Women in my life, 1

To celebrate Women’s Day (March 8), I resurrected the first ever article I wrote about my mother, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil,  published in a widely-circulated daily in 1964,  a month after I had won the Miss International Beauty title in Long Beach, California. Here are excerpts of that essay:

Because she had to be both father and mother to me, my mother has dominated my life more than anybody else. She has always been rather impatient and detached and I am afraid it is only now that she is beginning to appreciate me. She tells me that when I was a baby, she was terrified of being left alone in the room with me and was quite unable to bathe or feed me without panicking.

I used to think her quite a strange Mommy, specially when I compared her with my friends’ mommies. But,  my Guerrero grandfather used to say, “Women who are not very motherly make the best mothers. “ I guess he was right.

My mother and her brothers made me aware of myself as a unit in the national community. I do not mean that they did this consciously. Maybe they did, but I did not know it.  I did not even, until about three years ago, read My uncle Leoni’s writings or my mother’s column. They never suggested it and did not even encourage me to read them.  I guess I did not have to, because they would rehearse everything they were writing out loud anyway.

My mother would try lher columns on me. I was a willing audience. Sometimes she would look at me appraisingly and ask, “How old are you?  Yes, of course, twelve. Just right. Did you understand what I was just talking about?” If I said, NO, she would rephrase her thoughts and ask  again. ”Now, do you understand?” Later, I realized that she was only using me as a draft. But, I was acquiring an education. Maybe it was not all that unplanned after all.

If my mother was writing about pre-Hispanic Philippines , I learned that week about Pigafetta and the Chinese Chronicles. If my uncle Leoni was working on a speech about American policy in the Philippines, I learned all the gory details of “Parity” and the American military bases. I was always just sitting around, although later when I was in college I would actually be detailed to look up something in Blair and Robertson and submit notes.

Also, I was constantly exposed to the friends of my mother and my uncles. Editors, ambassadors, politicians were always arguing heatedly, in my hearing, about journalism, politics, culture or some aspect of national life. My uncle Mario’s friends also came and there was a kind of artists’ workshop. I learned to respect and also to distrust the printed word, and how to look at a painting.

It was not all talk however, I noticed that when my mother went shopping or ordered something over the telephone, she would always ask whether this-or-that had been made in the Philippines, and that is what she would buy. If I suggested getting another brand that I had seen a friend wear, I’d get lectured to on economic nationalism.

On Sundays, we would go to curious places like Fort Santiago, the National Museum, the Ongpin collection in Quiapo, Rizal’s home in Calamba or some decrepit old church in Tanay. Naturally, I would be curious about why we had gone there and long explanations would follow. Summers we did Pagsanghan, the Ifugao country, old Cavite, Mayon, etc.

There was (and is) another side to my mother that is not cerebral. She loves parties and dancing and pretty frocks. As a widowed career woman, she lived in a whirl of deadlines, dances, callers, friends and newspaper colleagues. I would watch her put on her party face and evening gown, and , I would try them both on the next day when she was away at the newspaper. I discovered it was fun to look pretty and to be admired. (The Manila Chronicle, 24 September 1964)

I also wrote about my dear  lolas: From my two grandmothers, Mrs. Concepcion Aguelles de Cruz and Mrs. Filomena de Guerrero, I learned kindness. Both of them had (and have) large, faithful retinues of charity cases. My Guerrero grandmother entertains huge numbers of seminarians, parish priests, nuns and poor widows. Nobody ever goes away from her house without a coin or a bill, a subscription or a pledge. “Good Lord!” my grandfather would say loudly in his best satirical manner, “Am I singlehandedly supporting Holy Mother the Church?”

My Cruz grandmother is similarly inclined. She gives help and sympathy to a large group of relatives and friends. There  are always some friends whom she is helping and consoling or some old servant’s family camping in the garage .  (The Manila Chronicle,23 September 1964)

How I wish my grandmothers would have told me more about themselves. (more)