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Memories on Christmas |


Memories on Christmas

FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura - The Philippine Star
Memories on Christmas

Some of you probably remember that during the Christmas season of 1944, the Philippines was immersed in World War II. Nevertheless they must have celebrated some kind of Christmas together. My mother’s family then lived in Paco at the corner of General Luna and Colorado Streets, now a gasoline station. None of my mother’s family members are still alive to remember what they had for Christmas lunch that day, the last Christmas of the men. I’m sure it was simple.

My grandfather was Mauricio Cruz, son of Maria Rizal, who lived with them during the war. He was married to Concepcion Arguelles and they had six children — Caridad who married Pedro Syquia; Ismael, Sr. who married Carmen Guerrero; Esperanza, who became a Carmelite nun known as Sister Mary Joseph; my mother Fe who married Vladimir Gonzalez; Hilda, who was single then but who married Benjamin Aldaba much later; and Jose Cruz, who was then in the Jesuit seminary then became president of the Ateneo University for 16 years much later. Their simple lunch must have been prepared by their cook, Victor Orpilla, who was married to Trinidad, their laundrywoman, and who had three children: one died young, two are still alive and are still our friends though they have migrated to Canada.

All the names I have mentioned are gone now. All the men — Mauricio, Ismael Sr., Vladimir, and Victor — were rounded up by the Japanese at around 8 p.m. on Feb. 7, 1945, brought to the Masonic Temple a few blocks away from our home, and shot dead there. They never returned. On Feb. 8, 1945, Manila was liberated by the Americans. I think I was in my 50s when I realized this. We lost all our men at the 11th hour of World War II. But all the women survived and died much later of natural causes.

Why am I writing about this on Christmas Eve? The other night we had Christmas dinner with my Gonzalez relatives. This year we experienced the passing of the last member of my father’s generation. I realized then that members of my generation are much younger than me. My father’s brothers and sisters are all gone now. This family is the family of Bienvenido Gonzalez, Sr. He was the younger brother of my real grandfather, Xavier. But Xavier died when he was 35 followed by his wife after two years. They had nine children who were portioned off to their brothers. My uncle Ben and my father Vlady grew up with the family of Bienvenido or Lolo Bindo. I grew up closer to them than to my father’s brothers and sisters.

I think it was the first time I had Christmas dinner with them. We are all much older now. There was a time they didn’t really know what to make of me. How was I related to them? When finally we — my uncle and aunts —explained, they understood. Now much time has passed and we are finally close like family.

Also I think now that I am approaching 80, I am finally recognizing that Christmas is — has always been — a family affair. True, some members of the family may be far away. My eldest daughter now lives in Monterey, California. My second daughter lives in Hove, a suburb of Brighton in England. My third daughter lives in Petaluma, California. Only my son still lives in the Philippines but we’re getting together for Christmas Eve lunch. “I will pick you up then we will pick up the turkey,” he texts.  Then we will go to his home in Alabang and lunch with his wife, her mother, my grandson Nicc and granddaughter Maxine. That is my family today. We live very far apart but for a few shining moments on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, our hearts come together as one.

My husband is not well but his eight children and eight grandchildren – he has twice as many children as I — will drop in on him to wish him a Merry Christmas on Christmas Eve on their way to the apartment of one of them where they will have their usual Media Noche until long after midnight.

On Christmas Day we will have lunch with his oldest son and his wife and his daughter, who is the head of Metro channel. They will bring the food. Then the holidays will be over.

This Christmas I don’t have many gifts. I strayed into a friend’s deli, found tamarind candies and oatmeal cookies. I bought many of them. That’s all I have for Christmas. When you grow old, your spirit changes. You don’t give fancy gifts anymore. You just give something that says: I remember you this Christmas. Let us celebrate the birth of Jesus with this little gift and lots of love.

My husband and I? We will kiss each other and snore through the holidays!

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