In June 2005, a fortnight after the birthdays of my mom and Gilda Cordero Fernando (they are the same age, both born in 1930, my mom on June 7 and Tita Gilda on June 4), I came across an engaging online news story. The item from the San Francisco Chronicle was titled: “Book returned to library 78 years later.”
It was about a borrowed book, Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim,” that was due Aug. 29, 1927, but was only returned in 2005 by the nephew of a deceased aunt who forgot to return it to an Oakland public library. In short, it took almost eight decades for the book to be returned to the library’s shelf.
This story reminded me of my sister Nor‘s recollection that I, at around age 10, borrowed a book from our grade school library that I never returned. And this was more than 40 years ago.
The book’s title: “The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker,” a collection of short stories, published in 1962. The book’s author: Gilda Cordero Fernando.
I cannot recall if GCF’s stories were required reading in grade school. But having borrowed the book and kept it, I must have liked its content. The book is now missing and is probably sitting on the shelf of a relative or a friend. But if I had to pay the compounded fine, the amount would be a princely sum, perhaps equivalent to the price of all of GCF’s publications.
Nor, who was then Grade 3 at Institucion Teresiana, stumbled upon the book, noticed that it was overdue, and read it. This was the beginning of her fascination with GCF’s works.
Nor said she developed her early love for reading, partly from her curiosity about the books that I borrowed, including the Hardy Boys series and a book on American basketball, which perhaps I did not return to the library either. In hindsight, Nor said that I already had signs of having an attention deficit disorder (ADD) during childhood, which might explain why I forgot to return the books. Simply said, there was no malice on my part in not returning books.
Unreturned but lost
But was having ADD the reason that I didn’t return GCF’s book? Or was it because the book reminded me of Mol, GCF’s second son, who was my classmate and pal? “Pal”—that was how we classmates addressed one another in grade school. When we reached high school, this address metamorphosed into “Pare” or the hippie expression “Hey, man.”
In high school, Mol got a failing grade in Filipino and thus had to repeat third year. It’s impossible for a Pinoy who looks very indio and who speaks the native tongue naturally to get a failing mark in Filipino. Mol’s crime was that he uttered a rather vivid but vulgar and disparaging description of an old maid who taught Filipino. The mischievous remark eventually reached the teacher.
I narrated to Tita Gilda this version of why Mol flunked a subject that no one should fail. This was after she received the Gawad Tanglaw award from the Ateneo de Manila University in 2008. In jest, I told her that she could have included in her speech of acceptance a reminder of the nasty experience that her second son went through.
The unreturned but lost book now serves as a remembrance of my connection with GCF and her children. I also became close to her oldest son Bey (may he rest in peace)—we were together in the halcyon days of martial law student activism. Upon early retirement from law practice, he appointed himself the chef of the well-liked Crescent Moon, which we frequented.
And there’s Wendy, GCF’s only daughter—the creative architect and artist, whom I met through my mom and aunt. Wendy is known for her finely crafted paper lamps. Our home—the different rooms and the garden—has become a showcase of Wendy’s wonderful lamps.
Through the years, we have collected all sorts of things associated with Tita Gilda—Wendy’s lamps, ceramic pieces done by Bey’s wife Lanelle (including a set of blue pottery consisting of miniature native jars, which Bey encouraged me to get from Lanelle’s shop), GCF’s books, of course, as well as clippings of her newspaper essays, and a GCF painting titled “Aimez Vous Brahms? “
The subject of the painting is a pleasingly plump woman, seated comfortably with her legs crossed, seemingly caught in a reverie but actually listening intently to recorded music.
This painting reveals how funny and honest GCF is. In her annotation of the painting, Tita Gilda wrote: “That’s a musical composition based on a classical piece. I didn’t know how to draw a gramophone so I just let her hear it.”
But of all things related to Gilda, her “The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker” is what I cherish most.
Nowadays, I do have a different appreciation of this book. I connect it to my economics training. GCF’s title is uncannily similar to Adam Smith’s most famous statement, a quotation that every economist knows by heart: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
So, did GCF pick up the butcher and the baker from reading “The Wealth of Nations?” (But why not keep the alliteration by maintaining the brewer? Why substitute the brewer with the candlestick maker?)
My peer, Guy Estrada Claudio, answered my question: “Methinks the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker come from a traditional nursery rhyme. So maybe Adam Smith must need to explain why the brewer.” Amazing, economics, the queen of the social sciences, is founded on a nursery rhyme!
Guy likewise pointed out that “these nursery rhymes, being a mother-and-child sort of thing, are a good foundational paradigm.”
Voila! Guy’s insight explains why GCF’s book mattered to me—it symbolized some sort of attachment between mother and child. I saw my mom in her—beauty and brains.
Much later in life, before I got married, I joined a meeting for a cause, which was likewise attended by my late Tita Paula Malay and GCF. We were seated at the same table for lunch. I cannot recall what the meeting was all about, but I cannot forget that lunch. It was not about the culinary experience. It was about GCF serving food to me. She even scooped out the meat of the alimango for me and placed it on my plate. Wow, what tender loving care! I was thrilled by her attention.
It’s fun and exciting to be in Tita Gilda’s company. My affection for her—which began with my liking for “The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker”—has only grown through the years. —CONTRIBUTED
The author wrote this as a tribute to Gilda Cordero Fernando on her 80th birthday 10 years ago. “She loved it,” according to her daughter Wendy. GCF died on Aug. 27.