HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 29, 2017 – 12:00am
It was 40 years ago today when Lydia Mabanta and I got married. She was a beautiful, innocent, wide-eyed 20-year-old girl who marched to the altar for her father to give away to a 25-year-old man waiting at the end of the aisle.
We met in 1976. My cousin Robbie was dating her sister Nandy and he had this idea that if I could date his girlfriend’s sister, this awkward chaperone practice would be less of a drag for them. He invited me to a party at Nandy’s house. Lydia and I were instantly attracted to each other. The next night, the four of us went out to watch a movie. It was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest starring Jack Nicolson.
We dated for seven months before she had to migrate to the US. We thought it would be the end. But during the next seven months, we wrote each other almost every other day via snail mail. They were intense letters expressing how much we were missing each other. The Internet had not been invented, of course. Long-distance calls were very expensive. Almost daily, I would wait for the mailman to pass by and ask him if he had a letter from her. I would read and reread every letter for days.
I finally mustered the decision to call her one night and ask her to marry me. She wasn’t home. She was out on a date. At 4 a.m. San Francisco time, I called again and she had just got home. After we talked, she decided to come home to the Philippines.
As much as we wanted to marry immediately, we could not decide where to have the wedding since I was also waiting for my papers to migrate to the US then. After a few months of waiting for my petition to come through, we decided that we would stop waiting and just marry here in the Philippines.
We chose the Church of Mary the Queen to have the wedding. The priest, however, refused us because Lydia was only 20 years old. I politely but firmly told the priest that we could go to other churches where we could most likely find a priest to allow us to marry. After talking to us for about an hour, he gave us his blessing.
It was not to be a grand wedding. I was a poor young man who had P30,000 savings to my name. I had a budget of about P1,000 for her wedding gown. My brother Gabby gave me clothing material and had a new suit made. I borrowed a necktie from my soon-to-be father-in-law. My mother-in-law had me made a nice white long-sleeved shirt.
On the day of the wedding, Lydia showed up radiant in a classic, gorgeous Gang Gomez gown. She had modeled for him before and he practically gave it to her for a song. Father Kull, a favorite Jesuit teacher of mine, officiated the wedding.
The reception was held at my mom’s house. We had a big garden. The day before, the very tall glass was cut and cleared, and we strung bare bulbs to light up the place. We served cocktails, which was all we could afford. There were no decorations or anything fancy. The garden was not even spruced up. We had our friends and immediate relatives over and that was enough. When it rained, we all rushed inside the house to continue the celebration. We were even delighted. We saw rain as a blessing.
Our parents and godparents gave us cash gifts. My father-in-law had estimated how much we spent for everything and gave us P18,000. We got P6,000 from our ninong Chito Ayala. We got a few more from other guests. We felt rich enough to start life with about P30,000!
I was working for Jem Recording Company, a start-up then that played a big role in the history of OPM. Half off my salary went to rent for an apartment within the Balete area. Before every fortnight ended, we would be eating meals at my in-laws since we usually had very little money left. After we spent on groceries, gasoline, and things for the house, we would watch movies at the Arcega’s theater along Aurora Boulevard.
It was the ’70s. We did not want to start a family right away. We wanted to be a couple and do things without the responsibility of having to raise a family. We wanted to venture into life together. We had no maids. We wanted to be independent.
But after only nine months, we felt like we were just “playing house,” and decided it was time to change plans. Nine months later, Erica came into the world.
The hungry years were great, memorable years. We had very few worries. We had no great ambitions to be rich and buy a big house. We had a nice secondhand car. We were happy to have a stereo set and listen to records we liked. We made love, watched movies, ate at very modest restaurants and hung around with friends. What else could we possibly want or need? We were content to live in our little apartment except for the fact that thieves were always trying to attempt to steal our car radio.
Not too long after, my career as a singer-songwriter with a then-unknown group called Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society started to take off. We bought a modest shell of a house in Fairview. At that time, North Fairview was the last place you wanted to live in. It was in the middle of nowhere. You had to go through bad roads to get there. It had no streetlights and it was a dumping ground for dead bodies.
But it was our own house. It required no down payment. We bought it without help from anyone. We fixed it up into something beautiful that felt comfortable and safe like a real home. We were happy there.
We had two more children, Ala and Mio, after Erica, and two grandchildren over the course of 40 years. We have moved up in the world. We have had other homes and have done a lot of traveling. All our children live away from us now and have acquired citizenships and residencies in other countries.
Time passes by quickly. Forty years seem like a flash, a blink. The young girl I knew and married is now a doting grandma. She is the light of our lives. She has made every place we have lived in a comfortable, warm home.
The frail young girl I had married 40 years ago has become a strong, independent and caring human being. She is also a fierce cancer survivor.
As a couple, we are still adjusting to each other even after 40 years. That’s because marriage is the most radical of all human relationships. It is a blank check you sign and you never know what the payments are, nor the terms. Anything can happen. It is full of surprises.
We continue to walk on through the long aisle of life before we get to the altar at the end. Forty years have brought us closer to each other and to the inevitable end of life.
We look back with gratitude that we have been blessed. Life has been generally good and abundant. We have good children and grandchildren. Most importantly, we continue to learn a lot about acceptance, give and take, forgiveness, patience. Every day, we learn a new facet of what we understand as love with all its joys, pains and blessings. We still have plans for the future. We still plan to do the Compostela Pilgrimage, and we look forward to seeing our grandchildren as adults.
But today, we celebrate and toast cheers to ourselves.
I love you, Lydia.