ISABEL LLACUNA ALCUITAS

November 19, 1902 – May 20, 1988

Teodoro ‘Ted’ Alcuitas

As we celebrate Mother’s Day tomorrow in the middle of the pandemic, I remember my Mama.

My mentor, my rock.

I was a child of war whose memories of ‘bakwet’ looms large in my memory.

Mama Babing, as she was affectionately called by my close relatives, took charge of a large family of seven (I was the youngest at the time) because my dad was not around for part of the war. He was an officer of the guerrilla movement against the Japanese occupiers but had to escape to Leyte to avoid being killed by his own unit in the ever too common rivalry stories of our revolution.

So Mama had to step in.

Shepherding all seven of us from the enemy – ‘bakwet’ from the Hacienda Osmena in another village which my father was the encargado to our town of Carcar. And finally, on a weeks-long  harrowing trip by ‘baruto’ to Leyte to join my father.

But it was not those days of war that I want to remember Mama but my growing up years.

Mama was a ‘maestra’ ( a public school teacher) and the main breadwinner of the family as my father was an itinerant gunrunner of sorts and could not support us with his earnings.

When Mama was assigned to the barrio far from our town, she would have me along as her companion ( or was it the other way around?). So I had to tag along with her – taking the bus to Ocana where she taught Grade One.

I remember her literally burning the midnight candle doing her ‘lesson plans’ which teachers were required to do daily. What fascinated me was her use of the fountain pen (she had the coveted ‘Parker Pen’) filled with ink. She used a ‘blotter’ to make sure the ink did not bleed into the pages and occasionally I would ask to do the blotting.

Perhaps, it was from her that I got my love for writing and reading. She subscribed to a teacher’s magazine and The Philippine Free Press, published by the father of the current Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. I just loved those two publications and devoured it cover to cover.

Mama was a devout Catholic and imparted her religion to all of us. A devotee of San Antonio, I remember her wearing the brown habit with a white belt which she would wear every Sunday. She assigned me to light a candle before the church icon every Sunday before mass and when I was on my teen-age years I began to feel embarrassed to be seen doing it so I paid a candle sellers to do it for me. 

The San Antonio icon.

The praying of the never ending novenas to San Antonio and other saints fell on me and my elder sister because she came late from her work. I remember my knees sucked into the bamboo slat flooring of the house and in my young mind.

So, slowly , I started questioning the piety that Mama practised.

I drifted a bit from religion in my adult years even as I was going to a university run by the Catholic Order, Society of the Divine Word (SVD) – the University of San Carlos where I earned my degree in Architecture.

Later, in one of my trips to the Philippines I asked my elder brother if I could bring to Canada the icon of San Antonio as a reminder of my mother. I used to fix it whenever it got broken and I did not do a good job at it and  I can see it now.

But my belief in the miraculous powers of San Antonio who is the Patron of the Lost has been proven many times in my life. Whenever we lose or misplaced something – keys, documents, etc. we would light a candle before his icon and invariably we found it!

Once, in a trip to Venice, we bought a watercolour painting from a street artist. I had it wrapped in brown paper and hand-carried it. Lo and behold, when we were seated on the train, Cora asked: “Where is the painting?” I was supposed to be carrying it, but I said “No you were carrying it as I was carrying our luggages.”

So we thought we it left at the ‘vaporetto’ or water taxi. I was consoling myself: “At least somebody would be enjoying the painting.” 

But silently, I was prayingto San Antonio.

As we alighted from the train,I looked down and saw a brown thing on the floor with shoe marks all over it.

It was the painting! Cora placed it on the floor before going up on the platform and forgot all about it. People were stepping all over it as it blended with the floor but the painting was OK.

Thanks be to San Antonio!

Mama was a compassionate person and would help our poorer relatives whenever she could. She would give away things that my sister would gift her from Canada instead of keeping it for herself.

Our house too was always open for those in need.

Mama would care for a cousin who would show up drunk and she would take care of him until he sobers up. Another cousin ran away from home and ended up with us. Mama did not turn them away.

But the greatest gift I got from Mama was her sense of fairness, reminding us always to treat everybody fairly and honestly.

Before she died in 1988 at the age of 86, she sent each of us a simple, typewritten note:

“My son, I won’t bother you with my advice, Just be good and be just to your fellowmen. No matter how high your station in life maybe, never forget that you came from poor parents and that you belong to the poor. Don’t forsake them, whatever happens. God bless you.”

Yes,Mama. I have tried to live by those words.