I must have always believed in magic. When I was 10 or so years old, I liked to imitate the Flores de Mayo that I saw during our summer vacations in Pagsanjan. Daily, children offered fresh flowers, usually bunched together calachuchi, adelfa, bachelor’s buttons, even cadena de amor, on the altar. That was church-conducted Flores.
In vacations in Batangas where my mother hailed from, the May flower offerings in the ’30s were much more informal. They were held in wayside tuklong or makeshift cloth sheds. It was tinged with a bit of Santacruzan, since they sometimes featured queens.
In our Quiapo house, I would direct the putting up of big milk boxes (then made of wood) in the garage. Three at the bottom, two next, one on top. On the top one perched the statue of the Virgin. The tiers on each side were for the flower offerings (in soda pop bottles) to stand on. Being an only child, I had for constant playmates, the five-year-old twins of our driver and three girls who lived in the entresuelo rented out to a Pangasinan family. I safety-pinned cloth (“Bird’s Eye”) diapers on the backs of the smaller kids to represent royal capes. They were the “queens.”
We walked the entourage, complete with lighted candles. Somehow it attracted the children of the big Nakpil house across the street, and they were soon part of the “procession” too. Dinda and Chine borrowed their classy tita’s feather fan and rhinestone tiara. Since we thought we looked so good, we got the courage to take the small procession farther down to the corner of Barbosa and R. Hidalgo. The policeman even stopped the cars for us to pass. We knew we had become legit.
A small cross was provided one of the girls to carry, so I guess she was the Sta. Elena. After some days of marching we deposited the cross at the photographer’s shop at the corner. It meant the daughter would be the next “Elena.”
The owner took the responsibility seriously. He rented full costumes. By the “katapusan” (31st of May), there was a full Sta. Cruz de Mayo with all the characters—Abanderada (bearing the Philippine flag) Tres Marias (Fe, Esperanza, Caridad), Justisya (carrying scales), Salome (?) with the papier maché head of St. John on a silver platter… the whole biblical cast!
By the photographer’s house there was even a bamboo balag (trellis) hung with fruits, vegetables, candies and toys. To the neighborhood’s delight, it was lowered and raised while people jumped to snatch the goodies. The magic was real.
And so I grew up believing in magic, and so it has been in my life. You began something, no matter how guilelessly, and it would attract the correct others, who had been inspired, to ride with you. And the initiative would grow bigger and bigger because the correct people would always present themselves and provide every skill needed to make the dream come true. Then when it is in the correct professional hands, you must learn how to let go.
Ignorance is bliss
The belief held till I was an adult. I did not realize I was setting the stage for the theater and literary productions I would eventually put up. Ignorance is bliss. Bliss makes things work. The man I eventually married indulged my whims. Even if he wasn’t quite convinced my ideas were going to be artistic triumphs, his presence assured me that I would always have a roof over my head, food on the table, and a car at my disposal.
My first stage production began because I had an antique shop in A. Mabini—it contained old santos, baskets, Muslim brassware and the lot. But one day an old friend dropped by, her Volkswagen full of antique saya tops and bottoms. She said her grandmother had died, leaving all those clothes behind. She was afraid of them—would I accept them to do with as I wanted? I wasn’t afraid of ghosts. Of course, I would!
Out of the tattered baro (saya tops) I created a collage of bits of the stiff baro and made them into a sandwich-board blouse which I wore. Everyone who saw it was impressed. I created more and more collages out of bits of baro until I had 72 pieces. I farmed the collages out to several designers who made costumes out of them. Later, director Nonon Padilla took them off my hands and created a little fashion extravaganza at the CCP Little Theater.
Luckily, no one I approached with any of my wild projects ever said no to joining them. Yes to the shows, yes to writing for the luxury Filipiniana line of books, yes to exhibiting my paintings. But no, no, no to funding them. However, that gave me the freedom I needed. My projects didn’t make much money, but the magic was that I never got to be a pauper.
It strikes me now that these things I’m talking about took place in the ’70s and the early ’90s. To my grandchildren that is “ancient past.” I have become old and passé, and the Merlin touch is fading. But there are more than enough new and better talents around in all the fields. As night falls, I am just eager to get up from my La-Z-Boy chair, to dress to the gills and go watch their magic.