Nanay had been many women in her lifetime. She was Felisa, the lovechild of Felix Alejada and Luisa de Castro born in difficult times. She was Corazon, the sickly child who was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to spare her from recurring illnesses. She never told us much about her childhood, as if some memories were better left unsaid. All she ever shared to us lovingly, was her grandmother Elaria, who raised her and took care of her. She grew up in Polangui, Albay, in idyllic sunsets, the view of majestic Mt. Mayon, and afternoon dives and swims in the deep river of Magurang town.
When World War 2 shocked the small city of Naga, Nanay was already a teacher and practitioner of ‘beauty culture’ – her expertise, the art of hair perming. Her perming victims? Her two daughters, my mother and my aunt — which turned out to be permanent.
Whenever she would tell stories of the war, even during her last years, a renewed energy would enliven her. She would tell us stories of how the Japanese planes bombed the Palacio and the Cathedral of Naga. Or how they all fled to Carolina when the Japanese invaded Naga. How they would hide in a dry well in the dead of night because the Japanese soldiers prefer the daraga. How her friends and acquaintances never came out alive of Ateneo de Naga, back then a Japanese military detachment. Or her adventures and true heroism as a guerilla nurse in Tancong Vaca.
During the latter year of the war, they decided to go to Manila, back then an Open City under Japanese rule, where she was employed in a beauty salon in old town Intramuros until, together with Lusing and Felimon, relatives of Nanay, went back to Naga. It was a lucky move. Two months after they left Intramuros, Manila was flattened and left in ruins in the most disastrous urban war in history.
There were many more stories of that time, I am sure. But in our youthful arrogance I guess, we never really cared to ask more. In retrospect, we should have begged for those priceless memories.
Nanay had been many women in her lifetime. A beauty culturist, a guerilla nurse, a World War 2 survivor. But more than that she was a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. For what better legacy is there than to be a Matriarch?
Nanay, at 16 years old, was forced into marriage with Vicente Rada. She cried, she begged not to be married. We look back at that moment, not with any moralizing empty words but with compassionate understanding of the circumstances of the time. Out of that union, her two daughters Lucy and Virgie, my Mama Lucy and my Mama, 8 grandchildren and 17 great grand children. We owe our lives then to the ‘kontrabida’ relatives of Nanay who forced her into marriage.
In the 1950s, Nanay met Enrique Bancaso, city fiscal and criminal lawyer. I believe they would call it love. Nanay, a feisty woman, with her incessant nagging and intimidating character, and Tatay, cool and passive. Together, they raised Mama Lucy and my mother, and our Auntie Clavel.
Nanay entered into many business ventures just to make both ends meet: pautang, buying and selling, etc. People who owe her money would tremble at her sight – she was a worse nagger to people who owe her money.
In the last chapters of Nanay’s life, she dedicated her life to the service of the church. She was an Ancilla Domus Dei for 30 years, a member of the Mother Butler and the St. Joseph Association. When finally, she could no longer go to the Cathedral because of failing health, the rosary became her constant companion.
As I end this tribute to a woman of strength, let me thank the families and friends who supported us during this trying time: the families of Baldonasa, Bueza, Rada, Regulado, Regalado, de Castro, friends of Nanay and our family. Dios an mabalos.
For us, the bereaved, Kahlil Gibran offers us these words of comfort:
“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
Salamat sa gabos Nanay. See you when we get there, but for now, we will live as you have lived — each day with grateful hearts, always seeking what magnifies our soul.