Sunday Lifestyle

Tribute to a beloved lady

FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura - The Philippine Star

God took our aunt Eva Beatriz Rafols Gonzalez. She was 96 years old and the last of her generation in our Gonzalez family.

The Gonzalez family is a big one. When I write “family” I only mean the two middle brothers out of the 10 who made up what we consider the first generation, though that is not technically correct. The family is traceable back to I don’t know what year. Too far to go. I just want to write about our Tita Beng, the nickname of Eva Beatriz, but I cannot seem to do that without starting with our grandfathers.

My grandfather, Javier, was a year or two older than the brother who followed him, Bienvenido, or Bindo for short. They were either the fourth and the fifth or the fifth and the sixth in a family of 10 brothers. Javier, at age 35, was a successful lawyer. Bienvenido was Dean of the Animal Husbandry in UP Los Baños.

My grandfather visited his brother. When he came back to Manila, he had anthrax and he died. My grandmother, Josefa Mercado, was so heartbroken, she followed soon. They left behind nine children who were partitioned off to Javier’s brothers. My father Vladimir went to live with Lolo Bindo.

This was a traditional old family with impeccable manners. Lolo Bindo loved my mother. He would always sit her down on his right (me beside her) at Sunday lunches. They would talk cheerfully and laugh a lot while Lola Conching at the other end of the table sat quietly directing the service. The food was served correctly. No one slurped the soup. The other members of the family were fairly quiet as I was growing up.

But when we all turned adult things changed. They sold the house in Pasay. Gonzalo was the first to go, followed by Manolo. That left the three — Eva, Lilia, and Dodong — living together in a Makati condo. As BG, Bienvenido Gonzalez III, said in his eulogy for Tita Beng, “It was like a remake of Three’s Company” from TV.

But that was after everyone was more than retired. Tita Eva had been a highly accomplished woman. She was an educator like her parents. She taught in Africa for the UNESCO. When she came back she taught at the University of the Philippines (UP) where once her father was president. She became the Dean of Home Economics, then the Dean of Women. She was responsible for setting up the hotel near UP, I think it is called the UP Asian Institute of Tourism, in 1976.

They were very correct, my aunts and uncles from this family. Always pleasant, smiling, never asked personal questions, never criticized nor praised. But when I wrote my first book, How Do You Know Your Pearls Are Real? Tita Beng asked me to give a talk based on my book to the Philippine Mental Health Association, one of the organizations where she was active. That told me many things. One, that she had read the book. Two, that she probably saw some value in it that would be of some worth to the organization. Three, that she was probably proud of me for writing that book on single parenthood that had as one of its messages the importance of women earning their own money.

Did she say any of those things? No. But she communicated them and I was profoundly grateful.

As we all grew older, we grew fonder of each other. They would pass me photos of my father when he lived with them. Tito Dodong showed me how he had looked me up on the internet and had some things on me in his cell phone. We got together for occasional lunches. They said they had developed allergies to garlic and onions though you couldn’t tell from the taste of the food.

Then Tita Lil, followed by Tito Dodong. That left Tita Beng all by herself.

My new husband and I went to her birthday lunches. For some strange reason I am closer to the Bienvenido family than I am to my relatives on the Javier side. Maybe because most of my relatives on the Javier side have migrated, gone too far for me to send them cherries every Christmas as I had done with Tita Beng and Tito Dodong.

As BG said in his eulogy to Tita Eva, her credentials are too long to include in his talk. Maybe her credentials are not the most important thing in her life. Tita Eva never married but she had her share of admirers, people who loved her, sent her flowers and outlived her enough to come to her burial Mass and take a last, long look at the pretty lady who lay there, who didn’t look like she was 96, who had loved him once, and perhaps taken the sweet memory of him to her grave and beyond.

You will always be in our hearts, Tita Beng. We will not stop remembering you.

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