Friday, May 9, 2014

Mother's Day Coming Up: My Mother, Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra

Mother's Day is coming soon and I'm remembering my mother, Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra, who was born in 1912, and died in 2002.

It's difficult for me to describe her accurately because I only saw one side of her. I remember her as high strung and dramatic. She was widowed at 47 with 4 children, which may have accounted for some of her volatility, although I suspect my mother was always prone to high drama. I was not aware of how beautiful she was either, although I heard from other people that she was so, and that she had a been a beauty queen.

To me, she was just my mother.

I was her youngest daughter, and as such, I think I held a special place in her heart. I remember always being physically near her, in churches, car rides, even at the dining table.

I recall an incident that happened when I was around four or five years old. We were at the dining table and I was standing on my chair (I don't know why I was on my chair). Someone had repeatedly offered me a piece of food, meat perhaps, and finally I threw it, screaming, "Di lagi ko -- I don't want this!" The forward motion of throwing made me lose my balance and I flipped over backwards; I still remember the heady shock when I started to fall. Quick as a flash, my mother caught me by my ankles before my head hit the floor. (I am a bit embarrassed owning up to his childhood tantrum, but it happened.)

 Another time, we were riding my father's Mercedes Benz in Manila while we were on a holiday, and there was a minor accident. I forget exactly if the car had to swerve or if we got hit, but the passengers were jostled about. This was the time before seat belts, and my mother grabbed me before I was flung and got hurt.

And once, I sat on the backseat of a bicycle that was driven by a neighbor's son, and my big toe accidentally got caught in the wheel. I almost lost the toe and my mother was furious at that neighbor's son, which precipitated years of feuding with that neighbor.

Her survival instincts were very strong. As a young mother, she had to take care of her family in the jungles of Mindanao. I heard countless stories about their wartime adventures. The older kids -- my oldest sister and brother -- were mere children when the four of them had to leave Manila and go by outrigger boat to Mindanao. There my father joined the guerrilla movement. They had to move from place to place, under dire conditions.  My mother lost a baby there, a son, who was born prematurely. She gave birth to my older sister behind some bushes while Japanese soldiers marched nearby. They had so many adventures during that awful war, which I tried to recreate in my novel, When the Rainbow Goddess Wept (or Song of Yvonne in the Philippines).  But who can really capture reality with words?

Before she died, she had the satisfaction of seeing me start to make a name in the literary world, a world that puzzled her because it didn't really make money. She was a brilliant business woman and she used to do the math of book sales and couldn't figure how publishers made money. But she came from a family of writers and politicians and understood the importance of art and writing.  Her father and his siblings were all writers (and politicians). Her grandmother had been the First Woman Publisher in the Philippines; at 39 years of age, Remedios Diosomito Lopez Cuenco inherited the publishing business of her husband, Mariano Albao Cuenco, when he died.

I recall when my mother, my publisher Mrs. Gloria Rodriguez, and I met in New Day Publishers in Quezon City, and another writer was there. She was elderly, with her first collection of stories, and I remember my mother saying, "That is her life's work. You have many more years ahead of you."

I am glad that at least, by the time she died, she knew that I had made a respectable name in the literary world.

Thanks for reading my ramblings, dear Readers, and a happy Mother's Day Weekend to all! Remember your mothers!

Read also

Roots - Pictures of my Mother and More
Death of a Carnival Queen
Thinking of Mama, Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra, Cebu Carnival Queen 1931

tags: mother, mother's day, Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra, Cebu, Philippines, Cuenco, Cecilia Brainard

This is all for now,


Unknown said...

You are beautiful :) And so is your mom!

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard said...

Thank you Swapna, for your kind comments.