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Poetry by the garage
87 cheers for Dr. Paz Eulalia Saplala.

Poetry by the garage

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2020 - 12:00am

Like a haiku, our motorcade of two cars was the shortest convoy of happiness and the longest parade of love that we pulled to surprise our college professor on her 87th birthday. There was poetry in that brief visit. The morning sun celebrated with us. The dewdrops on the leaves of plants by the roadside of Faculty Village in UPLB foretold of the promises of a new start. The distant humming of cicadas was heard. It was a beautiful day.

Joy was planted on Dr. Paz Eulalia Saplala’s face; the vibrance of life silhouetted in her tinted red lips. Her silver-gray hair was her crown of contentment. The red dress she wore was necessary for a celebration, like a fitting message to the virus that life should still be celebrated — albeit with social distancing. Amidst the health pandemic, there was poetry by the garage of Mother Lily’s home. There was love.

When we entered the narrow street that led to the house of Mother Lily — our term of endearment for our beloved professor in Expository Writing, World Literature and Greek Mythology in UP Los Baños — a jamboree of happiness was unleashed in us. Dayday Cabrera lowered her car windows and started the merrymaking. Larcy Jarmin, her lone passenger in the back, held on to a balloon. I was tailing behind them, singing “Happy Birthday” at the top of my lungs.

Celebrating with Dr. Saplala are her former UPLB students Dayday Cabrera, Larcy Jarmin and the author with her children Sandy Yaptenco and Caloy Saplala and granddaughter Stella.

By the garage of her home, Mother Lily was standing. Her smile was as open as the sky. Her singsong voice echoed a multitude of gratitude. She was happy. We gave her cakes and a bouquet. Everything was received first by her dutiful daughter Sandy Yaptenco, our accomplice in this surprise love attack. Mother Lily’s handsome son Caloy Saplala and his daughter Stella were there, too, to receive us in their home.

We were not able to exchange hugs but we felt her motherly love. This virus was a downer, we thought, but it did not dampen our spirit to be together even if we were meters apart, even for less than 10 minutes. If it happened before the onslaught of COVID-19, we would be ensconced in her home, eating a hearty meal and finishing it off with her mouthwatering Food for the Gods. We would be reading poetry. We would be listening to her wisdom.

In my time in UPLB, it was already a badge of honor to be a student of Dr. Saplala. When I took my Expository Writing subject under her, she came to class not only prepared for the day’s worthwhile discussion, but to regale us, unwittingly, with her classy sartorial style. Her shoulder bag matched her dress, down to her shoes. She was never without lipstick; not a single hair strand was astray.

Beyond that, it was her nurturing nature and beautiful mind that made us fall in love with her. She finished BA English, cum laude, in UP Diliman with master’s in English Literature from the State University of Iowa and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Minnesota.

It’s just sheer magic when your former professor becomes your dear friend later on. Because we love Mother Lily, we celebrate her. Like how we celebrated her in the video of music and poetry reading that Larcy collated.

The shortest poem was said by Dayday, a statistician. “I love you. Ma’am Saplala.” It was direct. From the heart.

“Without her knowing it, Dr. Saplala taught me to be assiduous; that when you truly want something, you work hard for it. She was my thesis adviser and when she took me under her wing, she pushed me hard enough through her stringent ways that made me want to give up. But then, she was also encouraging, like a mother who saw to it that her ward, her child, would make it through,” said lawyer JJ Jimeno-Atienza. JJ, quite fittingly in the video, recited for Mother Lily the poem Why God Made Teachers by Kevin William Huff.

“Hope” is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson was the poem rendered by Mackay Quadra, a broadcast/communications trainer, for Mother Lily. “She taught us that we, as students of life, must never stop learning, observing and giving in to our passions. Mine was literature and theater at the time. Maybe she saw my potential and gave me a chance to direct plays for the UPLB community,” Mackay said.

Jello Salazar, a content marketing strategist, gave Mother Lily a gift of song, Bridge Over Troubled Water. “She taught me the value and importance of propriety. I have never met Queen Elizabeth, but I suppose being in the presence of Dr. Saplala is the experience most comparable to that,” said Jello.

In the video, Larcy, a part time writer/editor, soulfully strummed her guitar and gifted Mother Lily with Concerto en re Majeur (second movement) by Antonio Vivaldi. She said, “I played the classical guitar for her because she’s been prodding me to play again. She heard me play several times when I was in college. On her 87th birthday, that was my first time to play again after some 30 years, for the love of Mother Lily.”

For my part, I recited for Mother Lily Allan Popa’s Ang Lahat ng Daan ay Daan Pauwi. It’s true, Mother Lily is home. And every road I will take will always lead me to her.

Poetry brings us closer to her. For many students of Com Arts in UPLB, Dr. Saplala is an inspiration. Just to visit her is already a joyful trip; her heart, a poetic destination.

Mother Lily said: “Only by the grace of God would it be possible that 22 years after I have retired from a life of teaching, I should be blessed with your kind and loving greetings and visit on my 87th birthday, a greeting which is truly a tribute to teachers reaffirming their role in this world created by God. My heart overflows with joy and gratitude. Where would teachers be without students, students as thoughtful, kind, warm and loving as you are?”

Mother Lily is love. And that moment on her 87th birthday, there was poetry of love taking place in her garage. The visit was short but sweet. In the fleetingness of the moment was the lasting friendship that the virus would never be able to take away from us.

(For your new beginnings, e-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio Have a blessed weekend!)

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