Monday, April 30, 2012

Old friends

Dario checks out my two panoramic shots of a Batanes seashore dating back to '98. He now has them in his collection.
Rustie lets out a hearty guffaw
Ahhh, I wil not let this month end without claiming a semblance of poetry on this space. Too tired from the heat and the constant composing and correcting of manuscripts, I've decided to just let balladeer Michael Feinstein sing "Old Friend" while I post pictures of the people I spent Sunday with, a pleasurable company of persons with whom I've had a history: Rustie Otico, Cynthia Alberto Diaz, Dario Noche and Alejandrino "Al" Vicente. 
Al explains why Anne Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain" is notches better than the film version and brings out Rustie's copy of the O. Henry reader of prize-winning short stories as evidence.
Until gentler winds bring us all together again. Meanwhile, this is for all of you, old pals. There are several songs with the same title of "Old Friend", but this by far says it all for me as I go over traces of an afternoon of shared laughter, the clinking of glasses of red wine, one faux pas after another whenever memory faltered. And that was often.  My four traveling companions to Cavite are true friends--not even decades of being apart diminished the warmth when we clasped hands with Al who has traveled the world, including hot spots in the Arab world, as a diplomat but who has remained the articulate literatteur and cineaste of old.

Love is rare, life is strange
Nothing lasts, people change

Every time I lost another lover
I call up my old friend
And I say let's get together
I'm under the weather
Another love has come to an end

And she listens as I tell her my sad story
And wonders at my taste in friends
And we ponder why I do it
And the pain of getting through it
And she laughs and says, "You'll do it again"

But we sit in a bar and talk till two
'Bout life and love as old friends do
And tell each other what we've been through
Our love is rare, life is strange
Nothing lasts, people change

And I ask her if her life is ever lonely
And if she ever feels despair
And she says she's learned to love it
'Cause that's really all part of it
And it helps her feel the good times when they're there

Yes, we sit in a bar and talk till two
About life and love as old friends do
And tell each other what we've been through
Our love is rare, life is strange
Nothing lasts, people change

And we wonder if I live with any lovers
Or spend my life alone
And the bartender is dozing
And it's getting time for closing
So we figured that I'll go out on my own

But we'll meet the year was '62
And travel the world as old friends do
And tell each other what we've been through
Our love is rare, life is strange
Nothing lasts, people change

Love is rare, life is strange
Nothing lasts, people change
Old friend

Cynthia always seems to carry a bag, not a barrel, of laughs, in a manner of speaking.
Rustie studies Cynthia's camera while we suggest that he consider taking up a new interest like photography and journaling after decades of being an unsung copy editor. He insists on regaining his strength first before venturing into anything new.
During the supposedly best hour for taking pictures (4 p.m.), Rustie led us to his fence where we peeked over the edge and gazed at his neighbor's orchids. That he finally has time again to admire flowers is a personal cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving.
 Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Hidden writers, silent voices: Thoughts on the writing of diaries and the gathering of life narratives

Some days had passed after my father, Enrique Cariño Lolarga Jr, died on Jan. 12, 1992, when my brother found a black diary tucked among Daddy’s clothes that were about to be packed for giving away. None of us, including my mother, were aware that Daddy kept this notebook.

Upon opening the cover, the flyleaf had an inscription: “For Kimi Only.” Kimi is my firstborn child, my parents’ first granddaughter and apparently Daddy’s favorite because he chose to bequeath to her this record of his life over all of us. She was six years old then.

His first entry began Dec. 2, 1990 and the last, Jan. 2, 1992. These entries were mostly written while he was vacationing or doing medical outreach in Barangay Canan Sur, Malasiqui, Pangasinan. He filled up 68 pages of the diary. The remaining ones, more than three-fourths of the diary, were blank because three or four days after he wrote his last entry, he suffered a stroke, spent weeks at the ICU of the Heart Center where his organs failed him one after another, part of the complications of his diabetes, until he finally “expired” as I had prayed he would.

This notebook has frustrated whoever bothers to read it, primarily because Daddy has a physician’s penmanship--cryptic, difficult to decipher. Come to think of it, that was what he was to many people, even to some of his children. 

In his diary, he attempted to “explain” himself. He was matipid (stingy) with words in person, the perfect foil to my chatty, 60-words-a-minute mother. 
Seated from left are: Pacita Lolarga Romero, Telesfora Cariño Lolarga, Febe Lolarga Valdellon. Standing are Celso, Enrique Jr. and Ernesto Lolarga
 He wrote, “Becoming a doctor must have been my greatest mistake because my Dad wanted me to be an agriculturist. I did not heed him because I did not want to end up a businessman. Dad offered to finance my studies at UP Los Baños or Silliman University. I didn’t listen. But my first love remains agriculture. Ever since I was a child, I was fond of plants and animals. I love to watch things grow.
“I have no regrets. Believe me when I tell you that I have not enriched myself in the medical profession. Perhaps you can say that all my services are offered to my fellowmen.

“Until now I am still wondering why I became a doctor. It must have been by accident. After high school I was still undecided on what college course to take. Two of my classmates told me to take up medicine with them at the University of Santo Tomas. I finished the course, but one of them finished only our freshman year. The other one dropped out after pre-med. They have become my compadre: Ding Sandico became a drug company representative and married a lady physician, Dr. Lydia Alcantara. The other one, Tony Ramos, became a supervisor at Abbott Laboratories. Such twists of fate.
Dad on horseback. That's his penmanship indicating the picture was taken in Baguio in April 1948.
 “My only consolation is I have made some friends. Some people love me, I think. I have not made enemies although I know a few don’t like me. I have been shy since childhood and still am. That is why people think I’m arrogant and suplado which I’m not.

“I want to recall as much of my past while my only sound eye is still functioning. My sight is fast failing me, and I’m afraid one of these days that light will turn to darkness. Kimi, I dread that day when I will no longer be able to see you but only feel you the way my great grandmother did. I was only six when I spent my vacation in Barrio Bitolay, Bacnotan, La Union. My mother introduced me to my great grandmother who was totally blind. She placed her fingers all over my face and neck and started uttering words that I could barely comprehend. Nevertheless, I think she must have been overjoyed to meet her great grandson.”
Dad as a medical resident in the late 1950s
And here I stop momentarily on the matter of Daddy.

A few weeks ago, whenever my schedule allowed, I observed the first UST Varsitarian-J. Elizalde Navarro national workshop on arts criticism in Baguio. I caught the tailend of the first session when Prof. Oscar Campomanes of the Ateneo English Department and the UST graduate school said something significant about autobiographical narratives.  It was a serendipitous moment, the confirmation of a vague notion that I just might be on to something by being the appointed keeper of our family’s papers.

Campomanes, who teaches writing courses, semiotics and literature of empire, agreed to an interview. Here’s what he had to say: “In the first decade of the 20th century a distinct publishing niche emerged. There arose interest in the life narratives of people who are ordinary, unknown, who did not distinguish themselves and who represent a personality type from a particular community…

“In late 19th-century France, as industrial capitalism began to wane, many workers lost their jobs. They became itinerants, tramping all over the place. Their previously small world was shattered as they encountered other intelligent forms of life. These French workers taught themselves enough literacy to leave narratives behind—not published but collected and deposited in archives.
“When these narratives were discovered and read, they made for a fascinating read. It was radical Otherness, different from the life narratives of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie,” Campones said.

He also said, “Confessional writing (e.g. confessions of St. Augustine) asks the writer/author to make himself/herself amenable or available to judgment by the reader or the interpretive community. The author makes visible the unseen feeling of vulnerability. This feeling colors the writing process so that it almost becomes fictional, selective and partial. Any detail that might not comport with the idea of an idealized self is edited out.

“The most amazing insight that came out of the study of autobiographical forms of writing is that the writing of a life, or the narrative of a self, is at one and the same time a making of a life, a making of a self.”

Campomanes said the notion that you are, or somebody else is, only authorized to write about you when you’re old or when you’re safely dead no longer holds.

In other words, he said, “While you are writing, you are making your life and your self. The act of writing gives you a sense of coherence, a standard of self.” If we must use a Jesuitic term, writing leads to self-empowerment and self-formation.

While we’re on the subject of ordinary lives, I’ve asked Carolina “Bobbie” S. Malay, former peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front and retired UP journalism professor, on what it was like spending nearly 20 years in the underground gathering the life stories of farmers and workers.

This is what Malay said: “When I went full-time in the movement, my writing aimed to arouse, mobilize, organize the farmers. I also wrote for cadres in the movement most of whom were peasants, workers and generally intellectual. There were creative writers who wrote about the lives of the masses as their subject.”

She continued, “During our dealings with the people, conversations, story-telling were common. The masses taught me each person is unique with a special and interesting life. All you need is a genuine interest in them. They should feel that you respect them.
“If not for what they taught me, which was more than I ever learned from books, I would not have been inspired nor would have lasted that long in the movement. I like to think that my work improved because of the deep well of experiences I drew from.”

I also asked Ms. Malay if she had time for muni-muni or a more reflective, personal type of writing. She answered, “There was enough time for that. The natural rhythm of our work was there would be months when we would be so busy, there would be seasons when I could quietly reflect.”

Her outlet for personal expression and thoughts were her letters to her husband Satur who was a political prisoner from 1976 to1985. She wanted to share the stories she had gathered apart from the changes going on in her life.

She said, “I wanted him to know me again because I was evolving. I sent a series of letters that I entitled ‘Conversations with Myourself.’ He was supposed to do the same thing but you know, he’s not that type of person. He has no personal urge for personal expression.”

And so it goes, wrote Kurt Vonnegut. Once dismissed as just the practice pages or exercise books where the writers clarified their thoughts while in the process of creating something more important, the diary has joined mainstream literature.
Daddy with grand-daughters Marga Susi, Ida and Kimi Fernandez
 So what was my father’s point when he wrote a diary meant for Kimi’s eyes? Campomanes surmised that Daddy might have intended for Kimi, now 23 years old, to read the diary with a six-year-old’s eyes. Dad’s stipulation “For Kimi Only” might have also stood for an ideal/exemplary reader.
Daddy trying to grab grandsons Carlo Trinidad and Paolo Susi. Behind them is his second daughter Embeng.
My younger daughter Ida, four years old when my father died, told my Mom upon realizing that Kimi seemed the favored one, “Lola, bilis, gawa ka na rin ng iyo. Tapos lagay mo ‘For Ida Only. (Lola, hurry up, do your own. Then write “For Ida Only).’”
My brother Dennis carries Ida so she can say goodbye to her lolo.
 Often it is asked, when you are writing a diary, who are you addressing?  Campomanes said, “Language is what enables us to speak as individuals. But to speak always in company, in society or with another because the individual is always social. The ‘I’ is never alone; it presupposes a ‘you.’”
Writers write, read and listen so when you keep a diary, journal, doodle book, dream notebook or whatever you call it, you are splitting yourself into two: the self and the other self. Campomanes said, “You are never quite alone. A diary is a conversation with your other self, a way of easing solitude or even loneliness. You are with your other self.”

Alexandra Johnson, author of The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life, from whence I borrowed the title of this essay, wrote that diaries, especially those kept by women, show “writers emerging from the shadows, from silence, from the necessary cunning of pleasing others, writers no longer exiled from their own voice.”

Go to any bookstore. There are memoirs galore, collections of personal essays on a wide range of subjects: insomnia or sleeplessness, comfort food, how grandmothers shaped writers’ lives, midlife crises, family trees, maladies, favorite shopping malls, the diaspora, gays and lesbians.

This is my chance to plug Baguio Calligraphy, a multi-lingual anthology of creative writings from the Cordillera’s premier city, edited by Baguio Writers Group stalwarts Francis Macansantos and Luz B. Maranan. Four to five generations of living writers are represented here: from Cecile Afable, born in 1916, to Solana Perez, born 1994. There is a separate volume, The Baguio We Know, edited by Grace Celeste T. Subido, amply devoted to creative non-fiction.

Campomanes called this “a wonderful development, a democracy becoming real.”  He said when 
people who, as a matter of social class or social conditions, were not allowed or were not supposed to speak and now they find their voices, the result is a joyous, joyful “turbulence of the multiple.” His other way of putting it is “the polyvocal clash and plurality of voices overturning social positions.”

My wish for the fellows, resident critics and literature lovers is an echo of the dedication written by Menchu Aquino Sarmiento on my copy of Daisy Nueve, her collection of short stories with characters so thinly disguised you may as well add the words “creative non-“ before fiction. She wrote: “May words never fail us.”--Elizabeth Lolarga

The author gave this lecture at the second Cordillera Creative Writing Workshop held April 28-30, 2010, at St. Mary’s School in Sagada, Mountain Province, a project of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the University of the Philippines Baguio. Another version of this was published in an August 2010 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

10. Ten. Sampu

Not nine and a half or three fourths but 10 exactly on the 28th of April. That's my niece Bianca Ysabel Lolarga Susi. She requested us to come in black and white outfits which had some of us scratching our heads and thinking aloud, "Isn't that a more suitable theme color for a teen or a debutante's party?" She had always declared pink as her favorite color, I suppose because her nanay, my fourth sister, is named Pinky, and pink is the color scheme of the girls' room at their place.
She's supposed to be a happy B, but maybe the humidity made it hard for her to keep her smile.

Three's a charm (from left): Tita Ida Fernandez holding Max, Bianca flashing her sweet smile
 We obliged although this aging aunt was about to dress up (more accurately, dress down)  in her comfiest cotton "daster," the national dress of Filipino women at this sweltering time of the year and say something to the effect that my skin is dark but my soul is white (hmmm, it must be the other way around).
Black and white and colors all over: Mamita Gigi Lolarga, Max Susi, Bianca, Grandma Suzy Lolarga and Tita Ida
And so the family members from Pasig drove off to the foothills of Antipolo towards sundown when the air had cooled to help turn Bianca a happy 10. Pinky prepared a mix and match of food Italian (baked mac of a sort that proved un-photogenic because it reminded me of vermiculture), American (ice cream on cones, lobster thermidor) and Filipino (tilapia fried to a crisp, eggplant and mango salad, Bianca's favorite puto).
Pinky's eggplant salad with cubed sour mangoes, onions, tomatoes and a dash of pepper

The fish points north to show it is best paired with the salad. We like tilapia prepared the heart-choking way: deep fried!
The lobster thermidor went very fast, tucked safely where they should be. No further explanation needed there, considering the love that went into its preparation. Thanks again, Pinky.
The do-it-yourself princess in the family, Marga, with the assistance of Jaja Jorge (our future niece-in-law), did the birthday greeting and other paper cut-outs for the wall while the aunts cooled themselves in Paolo's room which is equipped with an AC.
She put her right foot up, I put my right foot up, we didn't do the hokey pokey, but we compared bunions.

When you're in an AC-cooled room, you think up of all sort of things to fill up your waiting time while waiting for Pinky's announcement of chow time. Bianca and I compared our right foot; I wanted to check if she had inherited from my Mommy's side that trademark bunion. She may be slowly growing one because she's not too comfortable in closed shoes.

Her niece Machiko, a girl who carries the nickname Max (we, at least this grand-aunt, want her to grow into a strong fighter, a woman warrior, not a simpering whiner or wailer) played with the grannies who answered to assorted honorifics like Mamita, Grandma and Booboo. Talk of confusing a child.
Our dear dear niece who likes Elise.
 There were four generations in that house this last Saturday night, including the matriarchs Mama Mermaid (Nene Lolarga, our mom) and Lola Ines (mom of Bianca's tatay Rod).
One candle, usually reserved for brownouts, was enough to mark a milestone. Instead of a cake, half a gallon of strawberry ice cream did the trick. Carla Arriola (second from right) can be counted on to be audacious choral mistress.
 The Susi cousins sang the loudest off-key birthday song in recent memory.

The elders were most appreciative when Bianca played her piano pieces, "Fur Elise" and a melody, "Someone Like You,"  popularized by the singer Adele.
Lola Ines Susi takes five.
I roved around the house with a digicam and renewed acquaintance with old works that I had given Pinky's family. They now hang in their living room and kitchen like this mixed media of hand-stitched flowers set against a a field of orange (acrylic on canvas) done when I was a freshman fine arts student. The piece was part of a group show at Renaissance Gallery in '05.
Embroidering on canvas, that's what a former fine arts student does when her draftsmanship sucks. Detail of four feet by four feet work below.

If you must ask what brought about the embroidery, my answer: a batik house dress I used to flounce around in.This work still exists, but the house dress has either been  given away or cut up and turned into rags.

And the Pasig peeps went home tired but....

Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Sunday, April 29, 2012

In the beginning was Lola

Back from a two-week break in Baguio, this blogger found a longer version of an essay, what I call my rewrite, in my files while corresponding with a cousin. This is actually what I call the uncut, full-length piece on my grandmother and what she continues to mean to us, her grandchildren who have survived her and some of whom have become grandparents themselves.
While in Baguio, I had a chance to go over the scrapbooks lola put together in her retirement house in Lower Brookside. The photos are as precious as the woman who handled them. So this is for you, once again, lola dear. With thanks to the Technological Institute of the Philippines for putting out a shorter version of this piece in the anthology Teacher Teacher edited by Abe Florendo.

Had she lived to see the commonness of e-mail and a world bound by an efficient Internet, my grandmother would be in the midst of chat rooms, trawling cyberspace to see how her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are faring. And it is so apt for one whose family-owned school, National Radio School Institute of Technology (NRSIT), was in the forefront of communications technology.
Lola on Session Road
As to what sort of notebooks to jot her thoughts and reminders in, I think she’d have contentedly settled for any complimentary insurance company or bank diary—none of those expensive Moleskines or journals covered with exquisite fabrics even if these were presented to her as gifts with loving thoughts and all.
Among the qualities Telesfora Aricheta Cariño Lolarga was eulogized for when she died in 1988 at the age of 83 was her being “a collector of quotable quotes,” in the words of her second son Ernesto, our Uncle Esting. 
In a 1958 diary in my keeping, she wrote this poem, copied from another source, with a reminder to share it with her children Febe, Pacita, Enrique Jr., Ernesto and Celso:
This is an antidote against all evils that destroy human happiness. 
The Way to Happiness

Keep your heart free from hate,
Your mind from worry.
Live simply; expect little, give much; fill your life with love;
Scatter sunshine. Forget self.
Think of others, and do as you would be done by.
Try it for a week—you’ll be surprised.
--H.C. Mattern
By Mama—that my children may know
The Cariño-Lolarga family at the old Dimasalang house in Sampaloc, Manila, in the 1930s. Lola is seated in the middle. Her husband stands at extreme left. Her daughters Febe and Pacita are seated on either end of the coach. Her sons Ernesto (second from left), Celso (third from left) and Enrique Jr. (right) are on the front row.
          Her retirement home in Lower Brookside, Baguio City, was chock-full of framed quotations that she hand-stitched and embroidered herself (“You are as welcome as the flowers of May” is now in the Maui, Hawaii, abode of second grandchild Luz Romero Ramil). And the vases always had fresh flowers from her garden.
Sitting on the toilet, one read assorted clippings on the hazards of smoking, her way of reproving family members who had acquired the nicotine habit (“Agsagsagarilyo!” cousin Mel Valdellon remembers her exclaiming in exasperation).  But this was the Sixties and Seventies when a stick of cigarette hanging from one’s lips looked like the coolest thing. My relatives learned better than to light up when she was in the vicinity.
Lola called her first batch of apos and nieces her "kittens." From left are Rose and Toots Romero, Lily Ramirez, Mercy Cariño and Beng Valdellon.
              Even before her house was ready for occupancy in the early Sixties, Lola came to be associated with all the good things Baguio stood for. Rosemarie Romero, the eldest of the grandkids and now living in Ontario, Canada, recalls, “Lola Purang contacted the Boy Scouts of the Philippines to allow us to stay at the Baden Powell Inn on Gov. Pack Road. Our Lolo was an active officer of BSP Manila so Lola availed of some benefits offered to families of officers. We stayed there for a whole month.”
               At a young age, Rose learned to take on responsibilities from Lola who woke her up each morning with these instructions: “Maret (her pet name for Rose then), go to the bakery on Session Road. Buy two pesos worth of pan de sal and one peso Anchor Butter.”
Rose brought along younger sister Toots (Luz) and cousin Beng (Evangeline Valdellon) during that morning walk down Session to buy the stuff. Back at the inn, Lola prepared hot chocolate for them. After breakfast, she brought them to Burnham Park to skate or just walk around.
Here's Lola with an increasing number of young grandchildren and nieces. Among those I can identify are Sonny Romero, Lily Ramirez, Beng Valdellon, Toots Romero, Telly Valdellon, Enri Romero, Rose Romero and Allyn Valdellon.
 Because she was already around when Lola was at the prime of her life, Rose could describe the older woman’s physical features: “She was a mild-mannered, gentle woman who had a patrician beauty, an aquiline nose and fair complexion. Her looks she inherited from her father, Felipe Cariño, whom we called Apo Lakay. It was Uncle Esting who inherited Lola’s nose and smile.”
It was quite an operation to bring her grandchildren to Baguio in the days when there were no air-conditioned buses. As Rose retells it, there was one summer when the Baden Powell was fully booked, but Lola was determined they would have another unforgettable summer so she contacted the Young Men’s Christian Association office in Manila to let them occupy a room at the “Y” in Baguio.
Rose says, “My brothers, sisters and cousins spent summer with her. We took the train at the Tutuban station on Azcarraga (now C. M. Recto Avenue), then got off in La Union for the bus going up to Baguio. She always kept a watchful eye on us during the trip. Eventually, Dangwa buses became available for Baguio trekkers.”
              When the three-storey Brookside house was ready for her expanding family, Lola permanently moved from the family home on Pepin Street, Dimasalang, Sampaloc. Her departure left a void in me because I had grown accustomed to her loving presence. She’d make me lie on her bed and measured how tall I had grown by spreading wide one hand beginning from my foot all the way to my head, hand climbing slowly until I couldn’t hold back my giggles.
On the days when she was off to work as president of the family-owned National Radio School and Institute of Technology (NRSIT), I sometimes climbed into her loose Chinese silk bathrobe that carried a trace of her gentle perfume and played pretend queen.
It was Toots who told me where Lola’s new house was. She motioned with her hands, an imaginary bus going round and round a mountain until it reached the top. To impressionable me, who lived all of her young life in the flatlands, that was the first hint of adventure.
Lola (second from right) after unveiling a portrait of her husband at the old NRSIT site in Manila. With her are her children Ernesto, Pacita and Febe.
 By this time, Lola had retired from her NRSIT duties, leaving the running of the school to her children in the '60s. She had taken over the reins of the school when her husband Enrique Acosta Lolarga died in 1955.
              He was the man who dreamed of putting up NRSIT after joining the US Army at Fort Stotsenburg in Pampanga. His interest in radio qualified him for a scholarship at the Fort McKinley signal school where he graduated with top honors and earned him a position as radio instructor at the same school.
              By this time he was married to Lola whom he met in Umingan, Pangasinan, where she was a schoolteacher. When Lolo resigned from teaching, he embarked on a civic career, a move not lost on his wife who became active too with the Eastern Star, the women of Masons. He joined Young Men's Christian Association as the Boys' Work Secretary and became a pioneer of the Philippine Boy Scouting movement. In 1931, he founded NRSIT which pioneered in training men and women in the field of radio. It had its first location on R. Hidalgo street before moving to C. M. Recto avenue, then grew to open a branch in Dagupan, Pangasinan, in 1950 to serve students from the north. Since then, NRSIT built a name as a school in electronics and communications.
Undated photo of our grandparents with their fairly used Cadillac.
              As for the school's influence, I recall that when I was a child, I would witness my mom call in repairmen when the refrigerator or TV was acting wonky. A hundred percent of the time, the repairmen got their training from NRS. When they responded to my mother's call, their first question was: "How are you related to the Lolargas of NRS?"
              When Lolo died of a heart attack , Lola went on an extensive study and spiritually restorative trip to the US and Europe, and was enamored of Switzerland which partly explains her choice of Baguio as next destination for the second part of her life. Her weak lungs needed strengthening. I learned of these things much later. 
Brother Dennis, then a tot, stands in front of our great grandmother, Apo Baket (Basilia Aricheta Cariño), and our Lola Purang.
              It was in Baguio where Lola taught by example how to transform a house into a home. When I caught the reading bug, I never ran out of stuff to read in Brookside: back issues of Readers’ Digest, mystery novels, the ever-present Bible (as a devout Methodist, she ensured we attended Daily Vacation Bible School and were each given by an American pastor a pocketbook edition of The New Testament). There were so many old magazines to riffle through until one time, as I was entering sophomore high school, I read a longish article on existentialism and got hooked.
Because we lived most of the year in an apartment in Santa Ana, Manila, where there was not much of garden to speak of, we loved the roses, poinsettias, pansies, dahlias that grew on Lola’s lot. She would sometimes bring a bundle of them to the Quonset hut that was the original United Methodist Church on Marcos Highway for the offertory.
Cousin Erline (“Allyn”) Valdellon Mendoza, now a resident of McLean, Virginia, recalls, “I try to keep fresh flowers at home when I can and remember Lola’s house in Baguio. I cut gardenias in her garden in the backyard and got bitten by a bee. I put those gardenias by my bedside in that room by the living room in Brookside. I keep two gardenia plants at home and am watching the buds grow for spring blossoms in our lanai here in McLean.
               “I took up crocheting, needlepoint and embroidery after I moved to America. My Mommy and Auntie Pacing crocheted, but most of all, their Mamang, our Lola dear, influenced that. I still have doilies around the house. Even our apo Jacob, who is four and a half years old, notices them. Do you remember those doilies in Lola’s house?”
              Allyn continues, “My framed needlepoint and embroidery pieces are on our walls. I remember going with Lola to a hardware store on Session Road where she had her cross-stitch pieces framed. My dresser is full of lotions, perfume and make-up. Lola used Avon lotions and reminded us to keep our skin soft.”

Lola watches over our Valdellon cousins Beng, Allyn, Telly and Melito on the trike.
           Beng echoes Allyn’s remembrance of Lola: “She always told us to take care of our skin, not to stay too long under the sun.  From her I learned to apply lotion and moisturizer. She used to say, ‘Sige, pahid nang pahid (Go ahead, keep on applying). But these days, I like the beach so much I just use a lot of sunscreen.
My cousins and I also got a kick out of re-reading our letters to Lola and looking at the drawings we made in middle childhood. She kept them all in her scrapbooks and photo albums. When we asked her why, her answer was an amused, Because you can’t repeat them!”
And she never failed to write us back, acknowledging our letters, praising and thanking us for anything we sent her. In a letter dated Sept. 4, 1968, she wrote to me: “During my confinement in bed, I was able to finish the framed saying about stamps and most likely, you will have it when someone visits me here. You write very good English, Babeth, and I wish you success in your studies.”
Some cousins chose to stay beyond the summer break like Toots, who taught music and served as librarian at the Holy Family Academy, and Telesfora (“Telly”) who finished high school at the same academy. My younger sister Pinky (the sixth among eight children) and Elvira Dula, an orphaned cousin on my mother’s side, benefitted from Lola’s largesse. She told my mother that since Mommy had her hands full with us and a new baby, she would raise Pinky and Elvira, who were past their toddler years, and send them to school.
Her updates on the two girls’ growth showed how she trained them in practical skills: “They can take care of themselves, coming home in a jeep…Believe it or not, Elvira and Pinky can cook rice and fry an egg. It’s something every young girl should know. Even Toots and Telly launder their own clothes and iron them. They enjoy it.”
Telly remembers how Lola opened the windows on weekend mornings and sang a song with the lyrics “let the merry sunshine in.” This optimism was a source of strength for us when we were faltering and doubtful of our abilities.
Telly says, “On my third year in high school, I was crying, telling her that I was failing in Filipino. I couldn’t accept that I would fail, but she didn’t get angry. Lola was very understanding. She told me not to worry because I could take a remedial class in summer. In the end, I didn’t have to take summer class because I studied harder and passed the finals.” 
Lola taught Pinky early how to earn money through work. "This was when I helped her and Apo Loly (Lola’s younger sister) carry some stones in her garden. For every stone I carried, I earned five centavos.”
Pinky appreciates Lola for having her take piano lessons. “To this day when I look at my daughter Bianca enjoying her piano lessons, I am thankful that Lola instilled in me a love for music."
Rose, the eldest of the cousins, plays the piano at the old Brookside home. In the back, Lola entertains a visiting American pastor while Toots listens intently.
 The piano occupied a significant space in Lola’s living room as it does in mine where it is now housed. It was part musical instrument, part family altar. Ramon Romero, Rose’s father, played it with such energy during those summers while we clapped around Lola’s dining table. He replaced the lyrics of old Iluko ditties like “Manang Biday” and sang it as “Manang Tinay,” a bawdy tribute to Florentina Padron, the loyal all-round helper in Lola’s employ who shooed us off with a ladle when we got too noisy.
Lola tacked our pictures on that piano through the years—instant conversation pieces for the streams of visitors that she entertained even on her last birthday when she was in pain from cancer.
When my cousins and I reminisce about Lola, it is of a woman who gives without counting the cost, a woman with eyes shut so tight you can feel the intensity of a prayer flowing through her, a woman with veins so pronounced on both hands, proof that she took pride in this belief: “If you rest, you rust.”
Both Rose and Beng had accompanied Lola on different occasions to the Baguio public market. They carried bags of used clothes that she said she was going to give to her friend. They walked all the way to what’s locally known as Hilltop. Beng says, “There was an old Igorot woman squatting behind the vegetables she was selling. Lola gave her the clothes, and the woman in turn gave her potatoes and carrots.
Rose says, “Whenever Lola approached a vegetable vendor, she brought out a striking red sweater from the bayong. The Igorot vendor would hand her a kilo of cabbage and half kilo of green beans. It was some sort of barter. At the meat section, she took out two pairs of rubber shoes, slightly used, and got a kilo of pork. Lola also donated clothes to indigents in Baguio and to charity bazaars sponsored by the church.
               When there were scores of hungry mouths to feed in Brookside, Lola used street smarts to enable us, the vacationing grandkids, to live another day. I didn’t know of these gestures of her until today. Of course, her frugal ways were legend. At night, who could forget her “Diay silaw yo!”, a reminder to turn off the light when not in use.
              Although thrifty for one who has experienced war, Lola was generous with her love, another cousin, Eileen Lolarga, attests. She says of our motherly Lola, "She showed me in simple ways: my very own Ilokano blanket with my name sewn on it; she made sure we had Birch tree milk before we went to bed at night as kids on summer vacation with her.  She showed me her garden and was proud of her dancing slippers, gladioli, and her Spanish tomato tree. She even showed me how to eat fruits properly."
More vacationing cousins in Brookside from left: Eileen and Louie Lolarga (the latter peeking out of her ate's arm), Telly Valdellon, Tess Romero and Minnie Lolarga. Young Tongpet Lolarga is gripped protectively by the older ones.
              Eileen was to receive a windfall from Lola: "The biggest thing Lola did for me was to give me money to repair my front teeth (two porcelain caps). It was the most expensive thing to me then at P3,000 but she freely gave this to me.   I realized that she lived so frugally so she could give so much when we needed it the most."
              She was so good at hand or machine sewing that on one Christmas, the girl cousins and I each received a rag doll and a crazy quilt to cover our beds with. Nothing that could still have possible future use was ever thrown away.
Allyn says, “How I admired that she could sew—she made me some skirts one summer while in high school from her other outfits. I wore those proudly, the long biased skirt and the granny skirt from pieces of cloths sewed together. I still have them among my treasures.” In her late 50s, she has taken to wearing her hair long like our Lola. When friends ask Allyn why, “I tell them how I want to be like Lola in her senior years –able to put my hair up in a bun or braid them.
One summer we took the plane to Baguio. Lola captured our arrival with her trusty Brownie camera. That's Telly holding her youngest sister Nini, me with a shoulder bag and all the possible prints on my clothes, Melito holding a Chad and Jeremy long-playing record and Allyn. Lola's penmanship appears atop the picture.
The improvisations did not just cover matters of style. They were in her expressions of faith. I always felt protected when, after a visit in Baguio, she’d pray aloud and ask the Lord to watch over me while I traveled and to see to it that I got home safe. Her prayers were not formulaic but her own compositions, something she encouraged us to do.
Another cousin from a younger batch, Jocelyn “Jing” Lolarga Deco, recalls at age nine joining Lola in her garden while she turned the soil over. Jing saw her do this almost every day. When she asked why, Lola said it was to allow the roots to dig deeper and therefore, let the plants grow more. She likened it to family ties and other relationships that you have to cultivate in order to let people you care about flourish. Jing, still curious, asked what she gained from such toiling. Lola simply answered, “Joy!”
Lola and her Baguio garden

Postcript: The NRSIT was dissolved in March 2005 because of capitalization and financial concerns. More importantly, there were no other Lolarga family members who could give it full-time support, and the longtime teachers and employees did not want to take over. More advanced competitors contributed to its decline.