Nellie and Elpidio Loleng with their children (from left) Jojo and wife Beverly, Aimee, Natalie and husband Jose Antonio Mijares, Karen and husband Manny Parungo and Ian. Not in photo is daughter Cheryl Mangasarian.
‘Auntie Nellie’
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - May 21, 2019 - 12:00am

My Auntie Nellie turned 90 last week and she was so happy she danced to the beat of Dancing Queen, lips pursed in full concentration, arms waving like she were a millennial in an outdoor music festival.

Even if she is petite, slim and seemingly frail, Auntie Nellie, according to my sister Mae, “is the loving force that holds the clan together.” Like Queen Elizabeth II, Auntie Nellie, the matriarch of the Mayor clan (my late father Frank’s side of the family), has “reigned” over the clan for decades now, her influence cascading to virtually all family members.

Her birthday bash was held at the Princesa Garden Island Resort in Puerto Princesa, where she and her husband of 65 years, Elpidio J. Loleng or “Uncle Pedieng,” a brilliant geodetic and civil engineer, share a “love nest” in a subdivision he himself developed. Five of their six children (Jojo, Natalie, Ian, Karen and Aimee, while second child Cheryl flew in a few months ago) flew in from different sides of the globe to celebrate with her. It was a celebration not only for her husband, their children, 21 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, but for the entire clan.

Nellie with her son Ian’s unique gift.

Her youngest daughter Aimee Ferrer describes her mother as “a strong and disciplined role model…the person who taught us how to cook pot roast, refrigerator cake, fried chicken with gravy; sew our socks, buttons and mend our clothes; to share food in the house among six siblings; to bathe our newborn babies when we became mommies ourselves.”

My mother Sonia’s sentiments exactly. My Auntie Nellie would visit her when she was a newlywed bride of 21 and teach her the Mayor family recipes, my dad’s favorite dishes and desserts. Like she did to her own daughters, Auntie Nellie taught my mom how to make refrigerator cake (a torte of “lady fingers” or broas, cream made from scratch, pineapple slices, meringue); baked beans (topped by bacon, brown sugar and a tomato sauce mixture) and the gravy that has been a family recipe even before Auntie Nellie was born (flour browned in about two tablespoons of the leftover frying oil, evaporated milk, water, salt and pepper) and apple pie. These recipes are enjoyed by even the youngest members of the clan.

A young Nellie.

When I was born, Auntie Nellie would visit my mother early in the morning and teach her how to bathe me, even if I had a midwife caring for me. I asked my mom if she ever felt that Auntie was “meddling” and she said, “No, never. Nellie was never pushy or obtrusive, and she had a gentle way of sharing with me what she knew. She taught me how to be a good mother.” After all, Auntie Nellie was once a Home Economics teacher.

My sister Valerie, who now runs “Valerie’s Kitchen,” a thriving desserts business, recalls, “When I was a little girl, I remember going inside Auntie Nellie’s kitchen and seeing her make a fluffy cloud of something — which I later found out was White Mountain frosting. Then, she put a few drops of green food color and the white cloud turned glossy light green! I was mesmerized. I think that was the moment that triggered my interest in baking.”

(From left) Auntie Nellie and Uncle Pedieng with my mom Sonia Mayor and Auntie Coney Tamayo.

Auntie Nellie not only knew how to darn socks, she could actually sew and embroider the lining for baby bassinets, which she gave to all her grandchildren.

When her granddaughter Maniya Parungo, now an executive, once told her lola she was going on a sleepover and confided in her that her classmates would wear pajama sets, Auntie Nellie sewed her a set. To this day, Maniya has kept that pajama set, now faded and loose for her. She always makes time to visit her grandparents in Puerto Princesa.

*  *  *

Auntie Nellie is my baptismal godmother and she always made an effort to “expose, expose, expose” me to a world beyond my comfort zone. I remember that when I returned from Iloilo after Dad was posted there for five years, she took an interest in molding me into a well-rounded young lady. I was 10 years old, overweight, awkward and I had an inferiority complex. She let me tag along with her daughters Cheryl and Natalie to Girl Scout meetings, school fairs, even dances! I learned how to overcome my insecurities and rise to my full height whenever I was meeting sophisticated people. To this day, I always try to seize the moment, get out of my comfort zone, and “expose, expose, expose” myself to people I can learn from — and not tremble with insecurity before them.

Nazario and Mary Mayor with their children after World War II. (Standing, from left) Buddy, Frank, Robert, Nellie, Coney and Maryanne. On Mary’s lap is baby Loraine.

The last word goes to my Uncle Pedieng, who, in the late ‘60s, built a big and beautiful house for my Auntie Nellie in Quezon City and made sure it had a garage that could accommodate a fleet of vehicles. In his video greeting to his beloved wife during her birthday dinner, Uncle Pedieng confided that he has loved his wife for 75 years now — since she was 15! My dad, their go-between, used to relate that Uncle Pedieng inserted his first love letter in a book he borrowed from Auntie Nellie. And it was my dad who hand-carried the book to her.

“Nellie is a very loving wife. She takes good care of our children, and others — including me! She spends money very well, very economically. She is kuripot — she put our money in food and the education of my children. I wish she would live till she is 110 years old!”

I know why — he would like to love her for 20 years more, because 75 years of loving her is simply not enough. *

 (You may e-mail me at Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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