Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Papa’s Power of the Peridot

Judge Virgilio Noja Atega is the name of my father. He was born on October 9, 1916. His birthstone is the peridot. This humble gem of the pharaohs echoed much of my father’s life choices. A peridot is known to give the wearer power to dispel the terrors of the night. This loveliest of all green gems is not as light-dependent as rubies and diamonds. It tends to look regal under all light conditions. Many more on the peridot’s subtle power somehow shaped the glory which perfectly captured a cut very much like the life of my late father. My father Virgilio was the youngest son of the unexpected union of then Don Andres Azura Atega, the military general son of a powerful Spanish priest Rev. Father Pedro Garcia de la Virgen de los Martires born on September 1, 1840 in Zaragoza and Juana Beray Noja born on June 24,1897, among the pioneering teachers in American public school system in the town of Cabadbaran. Unexpected because Don Andres, known as the most powerful man in this side of the island of Mindanao, was married to Roberta Curato and had a son Mariano born in June 1900. Don Andres got to be concerned with Juana, daughter of Roberta’s first cousin Teofilo Curato Noja, when the young teacher became the girlfriend of the American principal of the public school. Don Andres, who was already a widower as Roberta died so young, just did not want a lovely Filipina like that would be taken away by a foreigner. One day, his protective nature had grown into an attraction and out of obsession; he took advantage of her innocence. Afterwards, Don Andres offered to marry her. However, refusing to tie the knot with the man who destroyed her life, Juana ran away. Don Andres looked for her all over and found her hiding in the house of her father’s cousin in Talacogon, a riverside town in Agusan del Sur. Juana was pregnant with his child when he got her back. He brought her home but she refused to join the other women in the dakong balay – this was how townfolks would call my grandfather’s house up until today. The women of my grandfather included Roberta’s sister, Veronica. Veronica had three daughters and a son with Don Andres: the first one was also named Roberta who was born on September 22, 1905; the second daughter born on November 30, 1909 was Canuta who was named after Don Andres’ mother. Veronica’s third daughter was Prosperidad born on November 16, 1913. Veronica gave Don Andres only one son named Pedro born on May 1, 1908. With Juana’s refusal to join in the growing dakong balay family, Don Andres decided to build a house for Juana in front of the town plaza and right beside the Aglipay church. Juana gained the respect of the townfolks as she became known as the most loved sweetheart of Don Andres and she had one point of understanding their business partnership with Don Andres. I was told by late Uncle Mimi Barrientos, the chief police officer of our town, that he grew up admiring the lovely Juana as she had the most beautiful pair of deep-set brown eyes. He also told me that among the women of Don Andres, Seῆora Juana, as she was known, was the only one who would bring bundles of money to the dakong balay. The regular remittance from the shared business marked Juana’s sense of independence, one reason why Don Andres’ admiration for this woman had grown deep and he never stopped offering her marriage. On the other hand, the constantly jealous Veronica was kept busy taking care of her own children, her sister’s son Mariano and the daughters of the Ibay sisters, Luisa, Romana and Estanislawa who were already in the house since 1892. Don Andres’ union with Roberta was only in 1900 and she gave birth to Mariano on the same year. Her sister gave birth to her first child Roberta in 1905. The Ibay sisters had one daughter each. Luisa’s was named Maria born in 1892. A week after Maria was born, Romana gave birth to Ana. Consolacion, daughter of Estanislawa, was born much later on December 19, 1900. Their mothers were the first three women of Don Andres within the dakong balay. Don Andres’ was known to be a womanizer and his eldest son was Antonio born on June 12, 1894, his mother was Hilaria Magarte-Fernandez who was the wife of Don Andres’ business partner. Juana gave Don Andres two sons and a daughter: Archimedes born on April 14, 1914 was the eldest who really looked like his father, Esther who was as lovely as Juana was born on May 19, 1908 and the youngest Virgilio. Veronica also gave birth to her youngest daughter Basilisa a month after Virgilio was born. A neighbor Perpetua Maestrado gave birth to another son of Don Andres named Plenio on October 21, 1920. My father really came from a family which indeed was like a mother stone of the peridot, so green and with many unpredictable branching – some were from stories intentionally silenced by the complexities of the pedigree. Virgilio was very much like his mother in entrepreneurial spirit. As a little boy, he was already earning money from being a newsboy, shoeshine boy and his farm eggs harvest. Virgilio was also born a leader, he led friends to memorable adventures on horseback rides to mountain slopes, went bamboo rafting on rivers, and in fishing, they went as far as Camiguin Island. After finishing a business degree, socio-civic responsibilities pre-occupied the young professional. When the Japanese occupation came, the challenge of the power of the peridot was muted by a huge responsibility that came to my father’s young career. He was appointed town mayor during the war. It was during this time that he met my mother who was teaching children in a coffee farm. There were three sisters: the beautiful Cecilia, the shy Crisanta and the youngest Maximina, who according to my father, had loveliest pair of legs. My father expressed his love for mother through sending three horses as gifts to her family’s coffee farm. My father’s competition in winning the heart of the lovely Maximina, the pretty and smart teacher, was the Japanese military commander who had been seriously wooing her for quite some time even having built a Sunday school for my mother. Nonetheless, the Virgilio and Maximina were inseparable as they were one in their secret mission: to help the Filipino World War II guerillas. They used their influenced to provide food and medical supplies. However, because nothing is kept secret forever, my father’s secret support was uncovered by the Japanese intelligence and his loyalty was questioned. To avoid further investigation and to save the town from total Japanese control, my father pledged his loyalty to the Japanese. To erase all doubts and to show deep sincerity, he shot the center point of the palm of his right hand in front of the Japanese officers. Truly a peridot in heroism – subdued and in silence. The bloody promise somehow convinced the Japanese authority and gave my father all the support he needed as mayor. When the Americans came and the country was set free, my father also got the appointment from the American regime to serve both as mayor and as military officer. After serving the full term, he decided to go back to school. He was enrolled at the College of Law in Silliman University. Moreover, he was the captain of the debating team and became the president of the student government, the first after World War II. He graduated in 1949 and was reunited with Maximina in Manila while reviewing for the bar exams. The two were married on June 11 of the same year. Unlike my grandfather, Virgilio’s peridot brilliance was mounted with loyalty that endured all challenges around his chosen pearl.