The laughter and love of friends

By Elmer Ordonez

From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There’s nothing worth the wear of winning,
But the laughter and love of friends.
(H. Belloc) 

I was deeply moved when Narita Manuel Gonzalez showed up unexpectedly at the memorial last April 29. Wheeled in by her daughter Selma, the widow of the late National Artist for Literature NVM Gonzalez, in her mid 90s, practically blind, took time away from her home in UP Diliman to come to Cavite to bid farewell to Elenita.

The Gonzalezes were longtime friends and senior colleagues in UP Diliman, in the English Department and the UP Writers Club. The young NVM was a student of my father, principal of Mindoro High School in the late 20s.

Narita who could no longer see tightened her grip on my hand when I told her my name – the grip of love and friendship. I remember NVM visited me in the hospital in 1999 several months before he passed away at 84. The Gonzalezes are so loved and revered that when their “Pioneer Home” in UP Diliman was burned, their friends rallied to replace the lost books and photos with copies of their own.

Inevitably a number of friends/relatives in our age group and over would be in wheelchairs. Two others came thus —each of them carried by four waiters up the second floor of the resort hotel which elevator had broken down.

Atty. Aurora Sayoc Abella, in her 90s, the last surviving aunt of Elenita, always comes as the matriarch of the Topacio-Sayoc family, to preside over family occasions — weddings, anniversaries, and departures. Her daughters, Dr. Arlene, Atty Cecile, and Bessie assisted her, granddaughter of Magdalo general Licerio Topacio. Former Prime Minister Cesar Virata, my contemporary in U.P., noted his lineage from the Topacio family tree. He remembered our putting out the 1952 Philippinensian.

Jacinto Buenaventura spoke in behalf of Tita’s high school classmates (’46-‘48) at Imus Institute, oldest college in Cavite.

Prof. Raul Segovia, first chair of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, slightly younger than me, came in a wheel chair, assisted by his wife professor Lorna.

National Artist for Literature Frankie Sionil Jose, 87, could still manage to walk straight with a cane, accompanied by his wife, Tessie. Frankie recalled their having known us since the 50s and our spirited arguments over literature and politics. His fifteenth novel, The Feet of Juan Bacnang, was launched recently.

National Artist for Literature Bien Lumbera and wife professor Cynthia “Shayne” came. At 80 Bien was honored by progressive artists and cultural groups – an event I missed.

Novelist Rony V. Diaz and playwright/director/fictionist Amelia Lapena-Bonifacio, friends from the early 50s shared their pleasant memories of Elenita. Dear Aida, Rony’s wife, couldn’t come for health reasons. Rony and Amel have both finished their novels to be launched soon.

Professors of English Thelma B. Kintanar and Maybelle de Guzman remembered Tita by coming. Both had lost their loved ones recently. Other (colleagues/former students) from English showed up: Mila Carreon-Laurel, Nonilon Queano with Bella of Ateneo, Jennifer-Romero Llaguno (just widowed).

Fictionist Lilia de Leon came despite the fact that she was looking after her ailing husband in Pilar, Bataan. Writer Luning Bonifacio and Rene Ira sent regrets they couldn’t come. Tita was Luning’s maid of honor 57 years ago. Novelist Ester V. Daroy in mid 80s couldn’t come but sent her donation for the cancer fund and a beautifully designed book of Canadian authors.

Dr. Serafin Quiazon, the longest serving director of the National Library, his wife pharmacist Sonia, and retired SSS official Rey Gregorio, were among those who came — close friends and colleagues in UP Diliman. So did former RTC Judge Federico Alikpala, Jr. Serafin, Jun, and I belong to “Batch ‘50” of the Upsilon.

Artist/professor emeritus Brenda Fajardo spoke in behalf of the U.P. Arts Studies Department who came in full force, 20 of them led by Prof. Cecile de la Paz. Prof. Rosemarie Magno read a poem for Tita.

Penman Jose “Butch” Dalisay, jr. and his wife artist Beng (whose father is gravely ill) arrived. They are among the set of friends whom we met upon our return from exile – all active in the movement for social change. Butch wrote for the Philippine Star: “Tita was all sweetness and light (not unlike Beng herself, which was why they got along so well) but you could sense that underneath all that was a tough lady, steeled by her marriage to an accomplished writer forced into exile by martial law. Hers was a family of academics, artists, and achievers and I am sure that Tita would not have had it otherwise.”

Poet Roger Mangahas and feminist author Fe Mangahas came to see Tita off. So did ex-congressman from Bayan Muna Satur Ocampo with his wife, “Bobi” Malay. Satur spoke for the progressives present – Prof. Roland Simbulan, Prof. Roland Tolentino, Efren Yambot, Lerma de Lima-Yambot, Vivian de Lima, Rey and Cora Casambre, Norma Binas, and Rita Baua (representing BAYAN) .

The memorial was a reunion with ever supportive relatives (like Tita’s siblings and families, her cousins (Jacinto sisters, Sarroca sisters and families), nieces and nephews, plus those on my side (altogether, too many to name), friends old and new, all made aware what Elenita liked – “No sad songs for me” (from her favorite poet, Christina Rosetti). Any solemnity vanished as laughter and the love of friends and relatives held dominion.

My family’s deepest gratitude to all for remembering – and generous giving for the cancer fund.