A golden wedding anniversary is certainly a milestone. Few couples I know have made it. Fifty years of wedded union, never mind wedded bliss, is a definite challenge and second-time-around couples like Vergel and me can only hope against hope.
But that’s okay. We may not have been each other’s first, but, by now, it’s safe to declare we are each other’s last. Anyway, one love is no greater than the other.
The most recent golden pair we know who shared their milestone with are Chito and Betina Legarda—who, even as a first-love couple, had quite a headstart. Before she was up to kissing any frogs, Betina, at 14 had already met her tall and handsome prince, and, after giving her enough time to bloom, he married her. The greater wonder is that, looking at him now with those doll eyes of hers, she tells him, ”If there is such a thing as a second life, I want to be 14 again, meet you and begin anew!”
Betina and Chito could have easily fit the description of Ricardo Montalban, the popular Latin actor in my time, of what to him was a “hot” couple—his parents, who had stayed married to each other, like, forever. In an interview I somehow never forgot, he said, being faithful to one spouse required even more imaginative passion. In fact, fidelity, in his opinion, was the true test of a great lover. Not him, he clarified, but his father.
Ten years ago, at their 40th anniversary, Betina and Chito had already begun to look forward to their 50th celebration, although perhaps not in the way Chito had hoped—a golden formal-affair night. He said he’d have preferred a small intimate gathering, although he’d known that was impossible.
Both of them came from large and close-knit families, and, through years of supporting various causes and interests, have accumulated all kinds of friends. I happen to have made it on both counts; I’m second cousin to Chito, but had never been as close as when Vergel and I got assimilated into the political advocacy of the couple. So much so, that we have become privileged to be at most of their intimate home dinners, which have a way of turning themselves into political meetings even before dessert and coffee were served.
Despite the changes in the political leanings of old friends, the friendships in that circle have endured. Without planning it, the Legarda couple may have become the sentimental core that has kept personalities with divergent, even conflicting, views friends. Those countless times we’ve broken bread together at the Legarda home must have, indeed, counted for something. Who knows if after the political dust has settled, the friendships will have grown even stronger, the way the Legarda-Kahn union itself has after its own trials.
The decade between their 40th and 50th must have been the most trying for them. It was about then that Betina had to go through medical treatment for cancer. But we never doubted that the true fighter would lick it. Looking at them that night, so radiant and obviously still in love, confirms our prognosis. Neither one showed any trace of what they must have gone through together during her surgery and recovery.
The couple has remained not only young at heart but actively involved citizens. They have shown us what it takes to make it to a golden anniversary and it has to do with their youthful energy for life and great sense of humor. They are the sort who are surely bound to discover freshness in the sentimental comfort of an “older” first love.
Betina and Chito celebrated it en grande without forgetting to extend their largesse to the three charities close to their hearts.
The generosity of the couple was evident in the grandness of the buffet spread and the two tables of the best desserts imaginable. While the guests ate, representatives of the combined families presented a short program of song and dance.
The international celebrity Mig Ayesa, whose mom, Uko Legarda, is first cousin to Chito, sang a couple of songs accompanying himself on the keyboard. A granddaughter of a favorite concert pianist of ours, Ingrid Santamaria, sang numbers from her next appearance on the professional stage; we had watched her in “Annie.”
Our side of the family was well represented in the program by Joaquinito Roces, whose 77-year-old hips could still outsway anyone else’s on the dance floor. Credit for his great dancing skills goes to his gorgeous mom, Pacita, definitely not his dad, Chino. After the dinner and the short touching speeches, a lively band played dance music the rest of the night and many “closet” dancers took to the floor with or without partners.
We left before the dancing got hot but had truly enjoyed ourselves. Chito’s speech had made Vergel’s night! On my way back from the buffet table, I solved the mystery on why certain people stayed slim while I didn’t. All I had to do was compare my plate with Conchitina Ladao’s, for instance. As we left, the guests were given several little gifts to remember the occasion.
Cheers to anniversaries, whether of first or last loves!