Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC’

The House on Garfield Street

Scribbled at the bottom of this photo is “To Mike From Bobby” in childish handwriting—a dedication from Bobby Romulo (around age 11) to his oldest brother, Mike, who had returned to the Philippines to attend law school in 1947.

The Romulos moved to Washington, DC, arriving in the Spring of 1945. After more than three years’ separation, this was a special time for my grandparents and their boys—a period of healing and getting to know each another anew. Critical years had been lost. My dad, now six years old, no longer recognized his own father. “Who’s he?” he asked his mother, as the story goes. Japan had dropped its first bombs on Manila on his third birthday, after all, and immediately afterward my grandfather joined the ranks of the military, disappearing into a crowd of other uniformed men.

By October 1946 they had settled into what would be their home for the next sixteen years. In sharp contrast to their lives on the run from the Japanese, DC was safe, tranquil, and downright luxurious. An article from The Sunday Times (October 3, 1948) offers a glimpse into what it was like:

The Romulos own one of the loveliest homes in Washington, D.C., which they acquired during the stress of the housing shortage immediately after the war. It was the difficulty of getting a suitable apartment that inspired Virginia Romulo to buy a house. The General was in London at the time of the sale and simply received a three-letter cablegram “House bought love” signed Virginia.

A rare shot of the whole family on their front porch. I’m guessing this was taken in the Spring of 1947.

Lola Virginia transformed the basement of the house into “the Philippine room,” where this family portrait (with Greg and Bobby) was taken. The painting in the background was created by Galo B. Ocampo (1913-1985), who was considered one of Philippines’ most distinguished postwar artists, along with Manansala, Joya, Tabuena, Zobel, and others.

He disclaims any credit for the improvement or the décor of the house, giving all of it to Mrs. Romulo, for her wise selection in buying the furniture and the furnishings and her doggedness and perspicacity in hunting up bargains and critical items at the time were none too plentiful.

She spent many weary days shopping around Washington and Baltimore to furnish the three-story white house on Garfield street, but she has been more than amply repaid for her trouble, for she now reigns over one of the best appointed homes in the U.S. capital today, and she does it in an effortless, charming way, as if she had a corps of servants to help her instead of just one capable Filipino maid, who does the washing and waiting at the table, one Filipino cook (Pedro) who lives in his own house, and one Negro chauffeur who doubles as butler when the Romulos entertain, which is quite often.

The house is unfenced, giving extra spaciousness to the yard. All around it grow zinnias in deep reds, yellows and pink; cosmos and other flowering plants which are easy to grow. The beauty of the Romulo garden is that in spite of its lack of a fence, the beautiful blooms remain on the stem until they dry up and no one, but absolutely no one, ever dares to take away one little flower from the patch. There are no children to ask for a flower for teacher, nor are there covetous hands that reap what others planted with loving concern.

The Romulos acquired 3422 Garfield Street, Washington, DC, during the housing shortage after the war (If you look closely at this photo, a tiny figure on the left of the house looks like CPR in uniform.).

Virginia Llamas

They married on July 1, 1924, in Pagsanjan. He was twenty-six, and she was nineteen.

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

From I Walked with Heroes: “‘You , an editor!’” my mother said. ‘You, a university graduate, who has been to the United States! Acting as prince consort to a Miss Philippines!’ Then, suddenly suspicious, she demanded, ‘Did she ask for you?’”2 (On the far left is Eugenio Lopez, Sr. Can you identify the others in this photo?)

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.

Virginia Llamas, in 1946 or 1947, with her youngest son, Bobby, in front of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Washington, DC.

“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