The following is a copy of the handwritten open letter I wrote today, addressed to the young women of my family, now and in the future.
A few days before I got married that warm November in 1991, Mama took me aside. On her queen bed, she had laid out a set of vintage nighties (in pink and light blue — 1960′s sexy!) and a small, red box. In the red box was an earring-ring set in white gold. Each piece had the same design — noveau floral with a lot of small diamonds set in. It came in a “La Elegancia” box — it was from a store she frequented back in the 1980′s when she went through a jewelry phase. Void of fanfare, she handed me the earrings and ring and asked me to wear them on my wedding day.
“Ipasuot mo kapag may ikakasal.” ["Let future brides wear them."] The words were uttered like simple instructions, but in her face, I read my mom’s overflowing emotion over “losing” a daughter. It was a parting gift of sorts, given by someone who has traveled far, to someone just beginning her journey. It was a gift of love.
That was a defining moment for me. It was when I stopped feeling I was the invisible middle child. Marriage and (eleven months later) motherhood were experiences Mama shared uniquely with me. After many years of thinking I knew everything I needed to, my mother became my teacher again.
After Mama passed on (barely a year and ten months after I got married), I kept that jewelry and the red box it came in, buried under the ones I wore everyday — much like how I kept the pain of missing my mother under the facade of being a dutiful wife, a busy mom and a hard-working executive. On some nights, I still cry in bed, missing her badly, especially when life gets bumpy. I don’t think I will ever stop missing her.
I became interested in genealogy and family history in the late 1990′s. I remember digging deep for my mother’s birth certificate, her parents’, her grandparents’ — until I reached the 1740s. Even today, her lineage remains to be the farthest I have gone in my search for our ancestors. Immersing myself in this unusual pursuit, I found myself contemplating on how fleeting life is and how easily connections are severed within and between generations. It dawned on me how Mama’s gift could be the heirloom that could bind her female descendants; and I resolved to build a legacy of love around Lola Fely’s wedding gift.
When news of my younger sister’s pending marriage in California reached me, I decided to leave my three children (the youngest, only 8 months old) and travel 13 hours by plane (despite the travel fatigue from far too many long-haul business trips), bearing important cargo — a red box and my mother’s instructions. When Bernadette decided not to wear my mother’s jewelry, I felt genuinely disappointed at myself for not being able to “enforce” Mama’s wishes; but I felt at peace that I could continue with my guardianship of my mother’s gift.
During that trip to the US, my older sister, Excelsis, asked for the ring — a request I gladly obliged. My unmarried Ate has been the glue that has kept our family together. Her devotion to and love of family is unwavering. She loves each and every one of us, even when we are hard to love. Sharing the ring’s guardianship with her just felt right.
In the last ten years, I have found the strength to wear the earrings almost every day. I wear it with pride now, not sadness. I care least for its value (something I don’t even know or was ever interested in knowing); and revel most in what it represents. To my mother’s gift of love, I have added my own mark, hopefully, that of a meaningful life.
My Ate and I would reunite the set when the time comes to present them to the next bride. My mother’s gift would then be enriched with the history of two more women — a mother and a matriarch.
Mama did not document her wishes. If you think about it, I could have kept the jewelry forever; just chose not to. I feel the vision of the giver and the intention of the gift need to be respected. I claim the expertise to know how Mama’s gift is to be shared, as I am it’s very first recipient; and the only one to whom her instructions were personally addressed.
So, to the next guardian of Lola Fely’s gift, here are my thoughts on how it should be passed on.
- The gift should be passed only to the female blood descendants of Felicisima San Diego-Magno. Blood was important to her.
- The gift should be passed on and used for the first time by a female blood descendant in a solemn church wedding. No other life milestone captures the gift’s intention.
- The gift’s guardian should be the last person to use the jewelry on her wedding day; or her assignee, in case of death, absence of female descendants or some other unforseen circumstance.
- The guardian or her assignee must not assert false ownership of the jewelry. It should not be sold or given away.
- The guardian may use the jewelry until the time to bequeath them to the next female blood relative. By then, the guardianship should be passed on. It should not be a “something borrowed”. It should be a “something old”.
- This gift should be passed on out of love; and received with humility and respect for its deeper meaning. It should never be wielded like a piece of property or fought about like common inheritance.
I acknowledge how life never turns out the way we plan it. Should the above not be honored for some reason or other, I can only pray that time and circumstance will find a way to set things right.
Mama started a tradition that day she handed me that red box. I want to keep her love alive by passing it on — between mother and child, aunt and niece, sister and sister, cousin and cousin — for many, many, more generations. I have ensconsed the gift in a bigger wooden box and request the future guardians to add a piece of their own history to it before relinquishing custodianship — a love letter, a photo or a meaningful token; so that Lola Fely’s future grandchildren will know what wonderful, loving women they descend from.