Loren shows us her roots

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - March 11, 2014 - 12:00am

Sen. Loren Legarda’s secret hideaway is in the midst of the bustling commercial district of Caloocan and Malabon cities  right where you would expect a hardware or a sapin-sapin store.

But Loren’s hideaway, just off Samson Road in Malabon, is a tree-shaded sanctuary, where bougainvillea shrubs carpet the lawn with their fuchsia blooms; where homes from the ‘30s, ‘50s and ‘60s stand proudly still, as if on a Sampaguita Studios set.

All that she is, she confides, is deeply rooted in this place.

“This is where I lived from the day I was brought home from the hospital after I was born, to the day I moved out as an adult,” Loren tells us proudly. She retreats to the Malabon compound, which belonged to her grandparents, the late Manila Times editor-in-chief Joe Bautista and his wife Mameng, on weekends.

Five of the seven Bautista children, including Loren’s mother Bessie, built their homes here. On a white bungalow on the property, Loren grew up, learned to paint and play the piano. Her father Tony Legarda still lives here.

Loren hosted lunch (adobo, kare-kare and ginataang pako home-cooked under her supervision, plus Pancit Malabon, of course) for some friends at the Malabon compound last Saturday, Women’s Day. Being there brought to the fore thoughts on the strong women in her life, those who have passed on, and those who still guide her today.

“I give recognition and appreciation to the great women of my life, who have honed me to become who I am today. Like my Lola Mameng. She was the anchor of Lolo Pepe, an indefatigable worker, who stayed up in the wee hours of the morning to close the pages of The Manila Times. Lola had to raise seven children and she still ran a taxi service and a botica. She had many businesses on the side to help give her children a comfortable life and lovely home. She was a strong, loving woman.”

Loren also paid tribute to her mother, Bessie, who passed away in 1996. “She was so much like Lola. My father is a quiet and laid-back businessman and it was my mother who was the go-go person in family. Her great wealth was her great wealth of friends. They are her great legacy to me. Everywhere I go, I am approached by someone who was her friend. Through them her spirit lives on.”

Another former Malabon compound resident is Loren’s former nanny, her Nanay Fely, who has been with the Legarda family for close to 60 years now. Now 81, Nanay Fely is Loren’s second mother, whom credits for her “frugality and diligence.”

* * *

Loren’s reminiscences remind me, too, of the strong women in my family.

First is my mother Sonia, who just turned 75 last January. She braved homesickness and culture shock as a child in order to follow her dream of going to a good school in Manila. At 11, she was transplanted from Bongabon in Oriental Mindoro to an elite convent school in the heart of Manila, the St. Scholastica’s College. At St. Scho, Mom not only gained lifelong friends, she gained the confidence to broaden her horizons and level up to people from all walks of life. From St. Scho, she pursued Business Administration at the UP in the mid-‘50s, one of the first if not the first, from her hometown to do so.

After she married my father Frank, Mom followed him wherever his work took him — to Iloilo, to Legazpi City, to Anaheim in California. And always, always, she bloomed wherever she was planted.

Mom is a proud woman, and her pride in herself and her desire to honor that pride uplift her in both good times and bad. She will accept kindness, but never pity, from anyone. She will always enable you to be the best you can be, but will never push you to excel at the expense of your own well-being. She could always take a number-two ranking from her children if that meant a good night’s sleep for them.

* * *

Another strong woman in my life was my paternal grandmother, Mary Loudon Mayor. She was the grandparent I hardly knew, and for that I grieve.

In 1966, her third son Thomas (Uncle Buddy) was stabbed to death. He was able to crawl a distance to ask for help, but died hours later at the hospital due to massive blood loss.  Grandma Mary and her husband Grandpa Zario (Col. Nazario Mayor) were in their home in Palawan when Uncle Buddy breathed his last. She died the year after, in 1967, a mortally wounded mother.

Grandma Mary was born in Palawan in 1906, when the island paradise was a new frontier. Her father was Thomas Loudon, an Irish-American from Carbondale, Illinois and her mother was a Spanish-Filipina named Cornelia Diaz.

During family gatherings, I would hear about the tragic story of my great-grandmother Cornelia and her youngest daughter, baby Nellie. In 1913, an armed band attacked their happy home and killed Cornelia,  “with cuts across her back and with her arms cut into three or four separate pieces.” Baby Nellie was later found dead in her crib, “with a cut at the base of the skull, and the left side of her face wholly cut off...”

My grandmother and her other sister Lulu survived because they were in school. Though motherless, Grandma Mary grew up neat, orderly and God-fearing. She later raised eight children in Palawan, where she chose to live even after being educated in Manila and the US. She was the quintessential new frontier wife, standing by my grandfather during World War II in the jungles of Palawan and making the island her home even during peacetime.

My Grandma Mary was a survivor, willing to make sacrifices for the people she loved and making the best out of what was available to her under the circumstances.

The only thing she couldn’t survive was the tragic death of her child.

* * *

My maternal grandmother Nanay (Jovita Reyes) is as vivid in my mind as the scent of Joy perfume, which she gave to me when I was pre-teener. It was expensive, and she wanted awkward me to feel like a lovely lady despite my unattractiveness.

Nanay always made me feel special, even when others would tease me about my weight or my clumsiness. She was the antidote to the inferiority complex others gave me. She would always buy me nice lacy dresses from Cinderella and Rustan’s and when I turned 18, she gifted me with an embroidered scalloped princess-cut gown from Malou Veloso to wear at my debut.

Nanay was the entrepreneur in the family, the prototype of today’s Go Negosyo woman. Tatay (My grandfather Igmedio) and Nanay ran the version of a conglomerate in Bongabon in the ‘50s.

Her mantra to her children and great-grandchildren was “All mine to give.” She was the epitome of unconditional love. Whenever I remember how she put me on a pedestal even when I looked like a page and not a princess, I realize how the faith of a loved one can and does bring out the best in all of us. (You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)

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