How he met my mother

Author Imelda “Dada” Trillo on her mom Natividad Crisostomo: “She had nerves of steel but a heart of gold.”
STAR/ File

My Mom was a lookalike of Ingrid Bergman, a Hollywood actress of Swedish descent famous during the ’40s and the lead actress in the classic film Casablanca.

The seventh of eight children, one of six sisters and second to the youngest, she was four years old when she lost her father, Juan Z. Periquet, who was of Spanish descent.

Her loss of a father at such an early age could probably explain why she ended up marrying someone 13 years her senior — looking for a father figure in her life. She got married at 16 and became a mother at 17.

Mom had nerves of steel beneath her delicate face, a tough survivor of wars and trials in life, stubborn and feisty when crossed. Behind the classic, aristocratic features was a golden heart and hand that was always willing to extend help to anyone that came to her. Some relatives recounted that they had not finished saying “Tita Naty (as she was fondly called,” and immediately she would say, “How can I help you, hija?” For sure, she would come across with what was needed.

“Can I marry you when you grow big? I will come back for you”: True enough, Dr. Constancio Crisostomo wooed and married Natividad Periquet, the woman he adored till his death.

She had an indomitable spirit and an insatiable appetite for food, travel, and adventure. Her cooking skills transformed our house into everyone’s hangout place on weekends because she made sure that whoever had classmates over would always have their favorite food served (which included snacks in between) and take-home, too. She would always tell our visiting friends, “Wait, bring these pastillas home to your mom” or “I had extra kare-kare and adobo prepared for your family — let them sample it, hija!” as she saw them off later in the day.

Joaqui Trillo holds a birthday cake for his mother-in-law Natividad Crisostomo while his wife Dada (in red vest) and children Paolo, Carlo, Luigi and Chesca watch.

Sometimes our kitchen looked like a school cafeteria or a hotel buffet table when we had our friends over all at the same time. Mom would be busy taking out from the freezer all the hoarded ingredients so she and our cook could prepare whatever everyone craved. Sometimes they were not all the same; one set of friends would say, “ Tita, can we have Italian food today?” and immediately, she would have homemade pizza full of salami and pepperoni and olives and anchovies ready to be devoured.

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Meanwhile, my brother’s friends, arriving a bit later, would request burgers and Hungarian sausages so she would make sure the accompanying condiments of Heinz ketchup and mustard and pickle relish complete with French fries and coleslaw would be ready come merienda time.

I recall a time when, aside from my friends and my brother’s friends, another sister arrived with two classmates asking for siopao and mami, but that didn't rattle her at all, knowing she had frozen siomai and siopao in her freezer ready to be steamed and another maid required to assist in preparing the noodles for the mami. It was to her delight that she could serve all these buffet-style laden out on our dining table for our friends to enjoy. How she managed to come up with an instant international buffet was a skill beyond me, but over the years, when I had kids of my own (three boys and one girl), I can proudly say that I inherited her culinary skills and secrets. Her trick was to have two freezers and a big fridge complete with all the favorite ingredients ready and complemented by a pantry that could match any restaurant commissary.

How my father met and wooed her is a story fit for a movie. He first saw her when she was six years old when he visited my grandmother as a medical student accompanying his mentor, who was the doctor of my lola on a house call. He said she looked like a doll with light hair and pink cheeks. My father recalls taking her in his lap and saying to her, “Can I marry you when you grow big? I will come back for you!” he added, before she ran away to play.

And true enough, he kept his promise to marry her after he saw her again, 10 years later, when she was already a 16-year-old young lady. They “secretly” married, with the help and connivance of her eldest sister (Tita Litz) and a parish priest who was luckily also a close family friend. A church wedding followed in the same year.

Among the many things I learned from her, Mom taught me that “There is nothing impossible if you have the determination and perseverance to pursue it.”  To her, the words “it can't be done” did not exist — and she would say, “Those are words that come only from the lazy and the unimaginative.”

Modern in her outlook and vision but conservative in her principles in life, she enforced traditions and house rules like a Gestapo — and most of these were maintained throughout her lifetime (more out of fear when we were younger and still single and eventually, followed, years later, out of respect and love, even when we were all grown up and married).

An example of this was the tradition of having Noche Buena in her house and this was followed even when we were all married. (It was difficult to shuttle from one in-laws’ Christmas dinner back to our house for the Noche Buena tradition but somehow, it all fell into place. So it became the norm that Christmas Eve early dinner could be with the “other side” (meaning our parents-in-law) provided we were all present in mom and dad’s house for the Noche Buena just before midnight.

Eventually, the traditional Christmas Eve Mass usually held around 11 p.m. in most parishes was adjusted to 10 p.m. in our village, so it was convenient for all of us siblings (and our own kids) to head to our house for Noche Buena after the Mass. This tradition was followed even after my father died and up to Mom’s death in 1997.

My father spoiled my Mom throughout their married life. To him, she could do no wrong. His constant reminder to us when, on some occasions, we daughters would gang up on her re her capriccios (Spanish word connoting whims) “Leave her alone to enjoy whatever she likes! I am allowing her so none of you has the right to question it!” These words signaled the “end of debate” for us “disrespectful daughters,” and Mom went on merrily doing whatever else she wanted, whether it was going to three different supermarkets for her groceries or watching two to three movies on a single Saturday.

Until the morning he passed away in Makati Medical, he still called her “my darling baby,” asking my sister to splash some colonia in his face after the nurse came to freshen him up: “I want to smell good when your mommy comes.”

But to me, along with my treasure chest of memories of her, I will always admire my Mom as the epitome of “a woman of substance.”

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This piece was sent by Neny Regino of the Sunshine Place which asked its writing class  to write memoirs .

The author,Imelda C. Trillo, was SVP of BPI, and after her retirement was consultant at BDO Private Bank.  A foreign service graduate of St. Therese’s College QC, Trillo was a Dean’s Lister and editor of Orion, the school’s literary publication.

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