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A tale of two fathers

/ 01:02 AM June 16, 2014

Yesterday (Sunday) being Father’s Day, allow me to write about my father. But I will start with his own father, my  lolo, a Katipunero, because his was an interesting and sometimes funny story. I heard their stories from bits and pieces told by our elder relatives.

My grandfather, Numeriano Cruz, our Lolo Nano, had very poor parents because of which he did not finish school. As a young man, Nano was lured by adventure to join the Katipunan of Andres Bonifacio and was almost killed in his very first battle. It was in Novaliches that the Katipunan unit of Nano faced off with the Spaniards and Guardia Civil. The Katipuneros were armed only with bolos and bamboo spears; the enemy was armed with rifles and revolvers.

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Brandishing their bolos and spears, the Filipinos charged toward the enemy, running on bare feet, and were cut down by the Spanish guns. Nano was one of the first to be felled by bullets. His comrades scattered and fled, leaving Nano for dead in the battlefield.

The next day, a lass gathering firewood chanced on the wounded Nano. At first she thought he was dead, but when she put her hand on his chest, she felt a heartbeat. He was still alive.

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She hurried home to ask for help, and Nano was carried to their hut in a carabao sled. The lass nursed him back to health. That lass was to become my grandmother. It took a long time, but Nano’s wound healed and, at last, he was ready to go home.

Nano’s comrades, meanwhile, had arrived home and told Nano’s relatives that they saw him fall. After many days and he did not return, they assumed he was dead and went through the usual ceremonies at home for departed kin. Home for Nano was in Malabon. At present, the trip from Novaliches to Malabon takes only an hour on concrete roads, but at that time, walking barefoot on trails and crossing numerous streams, it took a whole day.

Clad in a clean white shirt given to him by his benefactors and his old pants, Nano set off for home after breakfast, bringing with him his lunch wrapped in banana leaves. He did not reach home until after dark.

It so happened that was the last day of mourning for Nano and that evening of his arrival, people were gathered in the sala and outside the house in prayer. Imagine their shock when they saw this young man in white walk out of the dark toward them. As he came nearer, they recognized him as Nano whom they had assumed was dead. They scampered away screaming in fear. Some of those inside the house jumped out of the windows and also ran away. But it was not a ghost who came home. It was Nano in flesh and blood, home from the war.

Nano spent the next few days telling his story, how he was rescued by a family in Novaliches and nursed back to health. He longed to go back to Novaliches, to the girl who had nursed him. So he left after a month to go back to the Novaliches girl. Nano had fallen in love.

To make a long story short, Nano courted and married his nurse. Nano took her home to Malabon. They survived by planting corn in a small plot in Tenejeros. They boiled ears of corn and sold them. Their only son, Pablo, who was to become my father, was born under such dire circumstances. Pablo’s mother died when he was just a toddler. A childless, well-to-do aunt took care of him and considered him as her own son. She sent him to school and after many years he graduated with a degree in accounting from the Jose Rizal College. In the board examinations for accountants that followed, he finished in the top 10.

He was immediately hired by the Budget Commission whose office was then in Malacañang. Because he was talented and an efficient worker, Pablo quickly rose through the ranks.

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During the administration of President Carlos P. Garcia, he was appointed as the very first chief of the Office of Economic Coordination, the predecessor of the present National Economic and Development Authority. All the government-owned and -controlled corporations were under his supervision.

In between, he married the woman who was to become my mother. Her name was Anastasia, named after the famed daughter of Czar Nicholas of Russia whose entire family was massacred by the Bolshevik revolutionists.

Together, they produced six children, five boys and one girl. There was another daughter, Emily, named after one of the Dionne quintuplets, but she died when she was only a baby.

My remembrance of my mother, who died early, was that of a woman who spent most of her time weaving and embroidering  jusi  for barong Tagalog in a loom under our house. While she was weaving, she bade me sit beside her and read from a preschool reader. It was she who first taught me to read and write.

She died while I was only in Grade 1, not long after baby Emily died. I was home from school when she died. She was lying in her bed and in pain. It was her abdomen. Women were gathered around her; her abdomen was exposed and they were slicing tomatoes and rubbing these on her abdomen. Probably the coolness of the tomato slices eased the pain somewhat.

As I sat on the floor, the women told me to go somewhere and play. Before I left, my mother called me and touched my head and told me to be good and study well. When I came back she was dead. (To be continued)

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