It was 1957. The acacia trees lining the avenues at the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman were not as tall and leafy as they are now. He saw her walking to class one day. She walked with a certain spring in her step, clutching her books. “Magarput” is his word. It’s an Ilocano word that’s hard to translate, but it connotes a certain kind of vivacious girliness. He kept an eye out for this “magarput” little Chinese girl from the sugar lands of the South, who mostly spoke English because she didn’t know much Tagalog, the lingua franca of Manila. She graduated class salutatorian from Negros Occidental High School. In those days being an honors graduate automatically granted young students admission to UP Diliman.
She had no idea he was interested, until much later. He was a good-looking Northern boy from the summer capital, Baguio City, and he was in UP to study mining engineering. With other Ilocano boys he roomed at Narra Residence Hall and spent some of his free time with his fraternity brothers, or riding around in his friend’s Volkswagen Beetle serenading young ladies at the nearby dormitories. She stayed at the YWCA dormitory across the street, where, every Sunday, they served the best fried chicken on campus. All the Narra boys dreamed of being invited to dine at the YWCA on Sundays!
My dad learned she was secretary of the youth organization at the UP Protestant Chapel, the Church of the Risen Lord. Naturally he joined, too. She had two other suitors, one of which became a top volcanologist, and the other, a prominent judge. But she only had eyes for my dad.
One fateful day he was returning to Narra Residence Hall from one of their dates, and came upon two fraternities fighting violently nearby. In the ensuing melee one boy stabbed him in the side! My mother brought him to the hospital, where she met my paternal grandmother for the very first time. When the boy who stabbed him found out that it was a case of mistaken identity, he was mortified. He apologized, and they later decided not to file charges against him. Oddly, a few years later, when my parents got married, he sent them a nice set of placemats.
My dad later joined an equipment firm, while my mom taught high school Biology at UP. They continued to see each other. On Valentine’s Day in 1967 he went over to her faculty room and said, “Let’s get married!” So off they went to Quezon City Hall. The two witnesses were my dad’s best friend and the judge’s secretary. They didn’t have much money, so they went to Little Quiapo nearby and had a crushed ice dessert, halo-halo, to celebrate. It was many years later that my mother was finally able to introduce my father to her mother. My maternal grandma was fond of saying, “You know, I never met your father until after they got married, but he turned out to be my favorite son-in-law!”
Twenty-five years later they renewed their vows in church. They’ve been together 46 years now, best friends and lovers and parents. They are in their seventies. My dad jokes that their marriage has survived this long because he is deaf in one ear. My mom says it’s because they each maintain their individual interests and yet support each other’s pursuits.
But I think it’s the romance, which is still quite strong. My friend Ana called me on the phone one night. The phone reception was very clear and she could hear everything going on in the living room, and even heard the doorbell ring. She heard the clattering of my mom’s shoes on the marble. “Who’s that? ” she said. “It’s my mom,” I explained. “My dad just arrived.” Suddenly it was quiet. “What’s happening? Why is it quiet?” I laughed and said, “They’re kissing!”
There are pink tulips in a little pot on the table tonight. It reminds me of the time he first gave her tulips many years ago. They were the exotic and fashionable imported flowers to give on Valentine’s Day back then. We were all stuck in traffic on our way to their wedding anniversary dinner. After sniffing the tulips, she said with surprise, “But they don’t smell of anything!” So he jumped out of the car and ran after a vendor selling sampaguita (jasmine) leis, and ran back. “Here!” he said, panting, giving my mother a lei. “Here’s the scent!”
Ain’t love grand.