At a virtual meeting with high school mates, the host played a music video that reminded me of a pop singer with a sweetheart voice, Patti Page, singing, “Allegheny Moon I need your light to help me find romance tonight so shine, shine, shine.”
We were the lucky ones. Our songs were packed with wholesome lyrics and haunting melodies that literally took one’s breath away. They were honey oozing out of the comb, filled with romance and sentimentality, the kind that lingered, reluctant to leave like old songs do.
Thoughts quickly moved to worries of the day: A young grandson was going under the knife to remove a tumor in the brain, same with a daughter after a rigorous chemo treatment, while a husband has taken a determined attempt to fight prostate complications.
In general, we were school fellows just coping with aging minds and failing bodies.
But, hey! It was still a gifted day so bring on “more compassion, less judgement, more smiling, less worrying, more love, and less hate.”
Married couples are ‘martyrs’
In our high school batch, we produced a priest, and every week, he reads from the Gospel Book imparting words of comfort and motivation.
This week, the lesson was on love. He reckoned that married couples share some similarities with martyrs.
Specifically, “You participate in the same disputes, confrontations, pains, struggles, frustrations, worries and distress, (even some rough handling), through good times and in bad, without the bloodshed.”
“In marriage?” my eyebrows arched.
“Un-bloody marriage,” came the retort.
“So would you call this love?”
“True grit love,” someone cried.
Everyone fell silent, not wanting to raise a dispute. The women especially sported a veiled, mysterious smile on their faces.
Pearls of wisdom
When I got married, I carried an imaginary stop watch in my head; at the moment we sealed our contract, I pressed this timepiece to start. Go.
My fearless argument went like this: Here I am taking the plunge a few months short of turning 25. This stranger whom I married must prove that he could give me a life better than the one that my parents gave me and he’s got 25 years to prove it. If at any time, he’d exhibit weakness, arrogance or fraud, therefore slipping or falling short of the mark, I’d pack my bags and close the door behind with nary a hint of regret or hesitation.
We uncovered that we each feed on different interests and that we could accomplish things better if we embark on them separately. This gave birth to a running joke among us, Want to know the secret behind their togetherness? ‘That’s it! They are never together.’
But what about the extra baggage? Huh? You mean kids? They sat behind the family van with my favorite music album, and we’d hit the open road to life.
That was how we got the ball rolling.
We rented a duplex that was in a quiet, tree-lined, low traffic, secluded part of old Manila. It was conveniently close to his work and to mine.
Recipe for disaster
On our wedding day, Yaya Rosita insisted on moving in with us. “I want to make sure that this new husband of yours is the right man for you,” she declared.
Rosita kept busy by sorting our wedding gifts by category. For example, there were eight ice buckets and 13 sets of sterling flatware. At that time, there was no such thing as a bridal registry, and you couldn’t return or exchange the goods.
My mother-in-law, wanting to indulge her son, the groom, sent a dozen tall glass jars of his favorite fresh durian from Zamboanga, with the meat painstakingly removed from the pods.
They smelled sweet, almost like custard, thick and creamy. However, every so often, for a millisecond or so, you would get a whiff of something tart and slightly foul and if you weren’t used to it, it smelled worse than hell. Yaya Rosita wrinkled her nose and with a curt twist of her head asked, “What in the world are these?”
When I asked Rosita to cook the leftover lechon from the wedding festivities, she chirped with excitement. Cooking was her forte and she wanted so much to impress the newest member of our family.
My husband was instinctively lured into the kitchen. “Ah, Rosita, what are you cooking?” he asked. “Oh, Letty asked me to cook my famous paksiw na lechon,” she replied.
Wrinkling his brow, he went up the stairs but quickly turned around and went back down to the kitchen. “Rosita,” he repeated, “it smells familiar and yet it’s not.” Rosita continued stirring the pot. “I’m making paksiw, but Zamboangueños sure have a strange way of preparing the lechon sauce; you keep them in glass jars.”
At that point, my husband didn’t know what hit him. Twelve jars of his precious durian were now swimming in vinegar, peppercorns and bay leaves. “I think I’m going to lie down before I collapse,” he feebly whispered.
Rosita turned pale as thick beads of sweat formed on her forehead. “Did I do something wrong? Ano ba?” she asked.
You remember how kids spurn any snags or parental groundings by sleeping it off? I’m convinced that was how my husband coped with the loss of his durian, now “pinaksiw” in a pot.
That was the first worry, nah, disaster that we faced as newlyweds.
Can you call this culture shock? This inadequate knowledge of an alien culture that was Zamboanga to me, to my family, and to Rosita?
Strangers when we wed
The following day, I opened more boxes shipped from Zamboanga by my MIL. She sent 10 dozen bath towels (in three sizes: face, hand, and bath), four dozen bathrobes and eight dozen bath mats, all made of thick terry cotton and all in white.
Yaya Rosita mumbled, “Are we opening a laundromat?”
I dismissed her query and gave her fresh instructions instead, “Wash a dozen each of these terry items and store the rest in the linen closet.” (Aside. “Don’t ask me; Im just as clueless as you are.”)
Two weeks passed when husband gingerly approached me and asked, “Ah, my sweet, how many towels do you use a week?”
Is this a trick question?
I gave him an odd look and replied, “One.”
“One? Just one?” he emphasized.
“Yes!” I snapped. “When I step out of the shower, I use one to pat myself dry and then hang it, ready for the next bath.”
He gave me the most bewildering look and shut up.
Now getting agitated, I asked, “Why? How many do you use?”
Almost inaudibly, the husband replied, “Eight towels…a day.”
Worries of the day
A couple of years passed and the typical worries of the day went like these: Baby had colic so he was rushed to the pedia and that made me call absent at work. Meanwhile, the rains ruined my wash so towels hang merrily to dry in the dining area with the electric fan set at maximum speed.
These worries changed like the seasons and sometimes I’d hit a wall thinking of the best solution at hand.
There were deaths that came without warning, accidents, and even senseless acts of violence that struck close to home, affecting both family and friends. Painful as they were, we toughened our spirit to keep body and soul intact.
Summers passed and what do you know, we reached our 25th Silver anniversary. Still sporting a courageous smile, still looking out for each other, and still sharing the same room, the same bed but not the pillows, the blanket and the sleeping hours.
A friend in fact gave this fitting reminder: “This is your Appraisal Year. Twenty-five years gone, how is he measuring up?”
I laughed, “I already pressed the stop watch. Through every twist and tear, toil and travail, he’s still here and, so am I.”
When the years have turned to gold
We uncovered that we each feed on different interests and that we could accomplish things better if we embark on them separately. This gave birth to a running joke among us,
“Want to know the secret behind their togetherness?” “That’s it! They are never together.”
Husband was quick to correct this “one-sided” impression. “If you ask me, the secret to a peaceful union is simple: Obey your wife.”
Seriously now, we raised a toast to that.
On our 30th (Pearl) anniversary, heaven smiled and blessed us with our first grandson — the love of our love — who instantly revived our rusty parental instincts with a fresh dash of patience and pride.
We turned a corner and bazinga! We reached our 40th anniversary. Bursting belly and ruby lips have found a home at last.
The kids - now, no more - had turned us into doting grandparents. Do I feel any different? The distinction is blurred by the delight in watching my youth being replayed in these darling little people.
I hope you dance
Throughout this time, friends and family nagged me on one burning question: “What made you finally take notice of this quiet, shy, and tongue-tied suitor?”
My answer? “He can dance.”
Sometimes, you can’t find the words to honor and celebrate the prayers and tender wishes you’d want to exchange with one another - from a husband to a wife, a mother to a child, a father to a son, a sister to a sibling, from one friend to another.
I suggest that you listen to the music playing in your heart.
When you do, I hope that you, too, will get up and dance.
Here’s to a golden year, to my partner in life, for life.