Painting an Old Woman

Note: This was an assignment for our non-fiction class. We had to make a profile of a person, and I decided to interview my lola.

My lola sat on her narra bed as I fished for my small notebook from my messy handbag. She was dressed in a flowy duster dyed in immaculate blue. Her face was lined with eighty-five years of creases and sprinkled with tiny dark specks that looked like Jackson Pollock splatters if he used tilamsk ng mantika. All of those markings were mere cobwebs–concealing, yet never fully erasing her refined beauty.

On the wall behind her bed hung a painting of an old woman whose back was turned from us, looking far into the wavy horizon of cobalt blue and deep sea green. The painting is entitled “Nagmumuni-muni is Inang“. My lola beams as she tells me that this painting was made for her by a famous painter named Edgar “Egai” Talusan Fernandez.

When I was younger I thought lola posed for this painting because the painting looked like her. The woman’s face could not be seen in the painting, but even so, I still thought she looked like lola because the painting completely captured lola’s aura. It turns out that this was painted when lola was still twenty years old. The painter was able to accurately predict what lola would wear, feel, and look like in her old age.

Lola says “Siguro nung pinipinta ito in Egai, iniisip niya na ganito ako pag tanda ko.” My Tita Delit does not like the painting, she thinks that it is sad. Lola says that “pagmumuni-muni” does not necessarily mean sad, it can mean that one is contemplating. “Depende talaga kung paano mo tignan ang isang bagay. Interpretasyon niya un, pero sa akin, hindi malungkot ang pininta ni Egai.

Dilag ng Kundiman at Tula

My lola was the star of her generation. She was known for her ever-radiant beauty, her talent in reciting poems, and her sweet melodic voice. She was the darling of fiestas and parties in her home town Navotas but also in Malabon, Bataan, and Caloocan.

She started to recite poems when she was eight years old. A neighbor, who was a program planner of fiestas and school ceremonies, taught her how to imbue feelings into the poems that she would read. Her first public declamation was during a graduation program called the Belada. She picked a poem called “Dalagang Bukid” from popular magazine called “Liwayway“. Her performance was so well appreciated by her teachers that they decided to send her to other declamation competitions.

In these competitions, contestants would take turns reciting poems until one competitor runs out of poems to recite. As each competitor recites, there will be a professional painter who would sketch whatever she is reciting. Little Adeling would win a lot of contests not just because of her amazing ability to passionately recite and memorize pages and pages of poems, but also because she was really clever. Lola said that in order for her to never run out of poems to recite, she would just recite two stanzas of a poem, then stop, pretending that the poem was already finished, and saving the other parts of the poem for her next turn. Her stardom reached the ears of professional poets in Navotas, and they would write poems for her to recite. Soon she was given the honor to crown the barrio princesses and beauty queens, introducing them and declaiming their beauty through the art of poetry.

When she grew older, she no longer recited poems for barrio princesses, because she was already old enough to become one. She would be present in every Santa Cruzan in Navotas, except during the times where she would be invited by other towns to star in their own prosesyons. In these prosesyons she would either be Santa Elena or Reyna delos Flores–the roles reserved for the most beautiful girls in the prosesyon. She was so renowned for her beauty that she was even invited to become Ms. Manila. However, for reasons that lola had already forgotten, her father did not allow her. Devastated that they lost Adeling, the organizers settled for their second choice–Imelda Marcos.

Singing was something that Adeling loved. When she was fifteen years old, she got a job at the Eliza Manalo program of KZIB studio, which was a popular radio station in Manila. She would be invited to sing every Wednesday, and she was paid P20 per night. During that time, it was already a big salary for a fifteen year old. Her father, Great Lolo Juanching, was very supportive and was always willing to bring her to Manila every Wednesday.

When Adeling went to college in MCU, two directors from LVM pictures went to her school and asked her if she wanted to star in their picture entitled “Siyete Dolores“. Adeling declined by saying that her father will not allow her to become an actress, but in reality she was sure that her father would be ok with it. The reason why she said no was during that time actresses were looked down upon. They seemed like people who weren’t respected. They were like public property or things that people toy with. She did not want to be like that, and so she declined.

Japanese Suitor

Before my lolo, my lola said she had another great love. During the Japanese occupation, my lola was courted by a Japanese soldier named Shimizu. Every night he would visit her. She said he was a gentleman, and that he never tried to harm her or touch her inappropriately, even during the time that there was a brownout.

Even though Adeling’s family was entertaining a Japanese guest, the guerillas didn’t harm them because they trusted Great Lolo Juanching. They didn’t question his integrity because they knew that he was just being friendly with the Japanese for the sake of his family’s safety. They knew that this was just a temporary friendship while the Philippines waited for freedom. Even Shimizu knew that one day, he would not be able to visit Adeling anymore. During one of his visits, he said to her, “Kapag ako kalbo na, ako paalam na“.

When the Americans finally came back to the Philippines, Great Lolo Juanching decided to relocate his family to a safer place. He quickly asked everyone to pack their bags and board the kalesa. When the kalesa was speeding away, Adeling saw Shimizu emerge from a street corner. He took off his hat, and she saw that he was bald. He smiled at her and from then on she never saw him again.

Back to Reality

Lola returns back from the memories of the past, and she asks me if I want to eat some kaldereta. I say yes, and as we move away from those stories, I looked at the woman in the painting, and I wanted to ask her what she was really feeling.

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2 thoughts on “Painting an Old Woman

  1. Hey Jaja, thanks for digging this up. I love your writing and you sharing this let’s me know Lola in a way that wasn’t possible for me.


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