Romance with the backdrop of WWII, Arrival of Thomasites and Religious Upheaval.
Elena’s Tatay Kokoy and Nanay Mena were dreaming big dreams for their firstborn child. They wanted to see her become a teacher. Elena had only one year of schooling to finish and then, she would be able to teach in the primary grades. They were all looking forward to the big graduation day. However, world events changed the course of their dreams.
Japanese military occupation and World War II from 1941 to 1945 with its cruelty in the Philippines is legendary. Citizens were terrorized. Rumors spread like wildfire that the invaders raped women, especially single women, and they threw crying children up in the air and tried to catch them with their bayonets.
Seventeen-year-old, Elena was scared. She needed a protector in order not to be subjected to sexual abuse by these brutes. Word was that women were untouched if there was a man around when the Japanese patrol entered the homes unannounced.
On the other side of town, a twenty-seven-year-old bachelor, named Juanito, took a liking to Elena. Although he was ten years older, he was attending his last year in high school at Misamis Academy, where Elena attended. His graduation was derailed because he was too clever for his own good. His homeroom teachers had twice promoted him to the next grade level. When he was going to be promoted again, in the middle of the school term, he quit. He declared he knew more than his teachers did.
When his parents were called in for a parent-teacher meeting, they were told, “We cannot keep him. He knows more than the teachers do.”
“Exactly what did he do?” his father asked. The Principal explained that he argued with the Math and Science teachers; the ironic thing was that he was right on in his computations and arguments every time. His classmates looked up to him for answers.
Juanito left school and wandered in places unknown for nearly ten years. Nobody could tame his free spirit. He was the proverbial rugged individualist who became the town’s traveling gazette as his wondering soul and itchy feet took him places, gathering news from reliable sources, and sharing them with town folks. He wasn’t called a newsmonger for nothing.
At some point in his wanderings, he realized he needed to come to grip with reality and find stability. He decided to come back to school to earn a diploma; be able to teach; and, earn a living to start a family. At that time, earning a high school diploma was the ticket to becoming a teacher. Impressed by Juanito’s demeanor, the school administrator gave him the janitorial job to defray the cost for tuition and school supplies. That's when he noticed the demure and attractive Elena on campus every day.
With his gentlemanly charm, he introduced himself to her and offered to walk her home one afternoon. He did not waste time making his move to win Elena and escorted her every day from that day on. Under the circumstance, it was not difficult for a seventeen-year-old to be enamored and smitten; although, she realized that this would be the disappointment her parents dreaded.
On moonlight nights, Juanito would come to serenade Elena by her window. This upset Tatay Kokoy every time. He tried to discourage her from entertaining Juanito but he was a charismatic young man with unusual knowledge and his thought-provoking conversations with her drew her close to him. He always talked about the sun, the moon, the Milky Way and all the heavenly bodies, and the wonders the galaxy brought to our world. She was captivated, and it showed no matter how she tried to hide it.
To an ordinary Filipino, Juanito was a lunatic who was out of his mind because he talked about world events they could not understand.
What they did not take into account was the fact that he was a voracious reader, which gave him so much knowledge of the world. He read Lifetime Magazine and the Reader’s Digest at the library. He also read, Herald of His Coming and Moody Monthly, religious periodicals he found at the church bulletin board; moreover, he read the Bible as if it was his textbook. It was inevitable that he became an evangelist, traveling from place to place, spreading the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ wherever he went and with anybody he encountered, who was willing to listen.
Juanito’s family was one of the first Protestant converts in town when Protestantism was introduced and ushered in by the Thomasites in the early 1900s. This posed a problem with Elena’s parents. They were against her carrying a relationship with him, fearing the possibility of marrying him, in as much as they were diehard Aglipayans, (a forerunner of protestantism that declared independence from the Roman Catholic Church). Religion was the glue that kept the family together. To top it off, Juanito did not have a stable income to support a family. They considered him a vagabond and vowed the marriage must not happen.
Juanito realized the antagonism towards him but this was not going to deter him from getting close to her. He found a way to talk to her at the well where she washed clothes every Saturday. He would sit beside her and carry on a conversation with her as she pounded clothes with a wooden paddle. She thought he was chivalric as he would help her drop the empty pail down into the well, fill it up and hoist it to fill the basin. She was infatuated. On this particular washday, when she was distracted, he stole a kiss . She protested and sobbed, not realizing that her little brother was close by and heard their seeming lover’s quarrel.
Little brother, Fredo, promptly ran home to tattle on what he saw and heard. With a jungle bolo in his hand, Tatay appeared at the well, waved it and demanded that Juanito marry his daughter because, as far as he was concerned, Juanito has ruined his daughter’s honor.
The fortunate day for Juanito and Elena was May 22, 1942 as they pledged their love for each other in a civil ceremony, performed by the town magistrate. Understanding a mother’s heartbreak, they decided to stay until Nanay could get used to the idea that her firstborn was emancipated and must leave the nest at some point. So the story would have ended right there, but it did not.
One day, during the first year of their marriage, Juanito and Elena were talking about visiting her grandpa in Oroquieta. They were going to look around for a place of their own to call home. Her tatay overheard the conversation and was upset with the idea that they were leaving without consulting with him first.
While they were having their lunch, Tatay got up quietly, picked up his mug of water and whacked Elena’s head with it. Blood spurted and oozed out off the top of her head as she was in and out of consciousness.
“Koy, look at what you have done!” Nanay Mena rattled off at her husband, while holding her daughter in her arms, covering the head with a piece of rug.
Tatay headed for the door and walked away, saying nothing.
Calmly, Juanito climbed up unto the ceiling, pulled cobwebs from the open beams and gathered enough to dress the gaping wound and stop the bleeding.
A couple of weeks later, when Elena was well enough, they snuck out of her parent’s house when everybody was sound asleep. They decided it was time to find their own place.
All through the years, their marriage was not an easy one. It was mired with hostility and intolerance from her mother’s side of the family. In fact, their children were shunned by Elena’s relatives because they were raised Presbyterian. They were ridiculed for saying “grace” at mealtime; reading the Bible every day; memorizing verses; singing only church hymns and short choruses. Moreover, foul language was taboo, unlike relatives whose staple words were crude, rude and gutter-oriented. Because this “goody-goody” bunch was excluded from family gatherings, they found a home with their church family.
Nevertheless, with all the obstacles they went through, by God’s abiding grace, their marriage lasted, raising six God-fearing children; and as of this writing, they have twenty-one grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren added to their family tree.
My father, Juanito, passed away at ninety-two on October 30, 2006. My mother, Elena, is still around, enjoying the sunset of her years. She will be ninety on August 18 this year. My hope and prayer is to see her around a little longer as long as the good Lord allows!