My closest friends are my first cousins Ninit and Sylvia. Growing up, we were to everyone “the inseparables,” and to family, also Las Tres Marias de Enchay.
Enchay was our paternal grandmother, the lola who raised us. She had nine boys and one girl, who died in early childhood, and we three granddaughters, all firstborn to her first three sons—Liling, Tuting and Titong—effectively became daughters to her. What differences we three may have had in temperament and looks were somewhat neutralized under the influence of her strong character.
I was the youngest and, therefore, the last to turn 80. And guess who were the most involved in the preparations for my celebration last Saturday? As in everything else important in my life, there were Ninit and Sylvia.
Ninit chose the theme—Spring—and it was reflected brightly in the tablecloths printed with flowers in sunlight and in fresh pastel blooms entwined around tall silver candelabras. Ninit and I had so much fun choosing the music to play over lunch—old standards, of course, by Joni James, Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Doris Day, to relive our days of slow drag and innocent romance. But, as the guests arrived, boogie-woogie and Latin dance music played to jog their muscle memories.
Ninit and Sylvia were on the go as early as 8 a.m., and so was I, like a young bride, for coiffure and makeup at friend Annabel’s house (where we do our aqua exercises three times a week). I was not only using her home; I had enlisted her regular home-service hairdresser and makeup artist, Angelo, and appropriated her makeup kit.
Generous Annabel and stylish Baby, another dear friend (who took care of my daughter like her own in Georgetown a lifetime ago), were on hand to witness as well as guide my transformation with suggestions and instructions Angelo was hard put to ignore. It was their turn after me. We took our pictures—before and after Angelo.
Coming all the way from Corinthian Gardens in Quezon City, Ninit picked up Sylvia to make sure she was on time. Sylvia was in charge of preparing the altar and was bringing what Fr. Tito Caluag would require for the anticipated Mass.
Salt and light
Father Tito could always be relied on for an inspiring and relevant homily. Indeed, my guests were stimulated enough to discuss it long after he had left for another Mass elsewhere. He spoke of salt and light, the elements that do not ever call attention to themselves but have their singular function in a relationship—to bring out the best in each other by their well-calculated complementation: Too much light blinds, too much salt destroys flavor.
In our relationship, he likened my journalist husband Vergel to the light that guides and leads, and me to the salt that brings flavor into our lives. February being Edsa month, too, he reminded us not to forget who the real heroes of that occasion: All of us, Filipinos!
Father Tito more or less set the tone for the toast-and-roast portion of my party. I had many volunteer speakers, but I limited it to five friends, among them the BFF common to Ninit, Sylvia and me—Bea. My only daughter, Gia, spoke penultimately, while Vergel rounded it all off.
Ninit, as low-tech as she was, surprised me with a video she put together and annotated. It showed pictures of our grade school days at Maryknoll (a few of our classmates were among my guests) and of our adventures in Spain, where our grandparents and parents banished us to keep us safe from the epidemic of elopements after high school graduation.
In truth, Spain provided us an opportunity to grow up, for instance, with some sense of European sophistication and style; we also learned the language of Lolo Rafael, who was born in Barcelona.
Among my guests was Nening, whom we—Ninit, Sylvia, Bea and I—met in the same Madrid colegio in 1955. She became an even closer friend through the years, with our own children becoming friends themselves. Ninit was right when she said those two years in Madrid were the best thing that ever happened to the four of us, becoming the inseparable RATS—Regina (Ninit), Ana (Bea), Teresita (Chit) and Sylvia.
I have accumulated as many friends as Imelda had shoes! Alas, I could not invite all my friends and cousins! My chosen venue, the biggest function room of Orchid Garden Suites, Ninit’s Roces-Villareal ancestral home, would comfortably accommodate only 80. I did invite 100, allowing for regrets. Sure enough, about 20 could not come, mostly because of sudden or chronic health problems, if not their own, their husbands’.
I couldn’t wait until I was gone before hearing eulogy-like tributes from old friends and those who love and cherish me, but I was also ready to hear friendly gripes. I wanted them to tell me how they remember and feel about me—now! As some an anonymous poet writes: “ … Love me now, while I am living; do not wait ‘til I am gone … If you wait until I’m sleeping, never to awaken here again, there’ll be walls of earth between us and I couldn’t hear you then.”
I was sitting upright like a queen, all my faculties thankfully intact, listening and savoring well-spoken expressions of affection from friends that go back as far as 75 years. I was particularly touched by the extemporaneous tribute of Gia, my firstborn, who said that the last 40 years of my life made me for her “a tough act to follow.”
Of course, Vergel’s words—the fewest said for the day, as only in keeping with his weighty yet economical style—were to be cherished not just for the day, but for the rest of my life.