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Invincible grandmas


Gemma Cruz Araneta

Gemma Cruz Araneta

By Gemma Cruz Araneta


Once the board meeting was over, the trustees of the Community Chest Foundation indulged in a delicious hopia and tea merienda, exchanging opinions and witty remarks about the current dispensation. After a while, a lady trustee begged off as her grand-daughter was waiting for her.  There was a spark in her eyes when she said that her grandchild knocks gently on her bedroom door to ask if she could spend some moments with her. How delightful, I said, she knows that grandma’s room is an oasis of calm in a world of trolls, fake news memes, and hashtags.

“You should tell her about your life, what you have been doing for the community, the country. After all, you are recognized as one of the leaders of civil society,” I ventured.  She demurred and said that the pre-teener would probably not be interested. That made me wonder if my grandmother felt that way about me. Was that why she hardly ever spoke about her personal life?  I have found out more about her much later in life, while researching at the Lopez Museum and library.

In some issues of “El Renacimiento,”  I came across news items praising   my grandma as “la esperanza de la Patria” when she was only 16. There was a full-page photo and write-up of her and her sister Maria, in stately to gas: she was the first lady pharmacist and Maria the first lady lawyer. She did tell me that she taught after graduation and that there were basketsful of love letters (including my grandpa’s), which she tore up; that first batch of co-eds, daughters of the First Republic, must have been a sensation.

Quite often, we visited her relatives in Sampaloc where we sought refuge in her father’s home after Ermita was destroyed during the Battle for Manila in 1945, but she never mentioned that her father was the indomitable Gabriel Francisco who wrote and produced seditious zarzuelas which put him in trouble with American authorities.  She was probably careful about unwittingly raising rebels, so her bedtime stories were about her favorite saints — Santa Rita de Cassia, patroness of unhappy wives; Santa Filomena after whom she was named; St. Anthony, who found lost things; Santa Barbara, to whom she prayed during lightning storms. She was petrified with fear by the sound of thunder; could it be because she lived through three wars?

With a naughty smile, she would sing ditties like “Hototay” which was about American soldiers afflicted with LBM during the Philippine-American War. She never spoke about that war, nor about that memorial she signed with a group of students protesting the effects of “benevolent assimilation.” Much later I learned that “Hototay” was a corruption of “Let’s Have a Hot Time” which was a sort of battle song of the invading American troops.

My mother was a war widow and had to work full time at a daily newspaper.Grandma was the surrogate who bathed and clothed my brother and me, took us to school in the family car, and made sure the cook prepared our favorite dishes.  This invincible woman   taught me about Jose Rizal.

For those who have grandchildren, make sure you tell them about yourselves, never about how much better (or worse) life was then, but more about what you did to contribute to nation building. (

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