concepcion herrera-umali stuart (1913-2000)
today is the 100th birthday of my mother nena, and my sibs and i are throwing a party for her, like we did for papa two years ago, like mama and her sibs did for lola concha (of Revolutionary Routes) in 1986, and like lola concha did for lolo tomas in 1977. my sibs and i not being conventional at all about a lot of things, this is the rare family tradition we find ourselves happily observing. a fine time to reconnect with the clan, kahit pa incomplete, some in europe, some in america, wish they were all here.
mama and papa met in med school, UST class 1937. she was the first lady doctor of tiaong quezon. but the babies came, seven in all, the first in 1940 the last in 1954, and she gave up the doctoring to bring us up, the ever present mother, except when she had to spend time in tiaong to look after coconut and rice lands, and when she went back to school for a degree in psychology because she wanted to do counselling, though she only got to practice on us kids and the occasional friend in trouble. it was also around this time that she started having problems with her eyesight, and she started learning braille.
it was mama who drummed into us: it’s bad form to speak of oneself, i did this i did that. also, ‘wag ka i-first; last ka dapat kung ikaw ang nagkukuwento. not i and kuya but kuya and i. bawal na bawal ding magbuhat ng sariling bangko. let others do the praising, without prodding, when, then, you truly deserve it. or something like that. which of course is so civilized, but certainly not the way to make it quick in this dog-eat-dog world where selling oneself and/or selling out is the peg.
when she was 60, mama was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 4. doctors couldn’t give her a year, or even a month, but she lived another 27 years. read My Mother Survived Cancer Without Chemotherapy in nancy the nurse’s blog.
as eldest daughter of lola concha, mama was deeply pained, and angered, by the tragedies that befell her younger sister’s guerrilla husband during the japanese occupation and her eldest brother narciso the congressman in the time of the huks and magsaysay. when lola concha wrote her memoir in spanish, i think mama was relieved; she said it was all so personal, better kept private. and yet, in her 70s, with her eyesight practically gone, she had us taking turns reading the memoir on tape and, touchtyping, she translated it all, line by line, into english, not just for the family but hopefully for publication.
now also an e-book, Revolutionary Routes: Five stories of incarceration, exile, murder, and betrayal 1891-1980 (2011), Foreword by Reynaldo C. Ileto, is as much mama’s book as lola concha’s and mine.