HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - March 8, 2021 - 12:00am

Many of us spend a large chunk of our life in this elusive quest. For many, it is status, achievement. Some find it amassing material goods; others in pampering the senses. For me, it lies embedded in memory, or memory itself.

So again, please forgive me for the very personal nature of this post. I have been ill, but the oxygen therapy prescribed by doctors Vince Gomez and Ricardo Quintos has improved my condition well enough for me to write this reminiscence.

I am 96, and my wife is 91. And both of us are very vulnerable in this pandemic, so much that we are truly locked at home. In the past, she has traveled with me to attend conferences, writing and lecture grants which I cannot afford on my writer’s earnings.

One early morning, we arrived in Washington, DC but we could not check in at the hotel because it was too early. So, we dosed on a bench in front of the White House until 10 a.m.

One December morning in that touristy town of Nikko near Tokyo, she immediately noticed the blotches of white on the ground. Her first snow – she took a fistful and threw it at me.

I was researching for my novel, Viajero, and we were in Seville in Andalucia, Spain, at the Archivos General de Indias – the repository of documents of the Spanish regime in the Philippines. When we got out, I hailed a taxi to visit the Moslem Palace, The Alcazar. The driver took us around the city then broadly smiling, stopped on the same spot where we started. The Alcazar was just across the street.

Was it Voltaire who said the writer’s pen is also a sword? My pen is just a tiny pin inflicting no mortal wounds, but I know I had afflicted some. In the early 1960s, I told the communists and their fellow travelers that they did not have to be Maoists to make a revolution. They tried to burn the bookshop. Soon after, because my journal, Solidarity, received assistance from an organization purportedly funded by the CIA, I was branded a CIA agent. My wife was really worried. The shop, her idea, was the main source of our livelihood and that it would be shunned. The day after the charge was in the paper, however, the shop was crowded. Nonetheless, I sued for libel and won.

Then in the late 1960s, I took on the sugar barons in the US Congress which grants them a huge largesse via the American sugar quota. I wanted the American “gift” either stopped or altered for the benefit of the sugar workers and not just the sugar barons. I hurt them, really hurt them.

On my return to Manila,Vicente “Tiking” Lopez invited his sugar colleagues to have lunch with me. My wife warned me that they could do me harm, but what did I have to lose? Before the meeting, Tiking took me to his bedroom and asked what I really wanted. I told him what I told the media and congressmen in America: reform the sugar industry, justice for the sugar workers. I didn’t budge, so the sugar barons decided to demolish me, brand me as an agent of the Latin American sugar lobby. When Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, he demolished the sugar oligarchy.

Sometime back, I pointed out that we Filipinos are shallow. A group of young people smashed the bookshop sign. I asked our Tsinoys where their loyalty lies, and I got tagged as a racist. Recently, I was bashed for stating that the case versus ABS-CBN was not press freedom. It was money, politics and power. My wife is my staunch defender; once she confronted face-to-face a writer who called me an opportunist; they became close friends. She had warned me, however, to be less severe as we were losing friends.

I met Maria Teresita Jovellanos in 1948. She belonged to a genteel Ermita family; her grandfather, Cesario, was a classmate of Jose Rizal at the old Ateneo. I was peasant proud from Barrio Cabugawan, Rosales, Pangasinan. She was 18, a college freshman and I was 23, a senior. We were both at Santo Tomas but we met at the birthday party of the UP poet, Godofredo Burce Bunao. I attended all the parties to which I was invited so I could eat. I was on the stairs leaving when she arrived as chaperon to a girl Fred courted. Our eyes locked briefly, and I decided to go back. There comes a time when two people grown fond with each other can no longer bear living alone. We eloped for the simple reason, I couldn’t afford a wedding, much less a wedding ring. I was earning P250 a month which was supplemented by the P50 I got for each short story I pot-boiled, almost all of them chapters from the Rosales Saga.

We rented a one-room apartment in the Singalong area. Teresita had led a sheltered life, four years as “interna” at the Holy Ghost College. She was frugal and a fast learner. One of her first purchases was an electric sewing machine, so she sewed or repaired my clothes and those of our children. She learned to prepare the peasant food I relished as a boy. In time, when we had guests in the house, she prepared excellent dinners – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, even Singhalese curry.

Doris Magsaysay Ho appreciated her pinakbet flavored with Ilokano pork bagnet. When we were in Spain, we sampled paella everywhere, and as Javier Galvan, Instituto Cervantes director in Manila declared, my wife’s paella is the best.

I always tell newly-married couples not to have separate beds – they should always sleep together so that it will be easier for them to reconcile if they quarrel.

Sometimes, I wake up at night, her arm across my chest, her soft warm breath on my face. Her hair has turned white, her forehead lined with a few creases. Her hands, though she had done a lot of hard work, they are still so soft but wrinkled now. I kiss them remembering how they had bled when she washed my khaki trousers long ago. Sometimes, we take the long way home from the shop, pass the shabby neighborhoods where we used to live  before we moved to this house in Quezon City. She built it from an original government shell. It seemed small when our seven children still lived with us, but it seems so big now that it is empty except when the children visit with their families.

On the 12th of this month, we will celebrate the 73rd anniversary of our elopement. After 20 years, I was finally able to present to her an engagement ring with a tiny stone, and a platinum wedding band which she has never taken off. As I said before, we all hurt those we love, and then we lose them. Heaven knows our quarrels and the many times I hurt her. Even now, as a Nobel Prize nominee, I still cannot find the words to express my gratitude to Teresita, my happiness and God’s most precious gift to me.

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