Tita Naty and I were friends for more than 25 years. Yes, more than a quarter of a century.
She was indeed a remarkable woman who had so many friends who, perhaps like me, now treasure jeweled moments only they can tell.
My story is like that. Nothing spectacular or earthshaking. Just three little moments in one beautiful life, which perhaps only the two of us knew about once upon a time.
I have entitled it “Cinderella in Flowerland”.
I first heard of the name of Naty Crame from my mother.
I was a new principal then, looking for a speech teacher for my grade school at St. Scholastica’s College.
Without looking out from her cooking, my mother said, “Hanapin mo yung si Naty Crame. Magaling yun.” (Look for Naty Crame. She’s good.)
So I asked her where I could find this Naty Crame.
The answer was “Ewan ko”. (I don’t know.)
That was my mom. A woman of a few words.
Months later, the day after Homecoming at St. Scholastica’s College, my friend Didi said, “Alumnae pala natin yung si Naty Crame-Rogers.” She was an emerald jubilarian then.
That week, I went to see Naty Crame-Rogers in her home in Pasig.
By summer of that schoolyear, St. Scholastica’s Grade School embarked on an unforgettable project—the Teacher Training in Drama-in-Education for a staggering number of 100 teachers.
These teachers, whether they liked it or not (and believe me, they hated it!), became the core of a magnificent program that led to the St. Scholastica’s Children and Teachers’ Theater with Naty Crame-Rogers as its artistic director for 25 unforgettable years, their masterpiece to this day being Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
But looking back on that first summer, I realized that Tita Naty often talked about the Singalong Elementary School. Every time she talked about it, I had something to add about it because my grandmother worked in the same school.
I guess that annoyed her very much. (In those days, pakialamera ka!) So one day, she told me to bring a picture of my grandmother to her.
And so I did.
When she saw my grandmother’s picture, she said, “Oh yes! She is Mrs. Santa Juana. She was my mother’s best friend!”
It turned out that her mother was the Music teacher at the Singalong Elementary School and my grandmother the Home Economics teacher.
And every time there was a school program, her mother would dump all her four daughters in the Home Economic Room where she was sure my grandmother would see to it that they would not go hungry till the end of the program.
“You see, I was directing our graduation play and Flora would not say a word. So, I made her a flower”
But that’s not the end of my story. Tita Naty went on holding the picture I had brought. There was someone in the picture with her. She said, “But who is this girl in the picture? Parang kinakausap niya ako!” (Looks like she’s talking to me) She said with a big, angry frown.
The girl in the picture was my mother. “Si Flora! “ she exclaimed. “She was my classmate!”
Then she added, her words tumbling on each other, “But Flora was very quiet. So I made her just a flower!“
“Just a flower?” I asked..
“Yes,” she said, her eyes shining really, really brightly, sort of forgetting that we were in one century together. “You see, I was directing our graduation play and Flora would not say a word. So, I made her a flower. “
Their graduation piece was titled Cinderella in Flowerland and staged in a huge building along Taft Ave., Manila. Direction by Natividad Crame, grade six.
So that was where it all began. In Flowerland.
It was as if she dropped a gold key in my hand. This great director must have been about 12 or 13 years old when she directed her first play.
What a great privilege it was to hear it from her.
But to me the most important part of this story is that my mother was part of it.
Sadly, she and my mother never saw each other again after grade school.
But that led to one sentence at the end of May of our first year together, when, after our first gala night, she told me over the phone, “From now on, Florina may I ask you to call me Mother?”
And from then on, the first Monday of every month was M-D day for us.
LEONOR IN NORMAL HALL
I was about nine years old when I first watched “Tita” (Naty) the actress.
This was when the then newly-organized Arena Theater, staged
The Love of Leonor Rivera in the Normal Hall of the Philippine Normal School (now the Philippine Normal University).
She played the lead role of Leonor Rivera with the playwright-director-actor National Artist Severino Montano.
I sat on the floor with the other children of the faculty watching my uncle play the role of Leonor’s father, Don Antonio.
The play was brought around the country for many years and Leonor became Tita’s favorite role until her death, next to Paula in Portrait of the Artist as Filipino.
She was a very young and beautiful Leonor who brought this play to almost all the provinces in the country. I should know because my father often drove my uncle to the provinces where they performed.
The Love of Leonor Rivera is one of the most precious gifts she has left those of us who worked closely with her.
The last performance of this play, with her involvement, was held at the Department of Education Pasig with Dep Ed faculty and staff as performers.
PORTRAIT IN PARIS
The third part of this story is what no one ever knew or ever dreamt about. Not even I.
In June 1997, Tita Naty and her husband, Col. Joe Rogers, held their golden wedding anniversary at St. Scholastica’s Sacred Heart Courtyard.
As we prepared for the event, her husband, Daddy Joe, made a request: could the giveaway cake boxes look like the luggage tag of 1947?
Perhaps you should know that Tita Naty was one of the first six stewardesses of Philippine Airlines when it started. And Daddy Joe was one of PAL’s first pilots. That was how they met. But that’s another story.
The PAL staff wondered why anyone would want to see a 1947 PAL luggage tag
We sent one of our teachers to PAL to ask if we could look at or borrow a 1947 PAL luggage tag.
The unexpected result was the gift of a trip to Lourdes from PAL which was then also celebrating its golden anniversary.
Here comes a strange and beautiful story that very few people know about. Something akin to a miracle.
Tita Naty and Daddy Joe did not plan any trip for their golden wedding. The celebration at St. Scholastica’s was all they wanted.
But when our teacher went to PAL to ask about the luggage tag, the PAL staff wondered why anyone would want to see a 1947 PAL luggage tag. When the PAL executive learned about the golden wedding celebration, he asked the teacher what gift PAL could give the couple. The teacher said that the couple had really wanted to go to Lourdes in France but changed their plans.
On the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a PAL envelope arrived, containing two plane tickets to Paris. We kept them until the golden wedding celebration itself and handed them to the couple after the church ceremony. But surprisingly, they didn’t seem happy about it. Right away, Daddy Joe sadly said that they could not use the tickets because they had nobody younger to go with them. My husband threw his arm around Daddy Joe and pointed a finger at me, saying, “It’s all right Dad, she will accompany you.” And that was how I got to Lourdes—on my husband’s sponsorship.
Of course, we spent some time in Paris. Our host was a wonderful couple, Mr. and Mrs. John Maher who were introduced to us by a good friend.
Mr. John Maher, a car firm executive, welcomed us by bringing us to a French play performance by his company’s theater ensemble.
What Tita Naty did not know was that I had smuggled a copy of Portrait’s
Act One into our luggage. Knowing her, I thought it best to travel with that. Just in case….
Well, as I expected, just in case. . . . did happen.
Out came the script! And out came our silk blouses and our black skirts!
And so, in a beautiful home in Paris, The Philippine Drama Company performed the No Lights Scene of Act One of National Artist Nick Joaquin’s A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino.
Our audience was made up of actors and actresses just like us.
They were so quiet when we started the scene. But they gave us a standing ovation at the end.
Of course Tita’s laughing/crying scene brought down the house. But because we had a drink before that, I almost forgot to cry. But Tita’s on-the-spot ingenuity covered up for me though I got a scolding afterwards.
All my life I shall tell my children and my children’s children how once upon a time, I performed the No Lights’ Scene of Nick Joaquin’s A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino before a French audience in Paris , playing Paula to no less than the great Naty Crame-Rogers’ Candida.
What a gift . . . forever.
(Naty Crame-Rogers was one of the Philippines’ foremost actresses who was best known for her role as Paula Marasigan in Lamberto Avellana’s 1965 film adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s “Portrait of the Artist as Filipino”. She was among the indefatigable pioneers of theater education in the country. She passed away Feb. 1, 2021 at 98 years old.)