IN 1951, my father’s office assigned him to Manila. We left Cebu, in the words of my grandmother, as if we were going on exile. I had passed from Grade 3 to Grade 4 at Cebu’s St. Theresa’s College (STC).
When my father enrolled me at La Salle, I was put back in Grade 2. Brother Francis was adamant—I was 8 years old, and thus I belonged to Grade 2.
Such was the school’s standard that our books were all for Grade 4, as prescribed by the Catholic University of America. At first I had difficulty, but after the first grading period, surmounted the problems and rated a good average.
When Valentine’s Day in 1952 came, Mr. Silva, our teacher in charge, ever dressed in immaculate white, asked us to make a Valentine card dedicated to Mother.
I couldn’t draw a perfect heart, so I did half a heart on folded paper and traced it so that it was balanced. The dedication was in English, of course, but I translated it into Spanish when I got home, for my mother spoke nothing else.
Soon we were assigned back to Cebu. I had just passed from Grade 2 to Grade 3 at La Salle, but I was entitled to go to Grade 4, having passed that in Cebu’s STC. That was where I went in Cebu’s Colegio Del Santo Niño.
In 1954, my father was sent to Davao, and there we went for a year. By 1955 I was back in Manila at San Beda.
Our English teacher Mr. Jimenez asked us to do a typewritten book report timed for Valentine’s Day. There was a dedication page where we were supposed to write, “To Mother.” I did my own, “To Zita,” and was asked who that was.
I had just read a book about Austria’s history that mentioned the heroism of Zita, last Empress of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
Actually I meant it for my cousin, Zita Hagedorn, a few years older than I, on whom I had a terrific crush. She was in college at the Assumption Convent and subscribed me to the school magazine, which inspired my writing career.
We were back in Cebu in 1959, and my father enrolled me in an engineering course at Colegio de San Jose-Recoletos. After a year I shifted to Commerce, major in Accounting. I contributed to the school magazine. The priests were Spanish except for Fr. Tinsely, who was English, and who praised my writing.
About Valentine cards, he said they had to be made by the sender and signed. I confected one using red cartolina and white chalk and sent it to a girl I knew, just to see her reaction. Fr. Tinsely had a good laugh, too.
As Valentine’s Day in 1962 neared, I accompanied my best friend, Ramon Escaño, to a store in front of our school that sold those large Hallmark Valentine cards with stuffed silk hearts and convoluted verses.
Ramon chose one that said, “To my one and only”—and asked the salesgirl to give him six of the same. She gave him a mean look.
Years later, Ramon married my sister, Maria Pilar. We told the story about the “one and only” cards and asked who had been the recipients. “I can’t remember,” he mused, and we believed him.
The Bachelors Feminas Clubs of Cebu used to have red-and-white parties on Valentine’s Day. One year, my date was Marichu Javier, who defied convention and wore a black dress. It was the talk of the town, but Marichu just said she liked that black dress.
Through the years I was part of a group that celebrated birthdays and other happy occasions. We had couples, bachelors, spinsters, widows and some singles who had shed their partners.
Valentine’s Day was a big event for us, since it was also the birthday of a member of our group, Elena “Babay” Beltran. She was a consummate romantic and a casual poetess, having published a poem in the local paper titled “To A Casual Friend.”
On one of her birthdays celebrated at the Casino Español, we got 10 cards signed “Guess Who” and instructed the waiters to give them to Baby at intervals throughout the dinner. She was quite elated, to the envy of one who wished loudly that she’d like to get the same attention.
We also sent a Valentine telegraph to Juaning Escaño in Malitbog, Southern Leyte, signed “Guess Who,” and sender withheld upon request. He reacted and sent an answer to a cousin, saying “I like naughty girls.” The cousin was perplexed.
After I got married to Cecilia Rodriguez, we usually spent Valentine’s Day at Montebello Villa Hotel, since it was its anniversary. We braved the traffic, which alarmingly increased with the years.
One Valentine’s Day we found ourselves about half a kilometer from the house in traffic at a standstill for almost an hour. We decided to turn back and go home.
We chilled a bottle of white wine, lit the chandelier in our dining room, set the table with fine silver and crystal, and prepared ourselves an impromptu dinner. We had a salad, Spanish sardines on toast and an omelet of spring onions and tomatoes.
From then on we spent Valentine’s Day at home with our sons Jimmy and Louie. One year we even had Mass in our living room. We asked Fr. John Iaccono what he’d like for dinner, and he said anything, as long as there was ice cream for dessert.
Two years ago, the Casino Español offered a plated gourmet dinner on Valentine’s Day. Cecilia and I decided to sign up for it, inviting our dear friends Cristina and Miguel Monreal to make a foursome.
It was not meant to be. That week Cecilia had a mild stroke, and we spent Valentine’s Day in the hospital as she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. In the next four months she deteriorated rapidly. She died July 1, 2015.
This year, my son Jimmy was away. My younger son Louie and his wife Charmaine said they’d rather spend Valentine’s Day at home. We had cream of mushroom soup, arroz à la Cubana and ice cream, plus chilled white wine from Bibendum.
Our staff at home had planned their own celebration. They asked for a bottle of red wine, preferably sweet, and a bottle of chilled white wine. They had fun—the driver, the handyman, my assistant, and our four maids.