WE’VE reached the age when we need to let go of people and things that no longer fit into our lives. It’s time to unclutter, to get rid of stuff too burdensome to lug through the next stage of life, old age in this case, when it is important not only to travel light but also, more importantly, to travel free and unencumbered.
But this sort of separation need not be painful; it can be gentle, kind, happy. In fact, it should be celebrated.
And that’s exactly what the cousins did—give a farewell party for the house and restaurant, with everything they have stood for, to ease the final parting for Legarda siblings Pit, Uko (mother to MiG Ayesa), Boy and Ramon, with the home in San Rafael Street they inherited from their parents, Dr. Alejandro Legarda and his wife, Ramona Hernandez, when they passed away in the late ’90s.
Like their father, all four became doctors because he would have had it no other way. Their determined father went ahead and enrolled them in medical school without their consent. In those times, children did as they were told.
At any rate, none of them was ever sorry. They made him happy and proud.
But perhaps no one better than their eldest daughter, Pit, a dermatologist, wife to Manoling Montinola, another doctor, mother to Suzette, a chef, and Billy, a businessman, could tell us its story and best express feelings about letting go of a house that was more than just that, it’s been home to many across generations.
Here Pit Legarda-Montinola tells its story.
San Rafael house
At this writing, yes, my siblings and I are resigned to letting our parents’ home go. It took several years to accept this reality, but the time has finally come.
The beautiful era when my parents and grandparents lived is past, and we have to live our lives in the present, in which the house no longer belongs. I feel blessed to have experienced that wonderful, elegant bygone era in the San Rafael house with all its memories.
San Rafael was the residential street of relatives. To our left was the home of Dr. Basilio Valdez, married to Tita Bombona Legarda (sister of my father). To our right was the home of Don Ramon Araneta, married to Tita Manchie Valdez. The surrounding houses and properties belonged to Tita Mameng Prieto and her husband, Don Ramon Caro.
And there, too, was a separate Prieto compound and the mansion of Lola Tata, Teresa Eriberta dela Paz Tuason, who was single and who took care of many nieces and nephews in her house, including my Dad. The houses were walled in but accessible through common gates.
There are too many memories; our house reflects my entire life, the only home I had known until I got married, in 1968.
The house was built in 1938 by my grandmother, Lola Menang, Doña Filomena Roces vda. de Legarda, and my parents, Mandu and Moning Legarda, continued to live there even after 1952, when Lola moved to another house, now Casa Roces, in JP Rizal, in the same vicinity.
Sunday lunch was always at San Rafael with the entire family and guests. Mom served meals she herself cooked. In the kitchen she was both an innovator and a perfectionist.
Christmas Eve was Lola Menang’s birthday, and it was celebrated in grand style, with a special program. There’s a picture of me dancing at age 2, at one of our parties at home —many of us cousins took ballet lessons at Totoy Oteyza’s school nearby (the school was among the first to go, a victim of the ballet ban imposed by the Catholic Church). The celebration and festivities moved with Lola to JP Laurel.
Big garden party
Every year, on my father’s birthday, March 23, Mom would throw a big garden party for him. The food had to be cooked at home, and the preparations took weeks.
Invited to this dinner was the entire staff of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the University of Santo Tomas, where my father was a professor; the members of the Camera Club of the Philippines, of which he was a founder; his ham radio friends; and the Legarda, Tuason, Valdez, Hernandez families.
It was very important for my mother; it showed how special my father was to her.
My father, an obstetrician/gynecologist, had his clinic in the house, as well as a ham radio room communication center (DUIAL) from where he talked every day to all his ham radio friends. He also had a darkroom in the library for his other hobby, photography. He became the official photographer of the whole family.
Each of my father’s hobbies was a rich source of tales. For example, the ham radio transmission apparatus, originally where it should be, in a room in an extension of the house, managed to creep through the years into the master bedroom, competing with my mother.
The house would not have survived and retained its grandeur had it not been for my daughter, Suzette, who kept the memory and legacy of my parents alive for 16 years since my parents’, her grandparents’, passing—Dad in 1993, Mom in 1999.
Suzette has maintained the house, preserved and presented my mother’s special recipes in the style that only Tita Moning could have done— meticulously and elegantly making every meal a truly gastronomic experience in an ancestral-home setting (La Cocina de Tita Moning).
She continued to train my mother’s kitchen and house staff, helping them increase their own incomes.
Today the house remains a beautiful showcase in memory of Dad and Mom. And, as painful as it is, this is precisely how my siblings and I have decided it should go.