TUCKED AWAY in a corner of the Bicolandia Badlands of yesteryear, countryfolk needed a member of the city-educated gentry to lead them benevolently, preferably someone from their own ranks gallant enough to discourage poachers, landgrabbers and revolutionary taxmen, oftentimes circulating in the same gangs / groups. Realistically he had to pack an impressive sidearm, sling at least a .22 rifle on his left shoulder, and be handy with either a swift steed or 4 x 4 pickup in case the interlopers grew too ambitious.
No one person could’ve possibly filled these giant shoes, but my Tito (Uncle) Roger Montenegro came close. Together with his Bulakeña Belle Tita (Aunt) Emma, he lived a picture-perfect life in their house-by-the-sea. His family raised cattle and sent them to Batangas, sold copra and sent them to Manila, grew their own food and sent out boats to fish at high tide, sent three beautiful unspoilt daughters to school in the Big City (Mary Ann, Lou and Angel) and led simple lives back home.
But like we said earlier, the more fortunate owe a responsibility to their neighbors and Tito Roger served in the municipal (village) council (and would’ve served as an elder anyway had he not been selected), often sat on committees during fiestas and elections, did his share to keep the peace whenever land disputes, lawless elements (that’s Martial Law terminology) and communist insurgents threatened to disturb the village, and shared their family’s blessings with everyone in the community. My family and I visited my mom’s hometown in Claveria, Masbate a grand total of three occasions in my lifetime, and each time he played host to us, Tito Roger’s legend evolved from awe, to admiration to appreciation.
The one thing that remained golden in my estimation of him was his understated, unspoken and unremitting devotion to the love of his life, Tita Emma.
In between jokes, one-liners, chuckles and smiles I could literally feel their unwavering affection for one another that would carry on past the Great Beyond. You just sense between people who are fated to be lovers forever a pulsating link of shared feelings, emotions and interests that will not be severed by time, space or death. That’s what I felt between Tito Roger and Tita Emma in the seventies and eighties, and which I know continues to exist between them today, a love that survives his death and which reminded me of him the week leading to his birthday (6th June).
To Tita Emma, Ann, Lou and Angel, grandsons and grandkids, a salute to your husband, dad, and lolo, a truly great man who will never be forgotten for his gift of life and love. Happy birthday, miss you and love you always!
- Remembering Renato `Tito Nato’ Montenegro (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)