Six (6) months ago, we welcomed the latest addition to the family – Harry Benjin, a most awaited grandson to perpetuate the Leonin surname. Daddy would have loved to meet his “apo-sa-tuhod”, someone who was lucky enough not to carry a version of his rather “stinky”-sounding name “Teofilo”, unlike Manong Butch aka “Teofilo, Jr.”, or Tudoy, whose real name is “Theodore”.
But before Harry Potpot, there was baby Mateo, Dra. Katkat and Dr. Marvin’s firstborn, who closely followed Marianne, twin Michael’s third kid, and Mikhail, Dra. Angel and Dr. Glenn’s baby boy. A few years prior, there was Yanna, Hani and Tudoy’s first child, Maggie and Miggy, Marianne’s older siblings, and Athena, Dra. Che’s, daughter born in London. Their parents, who were the delight of “Lolo Pilo” as kids decades before, are now married and starting families of their own.
Since Abbie, Gayle’s only daughter, asked me about some family stories a few months ago, I realized that this new generation must know about their own family’s history. I feel it is incumbent upon me to be the one to share these things since I am the one who seems to cultivate these memories and is fortunate enough to have some “updates.”
So to Harry Potpot, Mateo, Mikmik, Marianne, etc. and even my own daughter, Venice, who may have missed out on Lolo Pilo’s story-telling days, here are some interesting facts about the Leonin family:
1. We are GIs – We are genuine Ilocanos; our home provinces being located in Region 1. Our patriarch, Lolo Tiburcio hailed from Villasis, Pangasinan while Lola Felisa was from a Spanish lineage based in San Juan, La Union. Nowadays, when I go to lecture to the senior citizens of region 1, oldtimers come up to me speculating I am related to “Manong Teofing” who went to local dances with them and served as a guerilla as a young man during the Japanese Occupation. Seniors of Villasis, Pangasinan say that Leonins are now related to the local Ordonez, De Guzmans, and Minas there. Meanwhile, Lola Piling’s mestiza clan are the Aquinos of San Juan, related to the Borjas and Gaerlans of La Union. I met distant cousins from the Borja side while in UP Los Banos and I lectured to senior citizens/OSCA Heads of San Juan who happen to be Gaerlans. On occasion, the strong jawline and big teeth reminiscent of our Castillian heritage found expression amongst various cousins; but until now I can’t explain where we got the chinky eyes which later surfaced when only the most recent generations married into Chinese families after all.
2. Going into Law? Public Service? – Lolo Burcio is related to the late legal icon, Atty. Sedfrey Ordonez and as a lawyer himself, served as the Director of the Bureau of Lands (the post-WWII predecessor of the Land Registration Authority (LRA) and the DENR’s Land Management Bureau.) So yes, Marben and Troy, we do have a tradition of going into the legal profession. Moreover, Manong Butch (DOST-Phil Nuclear Research Institute), Ate Annette or myself (in DSWD) were not the first ones to choose to work in government. We merely followed Lolo Burcio’s steps to become public servants.
Two years ago, I lectured to some retirees of the LMB about the Senior Citizens Law and a little, old lady said that on her first job as a secretary/clerk, her immediate boss was Atty. Tiburcio Leonin. She remembered him as a fair-skinned, quiet and hard-working man, quite “straight” with government transactions and who refused many “crooked” offers from land-grabbers that abounded after WWII. This story lends credence to the frustration Lola Piling often expressed that our family could have owned large tracks of land by now had Lolo Burcio agreed to be corrupted. He, in turn, would reply that he didn’t want to lose all his teeth (read: burn his soul while still alive), to which Lola would retort, “you could always get gold teeth as replacements if we had enough money!”
3. Big, Happy Family – We ‘ve always been a large family. We often joked that this was also because Daddy and his brothers almost all had “part 2 or 3” families because they remarried as soon as they got widowed. This was also the reason why the age range of cousins spread out so far and wide.
Lolo Pilo was the eldest of eleven (11) children which included two sets of fraternal twins, namely Uncle Pering and Uncle Pepito, and Tita Norma and Uncle Boy. So yes, that’s another unique thing about our family – having twins is in our genes. We also dispelled the myth that usually the appearance of twins skips a generation; but in our case, there is a set of twins for three consecutive generations. We have our cousins, sisters Maritess and Marivel, Uncle Arthur’s twin daughters, then Ate Marichu’s boys – Michael and Mark. We are still waiting for it to appear in this latest generation though.
4. UP Maroon or Ateneo Blue? – If you must know, five of us out of seven siblings went to the State University – Manong Butch, Manong Snokum, myself, Tita Giselle, and Mommy Gayle. While we are extremely proud to have made it to UP, our choice of a public school for university then was more out necessity since it was expensive sending a kid through college. Previously, only 3 of Daddy’s siblings were able to go to UP – Tita Nena, Uncle Ceci, and Uncle Arturo. Of late, it was Tudoy and Angel who attended UP in Diliman and Manila respectively, where they also met their future spouses, Hani and Glenn. On the other hand, while Roy, Troy, and Tristan chose to go to Ateneo, they weren’t the first Blue Eagles in the family. Lola Edine took her Masters in Psychology in Ateneo while teaching at Stella Maris, just as Ate Annette took her diploma in Human Resources Management a few years later while serving as an NGO Executive Director.
5. Graduate School, anyone? – Note too that many of us also took graduate studies, with Manong Butch having advance units in Statistics besides his specialized training in nuclear energy safety standards abroad, Manong Snokum having Urban Planning units, Ate Marichu also taking Masters in Psychology, and myself taking an MA in Creative Writing after a Bachelor of Laws. Thus, some of us have double or triple degrees, from pre-law and pre-med courses such as Public Health and Medical Technology for Angel, and nursing for Katkat. Presently, I hear Miya is enrolled in UP Open University for advanced computer studies. A love for learning, perhaps, but I think it’s an inherent desire to improve and develop ourselves further that is also evident in our family.
6. More than Looks and Brains – Yup, we are known for our intellect and unique looks. But something else runs in our blood – hereditary diseases. We have common allergies which manifested in our youth – asthma and allergic rhinitis. In addition, Tita G, Mommy Gayle and myself got from Lola Edine an allergy for alcoholic beverages. As such, most of us don’t smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol much, although Lolo Pilo smoked and drank. But before losing yourself to these lifestyle trappings, know that our ancestors suffered from diabetes or high blood sugar, high cholesterol and hypertension, heart disease and stroke. Unfortunately, the women in our family also had breast cysts and reproductive system problems. It also cannot be denied that cancer seems to appear in our family as well. While 2 of our aunts died from it, our family seemed to also have some resistance to cancer with remissions occurring for decades, and one cousin, Manong Keith, having survived it after a leg amputation. He’s now teaching in California and just published a book.
7. Teofilo’s Tribe is the original Von Trapp family – While the movie musical “Sound of Music” was making waves in the 60s, Lolo Pilo was also a new widower with 4 young kids. With all the out-of-town trips he does with his court hearings, he needed to find a new wife to help care for his kids. Their wedding then was reminiscent of Maria’s and Capt. Von Trapp’s when Stella Maris College nuns insisted on having a photo-op with Mama and Daddy at the SMC chapel. We became a “blended” family much like the Brady Bunch after we were born. But where Capt. Von Trapp had a whistle to call his kids, we had a dinner bell to call us for meals, and you could hear all of us running to the dining room because Daddy had strict rules about making food wait for you. Much like his rule on eating what is served before you, being choosy has no place in is dining table, lest you want your food thrown out to the dogs and you starve.
8. The Family that Eats Together, Stays Together – We love our food, and yes, we love to eat! Come to think of it, that practice somehow instilled in us the virtue of “family meals” or making it a point to eat together and catch up on each other’s business, a debriefing of sorts over good food. So it goes, the legend of our narra wooden dining table where everyone who sits there gets to eat a lot. Nope, it doesn’t have a Lazy Susan, we have a “Crazy Susan” because it gets turned like a casino roulette. As we advise first-timers eating with the family, make sure you immediately get the fare that stops in front of you because it passes by you so quickly, you might need to wait for the second serving instead. Don’t worry, our maids are well-trained to re-load and re-stock viands like professionals in restaurants. You’ll get the hang of it.
9. Gremlins Part 2 or Twilight Saga? – Don’t be surprised if you meet distant relatives who may be of a varying age groups. Our generation of cousins actually had three batches stemming from first marriages, widowhood, divorces/separations or otherwise. Manong Butch will always be the eldest grandson for his generation, but Tudoy is the same age as some of his uncles who comprise the 3rd batch. Tristan might even be around the same age as one of his distant uncles – a belatedly born son of Uncle Junior. Understand too, that maybe one day, someone approaches and introduces himself as a cousin by one of your uncles although you don’t recognize his mother as an aunt – those things happen, after all. Be mature, be graceful about it.
10. Lolo Pilo’s Legacy – So what is Lolo Pilo’s legacy – family-orientedness and the love for parents and siblings. During the WWII, everyone evacuated out of Manila and Lolo Burcio took the family up North. Lolo Pilo joined the guerillas and was missing for some time that Lola Piling thought he was killed. But he showed up one day in San Juan’s barrios, having located his family somehow. He brought with him Spam canned goods and chocolate bars since there was nothing to eat and people were starving. After the war, as a veteran he used his PVAO benefit to study law, but as soon as he passed the Bar and started working, he supported his siblings who were still studying. Even the story of the K-J property controversy was one borne out of love against better legal judgment; it was a decision to bail out a GSIS property mortgage and find a place for ageing parents whose government pension was used by some to go abroad and start a new life. But fortunately, even in isolation, Teofilo’s Tribe not only increased, but thrived!
So remember, even when you meet the Love of your Life and get married and start your own families, don’t forget where you came from. “Family trees” give you roots as a strong foundation that keeps you grounded, and branches that lift you up to reach for your dreams.