Thursday, July 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Darling Mrs. E (and her SV)

Iconic: Nieves Benito Epistola and SV Espitola, professors who professed at the University of the Philippines and in the university of good living Photo from the UP Alumni Relations Archives

The following were remarks that I had read at the eulogy for Mrs. E in September 2002 at the Delaney Hall of the UP Chapel of the Holy Sacrifice.

It is Mrs. E's birthday today.


My Mrs. E

"Your UP education won't be complete unless you sign up in one of of Mrs. Epistola's classes." This was the advice my older first cousin, Henry Romero, gave when I was a college freshman. He had been Mrs. E's student in a GE subject.

There was a special light in his eyes when he talked about her. My curiosity grew when he told me that she loved the poems of e.e. cummings.

I heeded his suggestion and took Stylistics in 1975 as an elective under her. She was 49 years old then. I am 47 now. But at that time hers was a waistline to die for!

She dressed in what's called today as "smart casual," and when the occasion called for it, she could also be elegant in an Oleg Cassini frock. She cut a statuesque figure in front of the class. She walked briskly on and off campus, arms swinging freely. And she spoke in a distinctively resonant alto.

I could write a poem about her dimples along, how they danced and deepened when she was pleased with something, someone or some cat that brushed past her long, marble-white legs.

The following semester I just couldn't have enough of her so I audited her next Stylistics class. That was around the time she became more than a teacher. I found a patient friend with a gift of listening to my incoherent babblings.

Way before I had a boyfriend, before anyone was crazy enough to propose marriage to me, I had already asked her to be my ninang sa kasal. She said yes, even if she knew there was no guy in my life. In that sense, we were both optimists.

I once told Amadis Ma. Guerrero, my colleague and comrade in arts and letters, that Nieves and SV Epistola were the only couple who I considered an argument for the institution of marriage.

Amadis agreed, adding that Mrs. E was the perfect foil for SV, the great alaskador. SV would mask his affection for friends with a string of barbs and put-downs. With Mrs. E, there was no such mask.

Amadis, who she called Le Cheri Guerrier, and I benefited from her overflowing warmth and generosity. She wrote the introductions to our respective books. Speaking for myself, I honestly believe that her introduction outshone my 38 poems!

Mrs. E loved people. This love was returned in full measure, especially by her students, former students and the members of that lucky circle, her proteges.

Of her proteges, including those who aren't here like Lily Chua O'Connor and Gigi Dueñas de Beaupre, Mrs. E said last year, with Frankie and Tessie Jose as witnesses in her room at the Philippine General Hospital: "I made free spirits out of them!"

Unmindful of the intravenous drip attached to her, she declared this with her head proudly tilted back, her chin up.

Yes, she was generous with her time and material resources. She never gave things away piecemeal. I remember she gave me not just a bundle of cherries but a big big bag of moist, succulent cherries.

Last Christmas, she gave me not just a pair of earring but 10 pairs of dangling earrings. I would like to assure her surviving sisters, nieces and grand-nieces that those earrings are fancy and won't get anything at the nearest pawnshop.

More than the earrings, I treasure the note that came with it. She wrote: "Here's a Christmas pamana for you, Babeth. You can't imagine ever how much you've made me feel so blessed and full of grace."

Well, Mrs. E, the feeling is mutual.

She always signed these little notes with a smiley face after her initials. Those notes were poems in themselves. Language, after all, was her favorite tool and toy.

I still keep in an old diary another note from her that she wrote when my hair was longer, and I just had it curled. Her message ran: "Now that your hair is a folded flower, the quiet of peace is in your feet."

She did everything well. She cooked well, taught extremely well, praised well, even criticized well. She dissected one of my early short stories, found it wanting and told me point by point how I could revise it. (Note: The short story was published 10 years after she had written her marginal notes and I had found the time to revise it. It was published in two installments in the Weekly Mirror Magazine when Emmie Velarde was its editor and Nick Joaquin, its literary editor.)

Ang sarap-sarap talaga magmahal ni Mrs. E!

And I truly feel the loss of SV, Odette, Arline, the rest of the sisters, Citas Diaz and other in-laws, nieces and nephews on both the Benito and Epistola sides. Your loss equals ours, if that is consolation enough.

To quote from Shakespeare, "Whence comes another?"

Not in this lifetime!
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