He was an island boy. Born and raised in Basco, Batanes, he would tell his grandchildren that he swam with dolphins and rode tigers in the mountain. He said he speared lobsters and hunted long-legged land crabs that could climb trees and open coconuts. When the fishermen came in, he waded into the surf with other young boys to catch the rowboats as they rode in on the heavy swell. Otherwise, the boats would crash onto the beach made up of rumbling boulders instead of sand. In exchange, the boys received a small share of the flying fish that had been caught in the air with butterfly nets. Who knows how much of this was true? Most likely, as the fifth of six children, he was always just the right size for the chores the big boys and the bunso would not deign to do. Rain or shine, typhoon or winter wind, he was in charge of bringing in the cow from the hills down to the house for milking. She was a stubborn old cow and he was sometimes reduced to tears when she refused to cooperate. But he was also just the right size to ride on the handsome white horse, arms around his father’s waist, when the big bear of a man went around the islands to inspect the schools under his supervision. Papang would stop along a cliff overlooking the choppy sea, pull out his .45 caliber revolver and fire at the seabirds. They were faster than the bullet, he would say. There was never any danger of hitting anyone with stray bullets out on the water. Basco was an isolated place. A ship came only once a month with the newspapers if the weather was good. A boy like him who had never left the province almost certainly looked out from the pier and wondered what was out there beyond the waves.
She was born in Manila but grew up among artists and musicians in Angono, Rizal. The eldest daughter in a brood of six, she was always Papa’s princess, his favorite. During the war years as the family moved from place to place, she always slept in a bed while her siblings found their places on the floor. Of course she would give up the bed if someone was sick—she was always kind-hearted—otherwise, she accepted her privilege without guilt as only royalty can. She sat as a model for the central figure in a mural by her cousin Carlos “Botong’ Francisco. The painting originally adorned the grand Fiesta Pavilion of the Manila Hotel, but was later appropriated by Malacañan. As one might imagine such a muse, she never cooked or cleaned or did any chores as a child. While her younger sister fearlessly jumped from bridges into the river, she learned to sing and play the piano. There was so much more to her than these ladylike pursuits, however. She loved books and had a scientific mind. She graduated valedictorian and she was driven to do more. She wanted to be a doctor. Her father, however, felt medical school would be too strenuous for her and since Papa taught at the College of Medicine, he probably knew what he was talking about. Thus, she accepted his decision for her, but certainly she hoped that there was something bigger in store for her in the future.
They met at the University of the Philippines, both belonging to the first freshman class to use the Diliman campus in 1949. At the time, the campus was in a remote area of Quezon City surrounded by cogon land off Highway 54. As members of the first batch of students, they helped plant the acacia trees that line the Academic Circle. They went to some of their classes in Quonset huts left by the American military, and they all looked like they were in something from Sampaguita or LVN Pictures. He was in Engineering. She was in Pharmacy in the opposite building across the Beta Way. He was in the varsity swimming team. She couldn’t swim. In fact, she lost her shot at graduating with honors because swimming was a mandatory P.E. subject back in those days. He never went home for vacations because Batanes was too far away, and he couldn’t afford the fare home anyway. She was Miss Pharmacy, riding around in a top-down convertible. It almost seems as if no two people could have been more dissimilar or come from more different backgrounds. Yet, somehow they found each other.
Dad and Mom celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a couple of years before Mom passed away, followed by Dad a few years later. We will probably never know how they met, how he courted her, or how and when she answered. They never told us and we never really asked. They weren’t that kind of couple. We aren’t that kind of family. We know their parents were against the marriage, but they went ahead anyway and everyone fell in line eventually. We know they raised five kids and still had extraordinarily full professional lives. Dad’s faith in a world beyond the waves was rewarded when he traveled to every continent except Antarctica as a leading expert in rice processing. Though Mom never became a physician, she fulfilled her hopes nonetheless when countless people called her Doctor for her award-winning work in bringing a scientific approach to herbal medicine. To be sure, there were rough spots, especially when their work caused long separations. Well before the term became popular, they were OFW’s. But they always came home. We knew them as individuals, but they were a truly great team. How did they do it? How did they make it last? Who knows? If this was a match made in heaven, the cherubim were having a little fun when they made it.
Look across the table, in the other seat in the car, beside you in bed. What on earth could have possessed you to make you think that this stranger could be your partner? You can’t stand each other’s taste in TV shows. You can’t keep pace with each other when you walk, someone always has to slow down or speed up. Even your philosophies on brushing your teeth are different! Yet, somehow you’ve made it work.
To quote from St. Paul: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
I hope you had a happy Valentine’s Day.