By Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo
For 21 years, Manuel wanted to marry Elnora but it wasn’t until he was 47 years old that they were finally able to walk down the aisle.
Manuel and Elnora first met in 1964. To him, it was love at first sight. At 79, he could still recall how she looked and the clothes she was wearing when they first met – the same day he decided she was the woman he was going to marry. My dad would often tell us that it only took him a little over ten minutes to fall in love with my mom.
However, the circumstances were not easy. His friends often joked that the romance seemed impossible – “The Great Wall of China was too difficult to climb.” They would remind him that they were born 18 years apart and that she was of Chinese descent. But Manuel could not be stopped. None of these could douse his resolve to win the heart of the woman he loved.
Distance, age, and even culture were insignificant. He only needed to hear that she loved him too. Everything after that did not matter. It was surmountable.
Several months in the relationship, Manuel proposed marriage. He did not want to wait any longer. After all, he had already been waiting for 21 years. The fact that none of my mother’s family knew she even had a boyfriend did not intimidate him. Getting their approval was work he was willing to take.
After 32 years, their life has been far from perfect, if you believe in fairy tales. My dad is no prince charming, and my mom is no damsel in distress.
They quarrel over the simplest things, from crispy lechon to maintenance medicines, making us realize that love is not always mushy and sweet.
But what struck me the most about this seemingly odd couple was the way they reconcile day after day, without any need for apologies. (We’d know there was a big fight when he brings green mangoes home. Dad knew it was a better peace offering than red roses or tulips.)
Growing up, they would often remind us – love is never meant to be easy. There will be moments when you’d have to learn to live far from each other, when you have to fight over who switches the light off, when you don’t just see eye to eye, and when you have to endure the sight of the other suffering in a hospital.
Love is choosing someone everyday, even when you are disenchanted and disappointed, even when the rest of the world offers brief, short-lived, and uncomplicated romances, even when the easier option is to simply let go.
When Manuel and Elnora married 32 years ago, no one thought they would stay together. But they did. My mom stood by my dad’s side whenever he was at the hospital, even when he could no longer feed himself, or remember most part of his life.
They would have celebrated their 33rd anniversary this November but my dad passed away. But even with Alzheimer’s, his last words were true – “I love you, Ma.”
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(Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo is the chairperson of the Build Build Build Committee of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). She had previously worked with the United Nations Development Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in their Haiyan Emergency Response and Rehabilitation Programme. She graduated cum laude at the University of the Philippines Los Baños with a degree of Development Communications, she is now pursuing her Juris Doctor program at the UP College of Law and her Executive Education in Economic Development in Harvard Kennedy School. She has been awarded Natatanging Iskolar Para sa Bayan, Oblation Statute for the Virtues of Industry and Magnanimity, and Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines.)