Honor thy mother

Posted: December 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

In my last blog entry last June (yes, I had neglected this blog and to explain that will need another blog entry), I paid tribute to my father.  This time around, it’s my mother’s turn.  I should have done it around July 4, her birthday.

But even now is an appropriate time, especially since she died on Christmas eve some sixteen (16) years ago.

Mother was, without a doubt, an extra-ordinary person.  Her full maiden name: Trinidad Arizabal Mallonga.  She was the eldest child to a family raised in Solana, Cagayan.  After completing her elementary education in her home town, she stayed with relatives in Tuguegarao to pursue her secondary school studies at the Cagayan High School.  She used to tell us that she had to do all kinds of chores in her relatives’ house on top of arduous study.  All these words when she would remind us how lucky we were to have house help and to be able to wake up very late during week-ends; when she wants us to do our share of the house work (which was not often anyway).  No such luxury for her when she was young.

After finishing high school, she ventured to the big city and enrolled in, wait for it, the premier engineering school of the country at the time–the Mapua Institute of Technology.  This happened before the outbreak of the Second World War.  Mother’s father was a construction foreman (better known by the Ilocano term kapatas) and she would often go with him to work.  Those forays inspired her to pursue the unheard-of (for women at the time) career in engineering.

Mama told us that she was the only female engineering student who managed to finish her studies at Mapua at the time.  She was however not intimidated by all the males around him.  For one, she was tall, regally tall at 5 feet and nine inches.  She would retain that regal stature up to her death.  Consequently, most of the male students (as well as professors) must have to literally look up to her.  Second, she was a diligent student and could give anybody else a run for their money in the maths and other engineering subjects.  Her earlier stints with my maternal grandfather made surveying a cinch.

She had a female classmate who definitely was avant garde–who smoked, wore tight and short skirts and blouses with plunging necklines, maintained her own apartment, and was courted by politicians, police and military officers, and businessmen–in the late 1930s.  The classmate eventually dropped out from engineering school.  Mama saw her again around the 1960s and the latter laughingly told of her marital escapades and that she recently gotten rid of her 6th husband after obtaining a fat alimony.

Mama graduated from Mapua before the war’s outbreak.  However, the onset of the war prevented here from taking the government licensure examination for civil engineers.   She aced the said test when the hostilities were over.

Thus, she became the first female civil engineer of the country (probably even in Southeast Asia) and she went on to be first female district civil engineer with the Department of Public Works (the Department of Public Highways was a separate department then).  Papa was an upper-classman when Mama was a freshie in Mapua.  Papa graduated ahead of Mama and went home to Aparri, Cagayan to marry his childhood sweetheart.  Unfortunately, my father’s first wife did not survive the war.

Papa met Mama again, this time a newly-minted civil engineer, in Tuguegarao, Cagayan after the war as they reported to the same government office.  He managed to convince her to elope with him since Mama’s family objected to his (a widower with two children) courtship.  They eventually obtained my maternal relatives’ blessings and got assigned to Batanes, where four of us were born, and where they learned Ivatan (their secret language) in the process.

Ultimately, we had to settle down in Tuguegarao where I spent my boyhood. Mama remained in the Tuguegarao engineering office while Papa was assigned to Baguio City.

Mama was at her best element when she got promoted to district civil engineer of the 2nd civil engineering district of Cagayan province.  Partnering with the female governor of Cagayan province, Governor Teresa Dupaya, she embarked on a massive (Marcos) prefabricated school building program during the 1960s and early 1970s within the district.  She also supervised the construction of a concrete stairway up into the famous Callao Caves, which boosted tourist arrivals.

As her youngest son, I had (I believe) a rather special relationship with Mother.  At some point, I was teased of being a Mama’s boy since I was always at her coat-tails.  She was a leading member of the Tuguegarao chapter of the Catholic Women’s League and I would tag along to hear early morning mass and attend the chapter meetings.  Mama and her friends thought I was a devout youth and that I was interested in becoming a priest.  How Mama would have loved for me to become one.  She even presented me to the bishop to ask for his blessing.  Little did she know that the only reason why I tagged along was the hot, deliciously thick and unlimited chocolate drinks and delicate pastries served during the CWL meetings!

Our relationship took a different turn when I became a full-time activist and dropped out from UP.  Since she was the parent-in-residence (Papa was in Baguio), she was first to know that I have transformed our residence into school, hospital, printing press,  library, and armory for the anti-Marcos dictatorship movement.  While she knew that it was dangerous and that she was in an extremely vulnerable situation given her government post, she did not stop my activism.  She welcomed all the comrades into our home, at our dining table, cared for them when they were sick, and solicitously asked about them when the wave of arrests started after the proclamation of martial law.

When I had to go on run from the security forces in April 1973, the military forced my mother to go on radio to ask me to surrender to the authorities.  She apologized later but I assured her that I understood why she had to do that.  Besides, I did not hear the broadcasted appeal anyway since I already left the town when it was made.  We saw each other again for the first time in many months while I was in custody of my captors in Camp Crame.

While in detention, Mama arranged my marriage to Rosalie; arranged my first furlough so I can see my first daughter, Tricia, who was born while I was detained; and also smuggled Rosalie and Tricia near the detention center so I can see both at a time when Rosalie was still sought by the authorities.

When I was released, Mama thought we would stop our anti-dictatorship activities since we already had a child.  She gifted us with a car and a house in Novaliches and encouraged Rosalie and me to finish our undergraduate studies (which we eventually did).  Yet, we persisted in the struggle and the car and the house were assets that were put into good service.

Mama and Papa were not born yesterday and they both knew of our continuing political activity.  They never asked us to stop; they simply admonish us to be very careful.

Whatever frustrations Mama had with her children will disappear when the grandchildren started arriving.  If Papa was especially happy that I named my only son after him and me, Mama was equally appreciative that my first child, Tricia, was sort of named after her, Trinidad.  She in fact attended the graduation of Tricia from UP Integrated School.

After her retirement, she continued to enjoy her increasing number of grandchildren and travelled to the United States to see my youngest sister get married and contribute to the brood.  Eventually, Mama and Papa tired of the US and went back home to the Philippines.  They commuted between Tuguegarao and Quezon City, spending some time with me or with Manong Eddie in Lagro.

They were in fact with me when Marcos was deposed in February 1986.  Mama insisted in joining Rosalie, the kids, and me at a Thanksgiving mass in front of Camp Crame after Marcos fled.

In the 1990s, her health deteriorated as she was wracked by emphysema.  She did not smoke herself but she was a victim of the second-hand smoke coming from all the smoking male engineers around her through the years–my father included.  She lost weight, in fact got reduced to skin and bones at some point near her death.  Yet, she refused to give up on her grace and poise.

In October 1994, I was summoned home to Tuguegarao because her condition got so worse we thought she was about to go.  Probably, the sight of all of us–her children and some grandchildren–gave her a bit of a lease of life–that she managed to hang on for a while.  I remember her stunt when Grace arrived from Los Angeles.  She pretended to be very weak but when Grace was in front of her, she suddenly burst into song and laughter.  Grace simply didn’t know what hit her!  Who else but Mama?

Mama left us to join our Maker at about 7:00pm in 24 December 1994.  We were all preparing to hear mass and she called for us.  She managed to have a few words with each and all of us and then drifted peacefully to her death.

I did not allow myself to grieve at the time.  I immediately busied myself with all the preparations for a funeral wake and a proper burial.  Eventually, we buried her beside her beloved parents in the Tuguegarao public cemetery.

I delivered the eulogy before we buried her remains.  However, I did not write that down or cannot remember what the eulogy contained.

I am willing to bet, however, that much of it would the lines you have just read.

  1. bongmendoza says:

    Thanks, Celine S….

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