I never really knew my grandmother Virginia Serapia Vidal Llamas from Pagsanjan; she died before my first birthday. I’m told, however, that she was the quintessential lady—informed, impeccably dressed, and quietly dignified—who in her own words chose to “glow faintly in her husband’s shadow.” Perfectly at ease in Western dress, she preferred to wear the traditional terno, complete with pañuelo. Well-versed in English and Spanish, she preferred to speak Tagalog.
As the story goes, Lolo fell in love with her when he was assigned to be her escort at the Manila Carnival, an annual pre-Easter Mardis Gras with a series of nine balls presided over by the carnival queen. (Lola Virginia, at age sixteen, was voted that year’s queen.) But Lolo already had another love interest, and was caught in a dilemma. How could he act as her prince consort, and, to make matters even more unbearable, wear a silly costume?
The news reached her that he was reluctant to be her escort (indeed, at first he downright refused to do it), and she let it be known that she was not pleased. “I was staring at her,” he wrote in his autobiography. “She was so angry and so much prettier than her pictures that I, usually glib of speech, found myself tongue-tied.”1
After two and a half years of courtship, they married on July 1, 1924, in Pagsanjan, and honeymooned in Baguio. They had four sons: Carlos, Jr., (“Mike”) in 1925; Gregorio Vicente (“Greg”) in 1927; Ricardo Jose (“Dick”) in 1933; and Roberto Rey (“Bobby”) in 1938.
Circumstances of war forced them apart seventeen years later, and they had no contact for more than three years. A stoic woman, she never complained and never showed distress—not under the intense conditions of war; not even during her final days in January 1968 while hospitalized for leukemia.
“Mommy never complained,” said one of her sons to The Daily Mirror. “When she realized the end was near, she looked hard at each of us, one by one, until her eyes rested on Daddy’s face. There was no fear of dying in that look she gave Daddy. Somehow we felt that she was instead trying to convey to him the message that he must be brave . . . that she knew he would suffer losing her but that he must be strong and bear it.”
She died at the age of 62.
1 I Walked with Heroes, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), p. 167
2 I Walked with Heroes, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), p. 166