year-old matriarch walking her 75-year-old son to the altar, where he would wait for his 69-year-old bride.
It was collectively an age-defying feat. Even the main celebrant, a 55-year-old cardinal, exclaimed: “I think this is the first time I am marrying a couple older than me.”
The cast of characters in order of appearance: Remedios Enriquez Rodrigo, widow of the distinguished late Sen. Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo Sr.; her son, Francisco “King” Jr.; this writer, the bride; and Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio “Chito” Cardinal Tagle.
Mommy Med, as she is fondly called, was a perfect complement to us, the principals, that day— unselfconsciously catching everyone’s attention with her grace and sure-footed gait, sans cane or walker; a joy to behold as she confidently yet self-effacingly gave away her eldest son.
In the days leading up to the ceremony, she was insisting on wearing a recycled piña gown instead of a new one and that she should not be all dolled up, “kasi baka ako ang mapagkamalang bride (I might be mistaken for the bride).”
King and I were so touched when, at the nuptial Mass, instead of us going to her where she was seated, she went to us for the “kiss of peace.”
King describes his mother as a “medical phenomenon.” At age 100 on Nov. 18, she has never been hospitalized outside of her six deliveries—to Ditas, King, Pempe, Milo, Boogie and Bing (deceased). She takes no medicines, only vitamins. During Sunday family lunches when age, absent-mindedness, diabetes, arthritis, gout, acid reflux, medications and mandatory doctor’s visits are de rigueur topics, she habitually mocks us with: “Tingnan n’yo ko, wala akong sakit kasi hindi ako nagpupunta sa doktor (Look at me, I’m never sick because I never go to the doctor.”
Mommy Med reads without eyeglasses, defies healthy diet rules with her staples of junk food, mayonnaise, ice cream and pork. Her pantry is always full of chocolates and sweets, which she feasts on with her 27 grandchildren and 47 great grandchildren during their weekend visits. And she remembers all their names and birthdays, including that of her first apo sa talampakan (great, great grandchild). Their first communions and graduations are red-letter days, always marked by generous gifts from “Lola Med.”
And speaking of names, Mommy Med retains her penchant for “baptizing” loved ones with pet names. Ditas, the eldest, remains “Remedios” to her. King is “Pakongkong”; Pempe, “Piyam Piyam.” The irrepressible but lovable Milo is invariably called “Melecio,” especially after he jokingly chides Mommy Med that even at age 73, “pinagagalitan niyo pa ako (I still get scolded by you).” Boogie was named after the postwar dance craze “rhum boogie.” She loved to call the now deceased Bing “Balut,” the reason for which nobody has discovered all these years.
For a centenarian, Mommy Med is a walking wonder, literally and figuratively. She walks unaided, by choice, and walks quite fast, even to the communion rail during her nightly 6 p.m. Mass at Mt. Carmel Shrine. Once when Boogie tried to escort her to the altar, she turned around and said to him: “Ang bagal mo; mauuna na ako (You’re too slow, I’m going ahead).” In fact, she changes communion lanes when the person ahead of her is slow.
At her favorite pew, which she has devotedly occupied for a number of decades now—the same one where Senator Soc regularly sat with her until his death in 1998—she opts to stand, kneel and sit by herself. In fact, she climbs and sits herself in her van, politely refusing offers of assistance.
Whether at church or other gatherings, Mommy Med is inevitably approached and greeted by people from different walks of life, even by priests who go straight to her from the altar after Mass. They hug her, kiss her and, like at a recent Padre Pio novena Mass, reverently kiss her hand. A veritable Miss Congeniality, she occasionally voices some concern: “Nakakahiya, para naman akong poon. Baka pahiran pa nila ng panyo ang kamay ko (How embarrassing, it’s as if I’m the Lord. They might start dabbing my hand with a handkerchief).”
Aches and pains
Recently, she confided that she was sometimes bothered by a few aches and pains in the hip and back. Rather than whine, however, she throws an irrepressible punch line: “Tumatanda na yata ako (I think I might be getting old).”
Mommy Med took her Associate in Arts degree at the University of Santo Tomas after finishing elementary and high school at the Assumption Convent, where her sister, Mother Helen, was Mother Superior at one time. Though accounting was not her field of study, Mommy Med has a talent for logistics and operations. She dutifully manages the operations and finances of the family’s fishponds and other real properties. Her business acumen is enhanced by her prayerfulness. When people she deals with behave irresponsibly, she says with resignation: “Let’s just pray for them.”
It pains her to hear that family members or friends are having domestic problems. Rather than intrude, however, she just advises the parties and their loved ones to resort to peaceful settlement and prayer. When national, community and even domestic problems seem irremediable, she repeats like a mantra: “Daanin natin sa dasal (Let’s pray).” She spends most of her time in prayer, in and out of church, with the only occasional distractions of television and the solitaire card game.
Lay leader and benefactor
While she was a homemaker and full-time mother for most of her married life, Mommy Med has served the Church and civic groups with dedication, as a complement to Senator Soc’s two terms as legislator and educator and lay leader. The late senator gave much of his time and resources to National Catholic Action and other church organizations.
Mommy Med served as president of Catholic Women’s League and was on the board of National Sandigan Foundation. To this day, she continues to attend meetings, retreats and conferences, and serves in the working committees. She is a regular benefactor of many church causes, notably Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying Destitute. She maintains close working relationships with the clergy and the religious, many of whom have offered to concelebrate her birthday Mass.
Amidst the almost frenzied preparations for her centenary, Mommy Med has reminded the family that a simple commemoration would be best. The most important thing for her is the Mass, where she can rekindle ties with her many friends from the church and the religious sector. When consulted about the venue, catering, guest list and other accoutrements of the celebration, including eldest daughter Ditas’ lovingly prepared birthday dress for her, she said: “Salamat, napaka-suwerte ko naman at nag-aabala kayong lahat …. Pero, para yatang ginagawa ninyo akong manika (Thank you, I’m so lucky you’re doing all this for me …. But you seem to be treating me like a doll).”
Silence and prayer
A woman of few words, Mommy Med advises silence and prayer in place of criticism and complaint: “Kung wala tayong masasabing maganda, tumahimik na lang tayo (If we have nothing good to say, let’s just keep silent).” She can never emphasize enough the necessity of keeping the peace on the domestic front. Her constant advice to her children: “Magmahalan kayo. Huwag kayong mag-aaway, lalo na tungkol sa pera. Maraming bagay na mas mahalaga doon (Love one another. Don’t fight among yourselves, especially about money. There are far more important things).”
Such exhortations keep the Rodrigo children and their spouses rooted in deeply inculcated family values. As they continue to revere the memory of their late father, they are one in upholding the ideals that Mommy Med continues to imbue in them. And for as many more years that the good Lord may gift her with, she will remain the quiet, permeating yet formidable force that keeps the Rodrigos united.
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