News soon spread about my Mama Mening’s passing. Friends and relatives came. People noticed the growing number of floral offerings. Flowers where overflowing for this woman who really loved flowers. Maximina Minerva Rañua Badajos - Atega was known for her garden of orchids, roses and other unique collections – and for her endless charitable work. The chapel where she was honored was overflowing with floral arrangements, and when she was transferred to the big church, more flowers were offered, the others had to be placed in lines outside the sanctuary. Near her white coffin with silver trimming where two regal clusters of her favorite blooms, the Waling-waling. More orchid arrangements surrounded the casket: vandas in shades of gold and purple and dendrobiums in white and violets. She had them all and they all seemed like they were joyfully blooming to honor a dear friend.
It made me wonder how a daughter of a fisherman could gather all these touching ways of respect?
My mother, born on June 4, 1921 in Kauswagan, Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte was an ordinary woman who made choices that gave her an ‘extra-ordinary’ life. Being the daughter of a farmer-fisherman from Camiguin Island, she knew the value of hard work and learned to be independent, for her mother died when she was still 4 years old. She chose to study in the town proper where education was of better quality even if she had to take long walks everyday to and from her barrio. To have money for lunch she would sell boiled camotes to her well-off classmates who would sometimes exchange their sandwiches with jolly Mening’s camote variations. On weekends, she would work in her father’s coffee farm, where she formed her great love (actually, more like an addiction) for any form of coffee drink, and in the evenings she would go fishing with her Tatay.
After graduating from grade school, she left her town to study in the big city. She spent her first two years of high school in Davao City, but World War II sent her back home. The lovely young Mening caught the attention of the Japanese commander who was assigned in Agusan. She made use of the special attention by asking the Japanese officer to build a classroom for children near her father’s coffee farm. Sunday school for children kept my mother busy during the war. With their closeness, the officer also made sure that my mother’s family would be protected, and the assignment was a pleasure to the Japanese soldiers for my mother had rewarded them with a share from the coffee harvest. Mama Mening’s special connection made her secret mission easy to undertake: help the Filipino guerillas with supply of food and medicine. She was able to save many lives, among them a woman who was almost raped by the Japanese soldiers; there were around 40 young Filipino men facing execution and her commanding voice had stopped the death sentence; families who, assured of protection, crossed the Agusan river…. She was a war heroine.
The mayor of Cabadbaran during the Japanese occupation was Virgilio, the handsome son of the town’s wealthiest land owner, Don Andres Atega. A bachelor, Virgil was very popular among the ladies, and he would visit them from barrio to barrio. He heard of three lovely sisters in a coffee farm and he decided to visit them. His eyes were not on the beautiful face of the very confident Cecilia, nor on the very shy Crisanta, but they were on the lovely pair of legs, the loveliest he had seen, belonging to the youngest of the three, Maximina. He also loved the simplicity of this woman whom others fondly called Mening. To give his visit a sense of purpose, he requested the three ladies to organize a benefit dance that would be held in the town plaza. On the evening of the event, Mening was asked to sing a song in tribute of the young mayor. Mening with her “Mutya sa Buhat” number instantly became the young mayor’s sweetheart.
The love that bloomed was strengthened by their secret mission during the war: they used their influence to help the Filipino guerillas.
After the war, Virgil decided to take up Law at Silliman University. The Japanese commander offered Mening a trip to Japan and asked her to become his wife, but she turned these down. Mening went to Agusan National High School in Butuan City to finish her secondary education. Her classmates would always remember Mening’s talent in theater, a Best Actress awardee in school plays. To support her schooling, she applied as assistant cook in a restaurant. For her college education, Mening went to Manila and took up a Teacher Education course at Philippine Christian College. To attain her college goal, she served as a cook at the UP Medical School canteen and on weekends she would accept laundry from the American missionaries.
Virgil had somehow forgotten Mening and found a new love at Silliman. Mening tried to keep in touch through letters but Virgil never responded. A female cousin of Virgil was the one updating Mening and explained that Virgil was too busy with campus activities: debating team member, student government president, work student at the Treasurer’s office, etc.
In 1949, Mening was graduating from college when she got a surprise visit from Virgil who had just finished his Law studies at Silliman and was in Manila to prepare for the Bar exams.
Virgil found her sleeping in her small room and she was surrounded by the laundry she just finished ironing. Truly a “Mutya sa Buhat”! Virgil was so touched by the lovely portrait of a hard working woman unfolding before him. He awakened her by touching her hand and instantly asked her to marry him. Mening was shocked but managed to gather her senses and say yes in a very shy manner. It was easy to say yes to her one and only love. However, Virgil was asked to find a husband for her best friend Aurora as they had a vow to be married at the same time – Mening and Aurora dreamt of a double wedding. Virgil sent a telegram to his friend Mariano Causing, a military officer based in Cagayan de Oro, about the beautiful Aurora. The handsome Mariano right away flew-in and joined Virgil in Malate’s Café Adriatico. It was a love-at-first-sight for Mariano and Aurora which ended in the realization of a dream wedding. With the pastor at the chapel of the Union Theological Seminary in Manila, there were only five of them inside the sanctuary. Mariano and Aurora witnessed and stood as sponsors as Virgil and Mening exchanged vows, and likewise, Virgil and Mening stood as sponsors for Mariano and Aurora. It was a simple ceremony for the two college seniors who were just wearing Sunday dresses with their grooms, Virgil in coat and tie and Mariano in military officer’s uniform. The reception cost them only twenty pesos for each pair – the four of them had a special dinner in Manila Hotel.
After graduation, the young Mrs. Maximina B. Atega went home with her husband Virgil to live in Cabadbaran, the town that they had always loved and together, as a teacher and as a lawyer, they served the people with faith and beyond….