Ellen arrived from the United States after a long time due to the pandemic, a circumstance that has always presented itself as a perfect excuse for a get-together of old classmates. But as expectant as we all were, it proved not so easy to find that one free day for everybody.
Contrary to the notion of idleness usually associated with seniors of fairly long standing, like us, many of us stayed busy—with family matters, hobbies, advocacies, legitimate business and, more expectedly, health issues, whether of our own, as in my case, or of our husbands’ or of both, as in Susan’s case, although what stopped her this time from attending was a son’s birthday.
In any case, we all try to make it to such an occasion, and do so excitedly. After all, there are no martyrs among us.
Annabel remains active with her challenging businesses, restaurants and resorts; she is still expanding them, although her sons have taken on an increasing share of the responsibilities.
Malu, who produces jewelry for local and foreign clients, is finishing a new home-cum-office.
Susie has just finished remodeling a house, for rental, and a daughter had arrived from the US, too, for a visit. Tootsie missed the lunch because of her own daughter’s rare trip home.
Marilen’s family-owned ancestral home, in Vigan, was damaged by recent earthquakes and she’d surely be involved with its repair.
The rest of us, though our hobbies could wait, were busy with advocacies and family affairs.
Deja vu job
Aside from writing this weekly column, I have a deja vu job. I’ve been made, albeit temporarily, guardian to my youngest granddaughter, a ninth grader. A veteran parent to four children, I found myself in unfamiliar territory: the pandemic and the lockdown necessitated by it called for virtual, that is, online, schooling. Sure, everyone else needed to adapt, but I’m 82!
The job indeed takes a village, and thank God for help from a younger (though by only a few years) and more techie husband. An excellent dad of three himself, Vergel is most useful in teaching Mona how to think, express, and decide for herself—she’s 14, after all. A bachelor son, Rob, who happens to be an IT man himself and moved in with us at the height of COVID, provides more than just technical consultancy; he’s a playmate to her, watching videos and playing video games, and sharing her taste for shakes and burgers.
It’s school time once again. And I seemed the only parent to personally enroll, only to be helped, right there, in doing it online. Teachers and other parents were helpful and sweet to this lost lola—and continue to be so. They all are gracious enough to call me “Tita.”
After the orientation Zoom meeting with the other, more normal, parents, one of them sent me the important points to remember. These parents are even younger than my only daughter, Gia, who has herself a background in psychology and a masters in education and is very much a part of the village.
Mona is in the same school where Gia finished her high school and her two daughters their grade and high school. Her Maita, 21, is a year away from graduating with a degree in architecture, and Rory, 24, is a medical intern at the Philippine General Hospital, a year away from becoming a medical doctor, and two years away from her doctorate. Both are Mona’s fashion consultants and her companions for girl fun. And all that help gives me time for myself and be with the rest of the gang.
When I realized Ellen was getting ready to fly back to the US and nothing had yet been planned for her, I immediately asked Vergel, my husband-cum-driver, who has become friends with all of my friends, if he and I could take Ellen out. I posted our agreed arrangement in case others could join. In the end, 10 signed up. Vergel, who would have been the only man and non-classmate in the group, hardly minded being bumped off.
Upbeat about life
We occupied a long table, an arrangement that did not allow for common conversation. Since many of us were hard of hearing, whether we admit it or not, and our eyes no longer as reliable for lip-reading, I doubt that a round table could have helped.
Just as Baby Ang, another balikbayan, surprised us by arriving straight from Calatagan, where she was building a house, it was time for Dada, my ride coming and going, to leave for a meeting at her old parish in Magallanes where to this day she remains one of its pillars. I was myself rushing for the removal of sutures from Mona’s recent dental surgery.
Cielo, another classmate, was arriving before the end of the month and I was already thinking of what we could do differently. I recalled one jubilee many years ago when our class spent one night at Discovery Suites, when Annabel was still part of the business. A pajama party was exactly the kind of quality time for us sentimental school chums, so I suggested it. The experience was apparently memorable for all. We’re now planning it, which is already half the fun.
Looking at each one of us at the lunch, I saw that we are indeed a bunch of lucky women. We’ve lost a few, but the rest of us have found our own and each other’s strengths to draw from. Although looking and feeling upbeat about life, there’s no denying it’s becoming progressively short. I seem the only one willing to show it. I stopped dyeing and let my hair turn white. I don’t see anyone joining me any time soon. It takes getting used to. I still get a shock whenever I catch my image in the mirror or in pictures.
Three of us in this closely knit group are blessed with living husbands, the rest are recent or longtime widows. Susie Rueda, the class beauty, has been widowed twice. The simplest sources of joy and contentment, aside from our friendship of a lifetime, are our children and grandchildren. We gamely indulge each other now and then with occasional bragging rights.