A couple of weeks ago, when I wrote about happy marriages, one story was left out. Not by design. Today, please indulge me. This one is close to my heart.
Let me tell you about Javier and Naty.
Looking back, I think theirs was the first romance I ever knew up close and personal. Javier was literally the boy next door. He was 12 years older. One could say that he saw her grow up. Then they fell in love.
It was during the war. I remember watching them every night after dinner, seated across each other, playing double solitaire in the dining room. The ceiling light was shrouded because we had mandatory blackouts. They spoke softly. Their laughter was subdued, cautious. Once in a while I caught the casual brushing of hands. Even in the dark I could see her cheeks turning beet red.
I recall walking to Nazareth Chapel for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. I noticed that Naty tripped several times in her high-heeled bakya. Every time she stumbled, Javier reached out to keep her from falling. Today they call that “chancing.” I was only 10. What did I know? That was courtship 101 in the 1940s.
Javier was one of 11 children of Dr. Juan Cabarrus and Dolores Sanchez. He went to San Beda College and took up medicine at the University of Santo Tomas.
Naty was the eldest daughter of my mom’s sister Titing, who was married to my dad’s older brother Captain Antonio Razon. She was an excellent pianist. Her dream of a graduation recital was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II.
No happier groom
Naty and Javier were married in San Beda Church in May of 1946, a year after the Liberation of Manila. The bride was beautiful in her gown of white lace. I don’t remember seeing a happier groom.
They had six daughters, and in the 1970s migrated to Australia. He was a busy doctor. She was his perfect partner, wife, confidante and friend.
I remember them as newlyweds with eyes only for each other and then as young parents totally involved in bringing up their growing brood. You could feel their love and see the deep respect they had for one another. I often told myself, “When I grow up I want to be like them.”
I lived in America when Naty and Javier left for Australia. When I came back to Manila for balik-buhay, it was like a big chunk of my heart had been cut out. I missed them so much, needed them even more.
When I saw them again in Sydney 30 years later, it was like time had stood still. He was still the eager swain pursuing the girl of his dreams. Without fanfare, flowers or candy, he doted on her, whispered sweet nothings, stole a kiss, or sang their favorite love song completely off-key. He beamed with joy at the sight of her face, grabbed her hand whenever he could, just to hold it and keep it in his. And up to the very end of their life together, he could still make her blush.
If there ever was a love team, this was the real deal.
It is September and my yearly visit to Australia is almost due. But I don’t have the same “sand in my shoes” feeling this time. Nobody waits for me in Warrawee.
Ten days ago, the day after her 90th birthday, Naty left us and joined her beloved in heaven. It’s hard to believe she is gone.
I remember the long driveway and the ranch-type house with red bricks on Mildred Street. I can still see her standing at the front door, arms outstretched in welcome. Many hugs and kisses later, we walk into her living room. It smells heavenly with the aroma of a freshly baked prune cake. Delicious! No one made a better one.
Naty was like a second mother, an older sister. She bathed me when I was a little girl, and many years later, she bathed my newly born children.
All her marbles
My sister and I were with her last year, in the spring. At 89, she was spry, agile and had “all her marbles.” She chased after her great grandchildren, picked up their toys, and played on the floor with them. She was everyone’s source of telephone numbers, and could share recipes that were accurate to the eighth of a teaspoon without having to look at her notes. When we wanted to remember old songs, she knew all the lyrics. Her sense of humor was priceless.
In late August, Naty was brought to the hospital with a respiratory ailment. She fought gallantly, determined to make it to her 90th birthday. She invited her nurses and doctors, unaware that the big bash had been indefinitely postponed.
Her condition was on a seesaw for several days. Her family stayed at her bedside. They knew in their hearts that she wouldn’t stay much longer. “Papa was waiting. He had waited so long.”
Struggling for breath, she confessed she was tired. It seemed that all the fight had been knocked out of our feisty little lady. She knew it was time. But just before dawn on the 12th of September, in between gasps and in spite of heavy sedatives, she whispered “I made it!”
She slept while her children gathered around to celebrate her life. At 3:45 the next morning, she went home to be with Jesus.
In my sadness I find comfort knowing that Naty lived a wonderful life. She married her one true love and only sweetheart. Theirs was a long, loving and unbelievably committed marriage. They gave new meaning to the expression “and the two will become one.”
When Javier died at 92, 10 years ago, we thought his last breath would be hers, too.
Naty loved her daughters with all her heart and was loved as completely by them in return; she saw her grandchildren and great grandchildren and enjoyed them until the end of her days. It does not get any better than that!
Naty knew she was blessed, that she had much to be thankful for. Summarizing her life she would say, “No puedo pedir mas.” (I cannot ask for more.)
My friends, this is affirmation of a life well lived; a testimony “devoutly to be wished.” (William Shakespeare.)