“You will never discern where you’re going unless you know where you came from.”
The statement came from the mouth of Saturnina – more popularly known as Tina – Dela Rita. She said those words while recalling her past. In between the conversation, she was in tears; in some instances, she cried unabashedly. Although she didn’t want to remember it anymore, she insisted that she wanted to share her story.
The second of four daughters, Tina couldn’t recall the complete names, the places, and the time but there were some that were retained. She could not remember her father’s name.
She was only six when she was given by her mother Ramona to Luciano Ortiz, a wealthy family in Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte. “Our mother couldn’t take care of us anymore,” she recalled. “She was alone in providing our needs. We were very poor and she never finished schooling.”
Her father died – poisoned by the man he trusted. Tina said her parents owned a huge land in their hometown. Her father was a farmer who planted corn in their farm, which was also planted to coconut. One day, a salesman came to their home and talked with her father.
The salesman told her father that if he would sell the land to him, he would bring the Dela Rita family to a town where they won’t encounter any hardships at all. At that time, products from the farms were miniscule. The father had a hard time meeting both ends meet.
“My parents were illiterate,” said Tina. “My father believed what the salesman told him.”
Tina never knew whether her father sold the land to the salesman. But one early morning, she was awakened by her mother that they would be leaving. “I was completely surprised,” she said. “We never bade goodbye to my uncles and aunts. I really didn’t know which place we came from but what I remembered was we travelled by boat for almost a day.”
Accompanying the family was the salesman. When they arrived in Zamboanga del Norte, they travelled again to a far flung area, whose name she could no longer remember. It was there that the family settled for almost two years.
The father thought he would find heaven in the new place but instead it was hell. What the salesman told him before was the exact opposite. The land was barren; nothing much would grow.
The good thing was that her father was industrious. He remembered her father waking up early in the morning. He would walk several kilometers away to fish in the open sea.
The fish he caught were sold in the public market. He came home with some foods for his family. During rainy season, he would plant some corns and other crops in the farm.
Then tragedy struck the family. The father and the eldest daughter, Livinia, got sick of malaria. “The salesman heard what had happened,” Saturnina recalled. “He came to our home and told my father and my sister to take the medicine that would heal them both.”
After the salesman had left, the two ingested the medicine. A few minutes later, her father had difficulty breathing. The mother was in panic; she didn’t know what to do. They were far from town. They didn’t have money. The children themselves didn’t know what was happening.
That day, the father died. Livinia, however, survived because she vomited the medicine she had taken. After the father was buried, Ramona and her four daughters went to Sindangan to try their luck.
Ramona found a little place where she and her children would live for a year. “Our mother would leave us in the early morning and would return before the sun sets,” Tina recalled. “We were always hungry. There were times, the four of us were crying.”
The mother worked all day and then took care of the children whenever she was at home. Her work was doing menial jobs like washing clothes for the wealthy families. She also did errands for other people.
There were times when Tina heard her mother crying at night for no apparent reason at all. Each day, Ramona was getting frail – until she finally contacted a disease. As she could no longer take care of her daughters, she decided to give them to other people for adoption.
The eldest was given to the town mayor, Joaquin Mesias. The Caballero family adopted the third daughter named Maura. Belen, the youngest, was taken up by the Enriquez family. Tina went to the Ortiz family.
In the beginning, the sisters would still see each other from time to time – in the market or some gathering. Then, the meeting became irregular. The last time they were together was when their mother died.
During the wake, the four daughters were having a hard time understanding everything. After all, they were still kids – the eldest being seven years old while the youngest was four years old. “What would happen to us now?” the little Tina wondered as tears flowed from her years.
When Luciano Ortiz died of an accident, the wife Rosario met Diosdado Gloria, a businessman from Davao. He courted her and when they got married, the couple had to go to Davao bringing Tina with them.
It was abrupt. Tina never had a chance of saying goodbye to her three sisters. “It was in 1950 that we came to Toril in Davao City,” she recalled. “After I left Zamboanga, I have not heard anything from my sisters nor have seen them.”
Tina stopped talking. She cried for a few moments and then wiped away the tears from her cheeks. She will turn 69 this coming November 15. Her birthday wish, she said, is to see her three sisters.
“A few years ago, I went back to Sindangan to find them,” she said, again crying. “I was so excited; I was hoping to see them after all these years. But I wasn’t lucky. They were no longer there. People didn’t know where they were. Someone told me that Belen, the youngest, died already.”
Again, a few minutes of silence followed. Then, her mood changed; she was already smiling when she recalled how she met her husband, Generoso or Gener for short. She was watching the restaurant of her adopted mother when the young man from Davao City came to eat for lunch. Without her knowledge, he was smitten by her.
In the days that follow, Gener came to the restaurant when he was in town. Then, one time, he told her that he was madly in love with her. She thought he was not serious, so she told him, “If you really love me, bring your parents next week, and asked for my hands from my mother.”
He did! And so the two tied the nuptial knot on March 28, 1961. She was only 19 at that time. The following year, a healthy baby boy was born; the couple named him after the King of England. Two years later, a girl, Evangeline, was added to the family. Then, another boy, Gerry, came in 1966.
Six more children came in subsequent years: Elena in 1968, Generoso Jr. in 1972, Avednigo in 1974, Jeannyline in 1975, Marilou in 1977, and Arman in 1980. All of them are married now with their own children. Two daughters are living in the United States. Just recently, two of her grandchildren are having their own kids.
“We may not be wealthy but I am happy that I have a wonderful family,” Tina says now. “They are now my treasures.”
But deep inside her, there seems to be missing. She never knows where her parents were buried. She has a hard time figuring out from which place her family really were from. More importantly, she longs to hug her sisters. She wonders if they are still alive.
But being a mother is one of the things she’s proud of. Her eldest son is a noted journalist who has received several awards for his writing skills. In one of the features, the son wrote a tribute to his mother:
“If there’s one word that a child will speak the first time, it should be mother. After all, she carries the baby for nine months. She takes care of the newborn. She breastfeeds, she changes the diaper, and she puts the fragile human being to sleep.
“But I am not the only one she took care of. There were nine of us. She has guided us. She has endowed us with words of wisdom. She has shared her life experiences, her struggles, and her hopes.”
Now, you may be wondering why I know these information? Because Tina happens to be my mother and I am her eldest son!