My late mother, Corazon Maristela Torrevillas, would have turned 105 years old this month. As the family gets together for a memorial lunch, I distribute copies of my column which I wrote on April 27, 1991. Our collective memory of the remarkable woman that she was is in this piece, which I share with my readers.
I was driving to a press conference yesterday morning when DZFE played the Poet and Pleasant Overture. As quickly as they come these days, memories came like a sweep of the hand across the keyboard. I remembered Saturday mornings in our two-story wooden house in my old hometown. The piano teacher would be coming and we had not practised our finger exercises nor the assigned piece from the Thompson piano book. We would tarry at whatever unpleasant task was on hand – like washing dishes or sweeping the floor, just to keep the teacher at bay. But he didn’t seem to mind our unenthusiasm. He would position himself at the center of the stool regally and begin playing Poet and Pleasant with gusto; he poured, it seemed, his whole world, his heart and mind and soul into his playing. I see the instructor, Mark Fernandez, whenever I am spending a few days in the hometown, and when he is at the piano, I could never resist asking him to play the same piece, and he would gladly oblige a former pupil who realized rather late that Saturday mornings should have been welcomed for piano lessons.
But I really wanted to write about my mother, whose second death anniversary was yesterday. While five of us older kids dreaded Saturdays, Mama welcomed them precisely for the piano lessons. We had started the same exercises, but she managed to learn to play the Aragonaise, Molina’s Hatinggabi and would you believe, Poet and Pleasant, before anyone of us did.
The time came when Mama proposed that we show off our playing skills in a family piano recital. She invited, it seemed, the whole town to the event. We kids struggled to play our pieces to the finish (in fact my younger brother Lem had a mental blackout; he could not remember a single note of his piece, a catastrophe then which he recounts 35 years later as the funniest thing that ever happened to him), but not so our mother who was then 47 or 48, who played her pieces with such flair and abandon that she practically brought the house down. She was the star of the show.
I tried yesterday, while driving through Roxas Boulevard, to recapture images of this woman who was the most important of human influences on our lives. The pictures of her were mostly of a laughing and warm person. She seemed to be laughing all the time as she chased after the shuttlecock and jumped like a frog to get it over the net during badminton games with Papa; as she took morning walks when her stomach was growing bigger and bigger each day with my brother Lem; as she chatted with friends who came to the house and she had nothing to serve them but Coke and biscuits for which she sent one of us children to the sari-sari store; as she swam at the beach during our weekend picnics; as she recounted, at almost every opportunity, how thrilled she had been when her short story came out in the Philippines Free Press and read at year’s end that her story had been judged “the worst story of the year,” and how, after corresponding with a pen pal for years, she came to Manila and read her pen pal’s name on the ID tag pinned to the breast pocket of a man sitting across her in a jeepney, and how she had seen that he looked kind of funny, and she raced down and out of the vehicle before he could start a conversation with her.
I think of that evening when the whole house, upon her orders, waited for midnight so we could behold the opening of the flower of a certain plant. She sat unmoving beside the flower pot, and true to her word, at the stroke of 12 o’clock, the red bulb opened with breathless splendor and blew the sweetest fragrance I ever smelled all over the house. My mother jumped up and down like a child and laughed, and said, “Oh, oh, oh.”
I could see her, holding the youngest baby in her arms, and looking very happy doing that, and singing gospel songs and teaching him to talk and coo and gurgle and make funny sounds.
I see her looking very pleased during a town fiesta where we sat in the midst of an admiring crowd in the town plaza, but Mama and we kids were gaping not so much at the beauty of the queen, but at the fabulous gown she was wearing. Mama had made her gown. She was, to the best of my knowledge, the best maker.
When we kids were down with the flu, the aches and pains quickly disappeared because she promptly sat down in bed beside us, with her paraphernalia of a basin with hot water and towels and a jar of Vicks Vaporub, and gave us a massage, at the same time telling us funny stories about when she was growing up with the boys teasing her and her playing pranks on them.
She played original tricks to keep us on the straight and narrow path. I was awake when she and Papa came home one night and the house must have been in a shambles because I heard Mama say, “Let’s leave a one-peso bill in the living room, the one who sweeps the floor will find it and we’ll allow her to keep it.” You guessed right; I tiptoed to the living room when they had fallen asleep and pocketed the money without sweeping the floor. Naughty, naughty me.
Once when our eldest brother did something terrible like hitting my older sister, Mama came to his bed that night and prayed and cried to the Lord to teach her naughty son to become a good boy. My brother was so deeply moved, and from the next day on, he became a good and dutiful boy. Years later, she would laugh when she talked about that night. “That’s an item in my bag of tricks,“ she said.
Last night, I prepared roast chicken for my son Andoy, who is leaving for the States for a vacation, courtesy of an aunt. I figured I must do something to have him think of me while he’s having fun in Disneyland. I gave him a framed photograph of the two of us, with me grinning from ear to ear, and he, looking handsomer than Richard Gomez. I wish I didn’t have to give him a photograph to remind him that he has a loving, laughing mom.
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