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My mama

Rhona Canoy . 

(Rhona Canoy has taken a leave from column-writing because she is running for public office in Cagayan de Oro. Today, just this once, we’re making an exception as she pays tribute to her mother who passed away recently. Ms. Canoy’s column will resume after the elections. –Editors)

IT is not easy to write about a woman who has truly and literally influenced my life. All of us are creations of our mothers, and losing her is an event that one never truly recovers from. Solona Calo Torralba was born in Butuan City before it was a city on May 26, 1924. Almost a century ago. That someone can live that long is truly amazing, and there are so few of them left whom I know. She came from very humble beginnings which she often recounted to us with fondness and with pride. She was familiar with hard work and independence.

To be a strong woman in the first half of the twentieth century must have been difficult, but not impossible having learned by example from her own mother. Surviving the second world war, my mama was driven to get a college degree. Not having the financial capability to do so, she went to Dumaguete and enrolled in Silliman University. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education by supporting herself as a working student. It was while she was in Silliman that she met my father. When they married and moved to Cagayan de Oro, it was difficult for her, having married into a family that was somewhat known. She must have been socially unacceptable because no one knew her or of her family.

As a child, I remember that mama was always doing something. She worked at DxCC, she sold household appliances, was the directress of Pilgrim Institute. Certainly not a traditional housewife and mother. She was truly driven. I grew up believing that she was the template for all mothers, and so I believed (as I continue to do so) that women must be independent, strong, outspoken and not beholden to any man. Years later, when my dad became mayor, she decided that she could not be the traditional mayor’s wife, relegated to hosting social functions and public appearances.

Divisoria as we know it today was built upon her efforts. When she undertook that project, she also found a way to involve out-of-school youth by employing them to help in the beautification of our town plaze. Together with Archbishop Cronin, she established the city’s  Youth Development Foundation for that purpose, with the hope that it would grow to become an instrument for helping the less fortunate young people of our city. Sadly, the foundation suffered neglect and petered out after the next mayor took office. She also developed the little space across from city hall, past the tennis courts. It became a spot for people to sit in the shade and chat, filled with plants and flowers. It has now experienced resurrection as Duaw Park.

She went into business, I think out of necessity. Her first endeavor was a little carinderia beside DxCC, on the ground floor of the building owned by the Magtrayos. She often said that since she didn’t have housewifely skills like cooking and housekeeping, she would make up for it by earning the money needed to pay for a cook and a maid. That little carinderia eventually became the Caprice Steakhouse, which served as the city’s go-to eating place for special occasions. That endeavor inspired her to conjure up Caprice by the Sea, an outdoor restaurant composed of a cluster of little nipa huts in Lapasan on property leased from the Tumangs. After some time, that was no longer enough for her so she expanded it into a better-designed building, and even later, added on a small 20oom hotel to that.

When Shakey’s Pizza made its first appearance in the Philippines in the mid-’70s, she figured that it might be worth her while to acquire a franchise and build the first Shakey’s in Mindanao, on the corner of Yacapin and Pabayo streets, which is now an LBC outlet. Believe it or not, that is still the same building which has undergone many facelifts and renovations. That Shakey’s not only provided a place to hang out for the young people, but also gave opportunities to budding musicians to show off their skills. Many of them have gone on to establish music careers, and it is with fondness that I recall all the fun weekends there.

Mama was not just a businesswoman, she was driven to help. Whether it was by establishing schools, working out livelihood projects for the more depressed communities, undertaking projects for the UCCP, the church which she grew up in, she wanted to lend a helping hand. But she didn’t believe in charity. She felt that people should attain self-dignity by employment, or at least learn to stand on their own two feet after being helped to do so. If you ever are curous to know about everything she did in her lifetime, come talk to me. A few hourse will surely not be enough.

Being her daugher was certainly not easy. She had high expectations, that is for sure. But she didn’t expect me to do things to please her. She never took an active hand in my studies, never tutored me or my brothers. But she constantly encouraged us to be curious, providing us with books and experiences which she felt would enrich our lives and our way of thinking. Lectures on ethics, responsibility and values were the air we breathed, even into the last of her life. She often said that she was never going to stop teaching us to be better people because we were never going to be too old to learn.

Mama certainly was critical, and we knew we were going to be judged for the things we said or did. But she was also unconditionally there for us when she felt we needed her to be. Although she never took it upon herself to solve our problems for us, she wanted us to know that we could take care of ourselves and that she would be beside us all the way, until we learned to do it on our own. She was verbally sparse with praise, but her expectations of us also told us just how much she believed in us.

When mama took her last breath, we were all privileged to be with her. I can’t just write this little column to tell you all about her because there aren’t enough column inches. She was certainly not perfect, but she strove to be. She gave me the freedom to become the person that I am. Although we had many a conflict, she never suppressed nor denied me the privilege to oppose her ideas, to be rebellious, to strike out on my own. I will miss her always. Not with overwhelming loneliness or sadness because of her absence, but with the underlying knowledge that the person who pushed me, irritated me into action, always made me feel that I had to work just a little bit harder–is gone now and I have to do it on my own.

A couple of years ago, I remember asking her if she was proud of me because I had never heard her say so. She turned to me with a surprised look and said, “Of course! You’re amazing.” That is enough for me.

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