Before I Forget

Gilda Cordero Fernando:
I miss you, Lola Mad

It was time for the newer humans of the world
to take over and experience life

Gilda Cordero Fernando, in wheelchair, seeking adventures and human connections way into her twilight years (From Io Regalado FB page)

The author malling with his Lola (From Io Regalado’s FB)

(A grandson writes what he considers a long overdue recollection of his grandmother, Gilda Cordero Fernando, the country’s leading writer, storyteller/fictionist, artist who enabled generations of Filipino artists, and who remains in the hearts and minds of kin and friends on her first death anniversary. With his permission we are publishing this post on his FB page.—Editor)

Happy Birthday, Lola Mad!

It’s the first of our Lola’s birthdays that we don’t get to celebrate with her around. In a couple of months, it will be a year since her passing. Many people have said and written lovely things about her since, and I feel an overdue obligation to do so as well.

I got the privilege to live with my Lola for about six years. And in those years, I’ve learned so much from her and got to know much about her with a very different perspective, as her apo. Though I may be all over the place with this, let it be my little attempt to share what it’s been like—there’s too much to talk about, but here goes a little something for the Gilda books.

Let me start with her daily routines. For longer than I had stayed under her roof, her morning ritual never changed: it was a simple cup of Tablea cacao, “La Resurreccion & Sunteck” from Binondo, with Stevia and green pinipig. The house always had the tablea and it was the best universally timpla-able thing to serve her guests, next to coffee, because she always had company. On ending the day, however, it was all about her skincare regimen. She never failed to moisturize, and for those curious, that was her only skin secret. And with that she lay with a good book or newspaper to read, or with some paper to write, secured in a kulambo in her air-conditioned room, while I slept on the sala couch.

A day in the mall for Gilda Cordero Fernando—she had her usual favorites. (From Io Regalado’s FB)

She smiled a lot at everyone and, around family, she liked to jokingly smile without her teeth (pustiso) on.
She liked talking to strangers. She always made conversations in elevators, usually with the operators, and made sure to tip them with a drink or some snack in her bag.
She was very vocal about her opinions to her surroundings, good and bad, with a certain crassness that only became publicly tolerable because she was an old lady in a wheelchair.
She treated everyone like good friends. Even if you had just met, she would engage you with an energy that just drew everyone to like her.

She welcomed everyone to her house, from high-profile personalities, to the less fortunate homeless people from the jeepney shed on the street corner.
She had a sense of justified generosity; she gave food to those without work (beggars et al.) and money to those working (street vendors et al). She once wrote a letter asking for a minimum of 1 peso compensation from someone who used her copyright in a published material—the amount wasn’t important, it was the acknowledgement.

She was willing to give away almost anything…. But, then again, I thought it was what she did best—sharing

As a former shopkeeper of an accessories and trinkets shop, she liked hoarding a lot of things, but she liked giving them away even more. Dapitan, the Cubao Expo, the ukay-ukays all over Quezon City were all her go-to places to find “treasures.” On her ukay-ukay shopping sprees, she’d bring all the househelp along and treat them all to entire wardrobes of new clothes. Everyone would come home super happy. She’d brag about her Expo hauls and would display them with pride in her room ’till someone would point it out, to which she’d reply with no hesitation, “You like it? Sige, sayo na lang.” (It’s yours.) I never imagined anyone so fascinated by things yet just as unattached, letting them go for others’ happiness. From clothes, vases, random toys to trinkets, for her it was not about owning the objects; it was the joy of having found them and sharing them with someone. She was willing to give away almost anything, and you dare not test her. But then again, I thought it was what she did best—sharing… that was why she also wrote.

Her fashion sense was so tacky (she’d even admit to this description with a pose). It was avant-garde. She’d wear a pineapple top with gold pineapple earrings, with pineapple-pattern print pants, and a pineapple bag, all from separate ukay-ukay trips (along with stripe sets and multiple animal pattern getups). She wasn’t afraid of being different or standing out. She went to the mall a lot and would parade her new clothes while “exercising,” being pushed in her wheelchair.

Gilda Cordero Fernando’s wheelchair had signs bought from jeepney sign makers. (From Io Regalado’s FB)

When I first stayed with her, she used to be able to freely lakwatsa (gallivant) until she eventually needed the aid of a cane, then a walker, and after she fell off an office chair that fractured her tail bone, a wheelchair. But that didn’t stop her from seeking adventures. She was happy nonetheless as it required less effort for her to wander. One random day, passing by a jeep sign maker, she bought every kind of sign they had and stuck them on her wheelchair as design. That inspired her to do (or the signs were taken from, I’m not sure) her wheelchair art show.

She had a tattoo on her arm saying, ‘If found please return to 37 Panay Ave,’ as she was afraid of getting left alone

She had a lot of wacky ideas, like having a tattoo on her arm saying, “If found please return to 37 Panay Ave,” as she was afraid of getting left alone, as she liked to get lost in her wanderings.

Gilda Cordero Fernando had her arm tattooed—‘If lost, return to….’—in the event she got lost. (From Io Regalado’s FB)

She loved eating out and trying new things. So, once a week, I was her driver, and we’d eat in new places I usually picked, places as random as Rodic’s Tapa to somewhere in S Maison.

The palate I knew my lola had was not one from her foodie books. It was settled on what was easy and surely comforting for her: Japanese sashimi or anything fried shrimp. She’d order Bacon Wrapped Prawns from MannHann often, and as deadly as it sounded, it was her favorite ipa-deliver. She would often make a face with a silly smile, closer to a grin, with food still in her mouth.

Besides Japanese food, she also loved junk food, and would sometimes jokingly have a bag of chips as her “meal” when tamad kumain (too lazy to eat). (I still blame the sudden trend and availability of salted-egg chips for her second stroke. But she loved them too much to care.) She was carefree in the truest sense. She didn’t care about a lot of things, as she believed a lot of things didn’t need caring about. She always had a container full of bags of assorted chips beside her bed. And at some point, keeping herself entertained became harder when she had a tougher time reading at night. So when she discovered downloading movies, she then asked us to download every single film she could remember, and when she watched them over and over, then the chips had a better partner.

With a name like Lola Mad, it’s ironic how she never got mad (frustrated maybe, but never mad at anyone, never mad enough to hold a grudge, never). If I would picture her happy, it would be her dancing. She loved to hum and dance. We would play CDs for her in the afternoon as she’d dance her only dance move, a very specific meditative ethnic-like sequence of arm movements for everything, even if it didn’t suit the music.

She wasn’t afraid of talking about death and would often, at random moments, say, “I want to die already.” It’s not something anyone would hear comfortably, but she always said it with a contented tone—not because she lost hope, but because she was already satisfied with her life, with what she had achieved in her lifetime, and that her age was telling her that it was someone else’s turn. It was time for the newer humans of the world to take over and experience life. She didn’t want to be a burden as she believed that the older she got, the more magastos (costly) it was for everyone. She held her wake while she was still alive because she genuinely wanted to hear what her friends would say.

One dinner time, we had a conversation.

Me: What is love?
LM: Ang corny mo naman.

Me: What is happiness?
LM: That’s a stupid question. Only you have an answer to that.

Me: If you wanted one thing right now what would it be?
LM: I will wish for P20,000. *Opens her wallet na walang laman* (I think this was the price for the car maintenance she had just paid for.)
Me: Why not gumaling nalang likod mo?
LM: (Ignoring what I said) 20,000 lang and then +9 for apos or 18 if you want 2,000 each.. andami pala so minus 4k nalang kasi wala naman Chin and Majalya dito (verbatim)

And, this touched me still… because it may sound silly, but she always lived in the now and never failed to put others before herself. Mga sagot ‘pang Ms. Galaxy.

Eventually, she became more ulyanin (had memory lapses). Eventually, she spoke less and less words in a day. Then came the coronavirus, ECQ, lockdown. The start of the COVID quarantine marked the end of adventures. She became bored really quick and would sometimes force the driver to just take her around the neighborhood in circles, just to see sights different from her bedroom window. At her age, it was doubtful she’d be able to go out as free as before. It would have been a new normal she wouldn’t enjoy. It was the lack of exploring and looking for the next interesting thing to talk, write, or even paint about that ended her adventures—well, in this world, rather.

Bless her kind and loving soul.

There was so much wisdom I learned in the time I “took care” of you. I love you, Lola, and I miss you.

National Artist J. Elizalde Navarro’s drawing dedicated to Gilda Cordero Fernando (From files of Thelma San Juan)

About author

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From being an ad copywriter and graphic designer to now an owner of his own holistic brand design studio, he aims to utilize his skills to portray identities and tell stories through careful curation of images and words.

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