Today is Monday, July 23, 2018


By Mani F. Gella

She was tending the magnolia bush beneath the window of her house when he laid eyes on her again. It was written in the stars that they should meet once more. This time it was different. They were drawn together by the mystique of love and romance. Before long, they became sweethearts. Shortly thereafter, he proposed marriage. There was no formal engagement period because “we were already both mature and of marrying age,” he would declare later to their children.

A part of his young life was spent teaching. A fresh graduate from San Juan de Letran (a school for boys in the city ran by Spanish friars) and armed with nothing but a high school diploma and youthful enthusiasm, he taught in grade school where she was one of his pupils in his hometown of Juban, Sorsogon. Although their families were friends of long standing, this initial meeting did not go any further for the teacher and his pupil, or so they thought, because a few months later, he was transferred to another school and since then they went on with their separate lives. Little did they know that at that appointed time, their fates were sealed forever, never to be broken.

For a year, he was engrossed in teaching in his hometown after which he went back to Manila to pursue a medical course at the Pontifical University. He preferred taking up industrial engineering at the State University but his parents wanted him to be a doctor. Like a dutiful son, he acceded to the wishes of his parents.

She, in the meantime, went to an all girls’ school put up by German nuns in the province of Albay. When her father won a congressional seat in the Second Philippine Legislature the family relocated to the city where she finished her secondary education. For her college schooling, she found herself enrolled at the College of Philosophy and Letters of the same university where he was a medical student. But as fate would have it, their paths never crossed and their friendship did not go beyond the casual stage until the outbreak of the war in 1941.

A war survivor and already a full-fledged doctor who served as a Medic (with the rank of a Major) in the Air Corps, he returned to his hometown in 1943 to recuperate from malaria. He contracted the dreaded disease in the jungles of Bataan. At about the same time, she too was home taking refuge from the onslaught of the enemy forces in the city. He was a prisoner-of-war released from the Capas concentration camp looking for comfort and solace from a war which had been lost. The sight of the attractive young woman tending the magnolia bush must have stirred the heart of the soldier home from the war. She epitomized the safety and peace that he was desperately seeking. In this interlude destiny intervened once again. Not only did the magnolia bush blossom; love bloomed for the fated lovers amidst the atrocities of war. She was his kismet as much as he was hers.

The couple planned a simple and quiet wedding but his two elder sisters would hear nothing of the sort. For them, their only brother, a war veteran and a second placer in the medical board exams, deserved a wedding worthy of an only son of a former provincial governor. Thus, the sleepy town from where they both hailed was abuzz with preparations for a wedding regarded by the townsfolk as the union of two note-worthy families bound not only by the bonds of previous intermarriages but by political affiliations as well.

It was a dusk wedding. Time stood still as the two lovers promised each other “to have and to hold, in sickness and in health… ‘til death do us part”, amidst a thousand candles that flickered into the night. It was a wedding conceived out of the deprivations of war, so the bride wore a gown fashioned from sinamay (raw fiber of abaca hand woven and hand pounded) and no wedding photos either were taken to chronicle the event. Still and all, by the locals’ standards, it was a wedding to end all weddings.

They made their home in Juban where they both grew up. He practiced medicine as the municipality’s Health Officer while she became involved in civic activities. They counted among the social elite and were leading citizens of the town. Their marriage was blessed with three children who later on settled in opposite parts of the globe and had families of their own. When the grandchildren started coming, she decided to stay permanently abroad for she could not bear to be too far away from them. He, on the other hand, opted to stay with the one child who chose to remain at home.

If it saddened them to see their children living so far apart, they kept it to themselves. After all, what will parents not sacrifice for their children? What parent will stand in the way of his children’s pursuit of life-long dreams?

There was a time in his professional career when he passed up several promising job opportunities because of family considerations. The offers were too good to refuse. But he vacillated. What price success? To leave behind a young wife and three small kids to fend for themselves was surely no way to raise a family. Hard decisions were made. Difficult choices were weighed. In the end, when everything was said and done, familial commitment prevailed. Every once in a while, he would muse upon these lost opportunities. Philosophically, he would say, “todo es de Dios.”

Life has come full circle for the couple. After being apart from each other for many years brought about by circumstances not of their own making, they were together again, when it mattered most. Indeed, marriages are meant to last, despite the age, despite the distance. Theirs was a testament to this. In 1993, they celebrated fifty years of total commitment to each other. If marriages are made in heaven, then their union was a declaration of the time-honored values of fidelity, love and respect. It was an affirmation of the strength and indissolubility of the marital vows.  Unfortunately, she was destined to go ahead of him. She passed on but not after putting up a valiant fight against the ravages of infirmities that had no known cure.

Now a centenarian and in failing health, he will have to write, all by his lonesome, the last chapter of their story as he leafs through the pages from whence destiny first intervened.

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