A few days ago, I found a letter tucked in a box containing old notes and postcards which I had been sorting. It's a letter--written in Tagalog--from my paternal grandfather to my grandmother, written about a year before they were married. It's nothing like The Notebook, don't worry, so I'm not about to start driveling. In fact, it's quite bland, and written in a hurried fashion. Of course I personally find it interesting in light of what I know about my grandparents' relationship.
My grandmother was a public schoolteacher, one of the first to be licensed in the country. Those days teachers were in dire need in rural and far-flung areas. Up until the foundation of the Commonwealth, the educational system in the country had been handled by American educators and bureaucrats. When a corps of Filipino teachers was finally established, they were politically and ideologically primed to look at their profession as a mission. They had a pioneering approach towards teaching. When my grandmother first entered the service, she was assigned to distant Quezon (formerly Aurora) province, first in the bustling market-town of San Pablo, before she gradually made a circuit of the smaller and less prosperous towns like Candelaria, Dolores and Sariaya. She finally ended up in my grandfather's ancestral hometown in the Banahaw foothills. This was where they met.
Unlike Grandmother, my grandfather only had seven years of schooling. His mother died when he was twelve and since then he and his younger brother had lived with various relatives, doing odd chores and making themselves useful. At the time he met my grandmother, Grandfather was the custodian of a coconut plantation which was owned by a wealthy aunt. He would stay alone at night in a ramshackle hut in the plantation grounds and smoke incessantly until dawn in order to keep the mosquitoes and the chill away.
When he wasn't needed in Tagkawayan, he would be in Dolores, handling his aunt's general merchandise store and watching over her two daughters. He worked hard and was considered a reliable and conscientious person by his relatives. However, he had another side to him. At that time, the province was overrun with dancing clubs which provided entertainment and a bit of glamour in provincial gatherings in farms and haciendas. My grandfather was a member of a particularly popular and elite club called "Los Diablos." They had specially printed dance cards and wore exclusive tie pins. According to newspaper and personal accounts, the club seemed to have been much in demand. I have pictures of him from this time and he was quite the dandy. I'm not sure if my grandmother got interested in him because of his dancing skills or because of his overall air of responsibility. In any case, my grandfather has always declared that she was a horrible dancer, so his sentiments are clear on that point.
They had a more or less informal courtship, but before any sort of agreement could be reached, World War II broke out and my grandmother had to return to Laguna. My grandfather stopped dancing and joined the guerillas. He was captured and imprisoned with other insurgents for more than a year. My grandmother stopped teaching and started a small business shipping food items to Manila in order to help her family, bringing the produce herself through boat. After the war, she returned to teaching, but instead of going back to Quezon, she decided to take a masteral degree in the city. All throughout that time, they never tried to communicate with each other.
I don't think they really expected to see each other again. Ten years after they separated, however, both of them--my grandmother was thirty-seven, my grandfather thirty-five--were still unmarried. One day, some time in June, 1950, Grandmother was standing in a curb in Ermita with her younger brother. As they prepared to cross the street, she looked up and saw my grandfather standing on the opposite street. He in his turn was accompanying his aunt on one of her periodic business trips to Manila. Grandfather saw her too. He crossed the street first, guiding his aunt firmly by the elbow. As he stepped up the curb where she stood, he saluted her by name and asked if he might have her home address. He wrote it carefully on a piece of cigarette paper which her brother proferred, bade her goodbye, and went on his way. Two days later, he turned up in her parents' doorstep, carrying a basket of ripe yellow bananas.
I've never asked if they simply picked up where they left off or if they had to start all over again. They did not get married immediately. My grandfather was in the middle of another one of his never-ending stream of miscellaneous jobs. The letter I found was written during this period, I think. I'm not sure what work he was doing at that time, but he and Grandmother were separated again. He might have been in Dolores. What is clear is that they seemed to be writing each other regularly, even daily. The rest of the letter speaks for itself:
Hindi ko na nagawang sumulat kagabi upang sa araw na ito ay makarating agad sa iyo ang balita. Ng dumating akoy gabi na. Ikaw na ang bahalang magpapasencia sa mga pagkukulang ko. Maari pa ba?
Naisip ko kagabi ang sinabi kong... akoy darating sa linggo at dian na tutulog. Hindi ba't ganoon ang aking pangako? Oo, nais ko nga sanang ang bawat sabihin koy... lagi kong matupad, subalit, sa wari ko'y hindi pa maari. Napapahiya pa yata ako eh. Sa linggo ay gusto kong sumimba muna sa San Pablo. Kung matutuloy ay baka sakaling abutin ng tanghali doon, kaya kung makasimba ay sa tanghali pagkalabas ako punta dian. Payag ka ba ng ganoon? Itinatanong ko muna sa aking "boss" kung maari. Wari ko naman ay hindi masama iyon. Ang totooy napakatagal ng hindi ako naka-kasimba.
Kanina ay nakita ko si Severo sakay sa truck. Hindi na dumaan dine. Kung dumaan ay hindi na sana sa koreo napadala ang sulat na ito. Dumating na ba dian? Ang akala koy nariyan na, dahil sa wika moy kahapon uuwi at tuloy na sa pagpasok. Kung nalaman ko agad ay naipagbilin ko sa bata upang siya na ang magdala ng sulat naito.
Ito na lamang ang maibabalita ko sa iyo, walang wala na eh. Baka sa uli na.
I was not able to write last night so that this letter might reach you today. I arrived home late. I leave it up to you to forgive my shortcomings. Will you?
I was thinking last night about what I said... that I shall visit you on Sunday and spend the night there. Isn't that what I promised? Yes, I would like it if I could fulfill every single thing I said to you, but, to my mind, it's not possible yet. I believe I might still feel a little embarrassed. This Sunday I should like to go to Mass in San Pablo. If I do go, I'll be there until noon, after which I shall come to you. Will you agree to that? I must ask permission from my "boss" first. I do not think it is a bad thing. The truth is it's been a long time since I've gone to church.
A while ago I saw Severo riding in a truck. He did not pass by here. If he had, I would not have sent this letter through post. Has he arrived there yet? I had thought so, because from what you said he ought to have gone home yesterday and then on to school. If I had known that the boy delayed his journey, I would have entrusted this letter to him.
This is all I have to write at the moment, I am sorry there is nothing else. Pehaps there will be more to say in my next letter.
... My grandfather's orthography is quaint and interesting, and the tone of the letter mimicks his verbal mode of conversation--which in itself seems to be peculiar to his family and not to a specific geographical location--almost perfectly. I believe I might still feel a little embarrassed.
I do not have any letters written by my grandmother and I don't think I'll find one. Still, one doesn't know. Grandmother is what one might call a packrat. It must be because she was a teacher--she hoarded old documents as if they were school records that one might reference when needed, but a great deal of her papers was lost when the house which she and Grandfather built when they finally got married was nearly destroyed in a strong typhoon. I was already around ten years old when that happened. I had slept in my grandparents' bedroom and woke up in the morning staring up at a perfectly calm sky. The typhoon was on a lull, but despite its stillness, the sky was gray and ominous. The roof had been blown away. We had to haphazardly move furniture and boxes of old papers to the houses of nearby relatives and never recovered any of them. It took months to rebuild the house and by that time, no one could recall where they left which.
I'm not even sure how this letter found its way in my belongings. I have a sepia photograph of my grandmother when she was a debutante but I took and hid that one deliberately during the typhoon and had kept it with me ever since. My cousins and I all have their wedding picture. This letter, on the other hand, is a complete surprise. It has no historical importance. It's not even in the least bit romantic. I never asked my grandfather if he had written it because I was sure that he had completely forgotten all about it. Still, for that very reason, I am thankful I found it.