By Marivir R. Montebon
Her lifestyle of hard work, healthy eating and discipline have been lost or diluted in our generation.
I wished I had the power to retain the good old practices of those bygone days.
New York City – Today, my big clan says goodbye to the last of our matriarchs, Alberta Magpiong Calibo. We fondly call her ‘Lola Berta’ – lean, regal, excellent teacher, opinionated, and authoritative. She extinguished her earthly candle at age 95 on January 22, 2018. She was my mother’s aunt, and the younger sister of my late maternal grandmother Genara Rubi.
Lola Berta was one figure of authority in her family, our clan, and the community in Larena. Retaining her sharp mind even in her advance years, I spent precious time with her talking about how she lived life with my great grandmother Felipa Pasco which formed part of my family memoir.
I remember Lola Berta as a respected woman in the community. She was well-traveled and well-read. She would find time to go to court and listen to hearings of important cases that affected the townsfolk. She was always so lean and regal and “fashion-forward” as my cousin Jo-Ann would say. She was a dreaded Math teacher and reckoned that if I became her student, like my other cousins, I may have excelled in Math. She had taught her students to solve Math problems individually and in front of the entire class. How excellent was that! There was no way you could copy answers from each other.
Most of all, I remember how picky Lola Berta was with her food, always preferring kalamunggay and fish. Her pork intake was only from the hogs that she domesticated and fed with organic foods. Her lifestyle of hard work, healthy eating and discipline have been lost or diluted in our generation. I wished I had the power to retain the good old practices of those bygone days. The no-nonsense Lola Berta will be sorely missed.
My cousin, Jose Aldous Arbon, writes:
“The last time I saw Lola Berta was when I paid her a visit at the Silliman Medical Center Hospital last December 2017. Though her breathing was aided with a machine, she was a sight of someone who still knew how to fight for her life. Lola’s daughter Tita Nonie told me that Lola’s doctor considered her to be the kindest patient he has treated.
Within the period of her confinement, there was no incident of startling removal of life’s apparatuses, as some patients would do. Before I left the hospital I caressed her veiny hands – lovingly. Those hands have been a great testimony of how hardworking she was. Lola Berta was never seen to be idle. She kept herself occupied – every day – from discriminately selecting good grains of corn from the bad ones, to pulling up weeds in her backyard, to arranging small pebbles like she was building a delicate sand castle, to picking up dried leaves, to visiting her farm, and to bring home some harvest of bananas or coconuts.
There has been a joke recently – when asked where Lola Berta was – Tita Nonie would quickly blurt – “nag-online” – which means Lola was “on” in her ritual of pulling up even the tiniest of weeds that grew even from the cracks of pavements.
Notably, however, I remember Lola Berta to be one of the greatest teachers I had in grade school. She was a Math teacher, and in her class, no pupil could ever get out without answering a problem which she would usually write on a board. This would happen five minutes before dismissal and all of us pupils would prepare to hear her commanding words – “Before going out” – and that would signal our fate for the next class.
Sometimes, two or three of my classmates would be stuck in the room, and perhaps for sheer compassion, she would let go of them for the next class even without handing her the correct answer of the math problem. Lola Berta taught me the value of excellence, and even until now that sense of doing the best remains in me.
She was the last matriarch, so to speak – but she left a legacy of values which we could seek to emulate – hard work, frugality, patience, faith, and excellence. Finally, I would like to say that my mother would miss a very dear aunt, and her friend.
Lola Berta, may you be safe in your journey into the hands of God. Thank you for the gift of your life – 95 rich years.”