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The Learning curve

Growing up with my cousin, Sylvia Mayuga

Mine was a childhood rendered doubly special because of first cousins who were wonderful models for me, strong and talented women all. Among them were Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, Della Gamboa Besa, Elnora Teopaco Figueroa, Bee and Patsy Monzon, Lita Lucero Jison, and Sylvia Mayuga. Our mothers and Lita’s father were all Lucero siblings.

I always kid that you’re Filipino if you are related to everyone, and I seem to exemplify that. Often, I am asked in near-disbelief, you are related to everyone, even to C.B. Garrucho, even Cory Aquino? And that is only on the Lucero side of me, not even the larger Sta. Romana clan.

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I was the youngest in this group of cousins and closest in age to Sylvia, who was known in the family as Aging or Ging. It was not easy growing up with her as near-peer. We’ve all read about her admirable accomplishments, her extraordinary way with words, her thoughtful and radical insights, especially brought to everyone’s attention again after we suddenly lost her on the last day of the year.

But even as a young girl, Aging was already a star. She was graceful, attractive, charmingly impish, extremely talented, able to win everyone’s hearts. Who was not to feel like an ugly duckling, as I did with my adolescent woes of blemished skin, dark and dour moods and teenage awkwardness?

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But, no, Aging never consciously made me feel like the ugly duckling. She was always as warm and supportive as a big sister from the time I entered St. Scholastica’s College as an insecure fifth grader, while she was already seen as a campus figure in the company of classmates Tachie and Inday Feria, Toni Serrano, Dulce Quintans, Helen Yuchengco—all belles of the ball.

At our clan reunions on Christmas Day when each of us had to contribute to the mandatory program, a prerequisite to receiving our presents (a total of at least seven from the family branches), while we struggled with stage fright, there was Aging so winningly confident in her poetry or her dance number. She was a Voice of Democracy finalist, a decidedly unfair advantage. I froze reciting some poem learned in class, while Joseling sang as he played the guitar, Danding played the bongos, Nonette played the violin, Belio sang “How much is the doggie in the window?”, Chito and Nelin did a twin oratory… but all of us were completely outshone by Aging. (The older cousins like Doreen and Della were spared but were there to cheer us on.)

Aging was extremely popular, and I can name the many suitors who waited in queue for a dance or to catch her attention. Why, she had the world at her feet. She had such a busy social life that the Monzons, at whose Rawlands, Mandaluyong home we always had regular sleepovers, took to calling her “Crack of Dawn”—her typical check-in time from a party or a date. She felt freer there, as her father was known to be very strict and would physically punish her for such transgressions.

We loved being at the Monzons because Tito Pat, an AFP general, had an extensive library that Aging and I feasted on, me copying whatever she read. His wife and my aunt, Tita Glo (she of the Sigma Delta founder fame) was always so welcoming and hospitable, and organized cousins to go to Baguio or to their post at Sangley Point.

I read the entire Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Judy Bolton series in that household. It was Aging who introduced me to “Penrod” by Booth Tarkington, Louisa May Alcott’s “An Old-Fashioned Girl,” even G.K. Chesterton. How could one not be led to reading and writing with her as a constant companion?

What special memories my cousins and I have of our growing-up years, with Aging being teased for her controversial and contrary views. One could not converse with her without the chat turning into a philosophical discussion on life and the universe.

Though we suddenly became adults and led diverse lives, she was always a caring presence, through the difficult years of Chito’s exile and Chona’s murder. She was encouraging in my pursuits and involvements.

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Farewell, Aging, a true morning star. (She adopted “Morningstar” as her FB name because that is the meaning of “Lucero,” a name she was always proud of.)

———————-

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Bee and Patsy Monzon, Della Gamboa Besa, Doreen gamboa Fernandez, Elnora Teopaco Figueroa, Lita Lucero Jison, Sylvia Mayuga
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