So weeks ago she reminded us that she’ll be having her birthday soon, and she asked for a very special bday gift – a unique essay about her. I acquiesced, for she rarely asked for something which will bring so much attention to herself. She once vowed to keep a low profile all throughout her adult life because she claimed to have attracted so much attention growing up. Everyone cooed “Baby Gayle, Baby Gayle…” because everyone just loved her for her big eyes, chubby cheeks, and overall huggable demeanor. And she was the clan’s baby for quite some time even as younger kids came along.
Not many people know this, but Mama once shared that she had to wade through flood waters coming home from a Lions Club meeting when she was pregnant with Gayle. She also reminisced fondly that she craved for those sweet, big, extra round mangoes when she was carrying Gayle –which explains her rather rotund body shape. By the time she was born, Mama had so much practice with Giselle and I. Baby Gayle was blessed with having just two (2) doting yayas (one of them Mother Sandra) to take care of her, unlike us, who had to have a quick succession of yayas and caregivers who always seemed to have quite disagreeable personalities.
And everyone doted on Gayle – from Daddy and Mama, to us, six (6) older siblings because she was indeed the “baby” of the family. Even the aunts and uncles, cousins and family friends remember her fondly as “Baby Gayle”. So it was that everybody could not get over the fact that the baby sister eventually grew up. When Albert ’91 shared with the fellow Upsilonians, Sigma Deltans, and even UPLB Ranchers that he is marrying Gayle, people were shocked. My UPABSOC orgmate and blockmate, MiaBoo even exclaimed, “e, baby pa yun!”
With all this adulation, it probably explains why she was the only one that got away with things. You see, all of us were required to learn how to play the piano (yes, even Manong Butch), and to a kid, piano lessons seemed more like a punishment if you really don’t have a knack for musical instruments or you’d rather be outside riding your bicycle and playing with your cousins. Our elementary days and summers were spent with cranky piano teachers, daily practice hours and compulsory recitals. That applied to everyone except Gayle, who never got past Thompson’s Book 1 or even reached Hanon’s first book on scales.
The same went for being in the Girl Scouts, which counted for extra-curricular activities and wasn’t part of the regular curriculum yet. As a Star Scout in first grade, this meant going home after morning classes, taking an afternoon nap, and coming back for the hour-long Scouts. Gayle managed to persuade Mama into not taking her back to Stella Maris, claiming she’s still sleepy even though we abhorred afternoon naps just as much. So it went, that Gayle was spared the trauma and the fun of joining the annual scouting activities at the Girl Scout Council in Kamuning, Q.C. as well as the camping and trekking in Tanay, Rizal.
Yet even as she was the youngest and most precocious, Daddy once declared she was the most fit to become a lawyer. He was certain her strong personality was perfect for law, while he dissuaded both Manong Butch and myself from going to law school because he believed we didn’t have the proper disposition for lawyering. Gayle, on the other hand, had the confidence, the strong will, and a seeming effect on her peers that makes them defer to her “leadership”. In grade school, the minute we arrived at the campus gate, some of her classmates will welcome her, calling her “boss” and offering to carry her bag. So it wasn’t a surprise when she became a class officer, eventually becoming Class President after a coup d’etat initiated by their class adviser. In truth, before Giselle, Gayle was the original “campus figure”.
But as she grew older, the teachers, librarians and guidance counselors in school became most familiar with her than any of the Leonin sisters or cousins who went to Stella Maris College. SMC administrators claim she was a great contrast to Giselle and myself who were known to be one of the well-groomed and well-behaved students. Gayle’s class was notorious for having thrown back a chalk at the teacher after she threw it at them for their noisy chattering. As a disciplinary action for another misdemeanor, their whole class was once made to stand in the corridor instead of having lessons. Another time, Gayle, along with some of her equally precocious friends, managed to climb the canteen’s roof to get up the star-apple tree when it was full of fruits, and having to lie down flat on the roof when an SMC nun passed by. She was also known to have climbed the wire fence to go out the gate without permission from the security guard. Moreover, she mischievously re-arranged books in the library after having been scolded for being noisy. And when years later, she was going to do her on-the-job (OJT) training as a Home Economics major teacher at Stella Maris, our old teachers and guidance counselor commented that it was so ironic that for all her ka-pilyahan in her youth, she was the one who was destined to become a teacher!
Of course, we never did find out if she was the instigator or leader of all these misadventures. And If there is anyone who knows exactly how crazy Gayle can be, it’s her childhood “partner-in-crime”, Dra. Che. They had a unique “love-hate” relationship growing up – getting along famously yet quarrelling about anything. Being sometime “roomies”, they had to have a “38th parallel-type” delineation in the biggest room in the house which they shared. Cheche and Gayle used to sneak out the side gate without Mother Sandra’s detection just to buy cheap sari-sari store snacks of pocket-size pusit (squid) and dilis (small fish) bags. They indulged in their favorite street foods of isaw (chicken intestines) and Betamax (coagulated chicken blood), as well as skrambol (flavored ice shavings). They both learned their lesson the hard way when they eventually needed Combantrin.
Nonetheless, I believe it is Gayle who had the most influence on Che even though there were so many of us older siblings she could take after. This explains why Che also joined the SMC Glee Club which required a scary singing audition. They had always been closest in age and through the years they’ve always gravitated towards each other even after marriage and kids.
Meanwhile, Gayle and I didn’t get along as much in our youth. We were prone to fights when we were kids, taking almost four of us with cousins, to subdue her once. Even my Japanese Spitz, Julie recognized this and whenever we quarrel the dog will go after her. Unfortunately, even when it was Giselle and I who would fight, my dog Julie will still go after Gayle. Between Giselle and myself, Gayle got along better with Giselle. However, when Giselle left for Saudi to train as a flight attendant, and we were both going to school in UP Diliman, we were forced by circumstance to get along. It was then that our mutual interest to drive the family car became a common concern since we were only allowed to bring it when we were together. Of course, true to her confident and strong-willed nature, Gayle found a way to drive it all by herself. Seeing her do this with such confidence, I was eventually forced to muster enough courage to also drive alone.
So you see, while she is much younger, she manages to take the lead in many things and eventually, it is the older siblings who take the cue from her. Until now, this is evident in some personal decisions we make, with Gayle being the one to give advise on finances, lovelife, or even career.
* * *
In high school, she wanted nothing more than to follow us to UP Los Banos. She wanted the same freedom and independence, sorority life and college gimmicks. When Mama and Daddy would visit us on a weekday, they had to drop her off at school first. But there were times Mama would zoom through EDSA and forget to drop her off. Gayle would stay quiet in the backseat all throughout the drive until they reach Laguna and by then it would be too late.
She would eventually get into UP Los Banos under the BS DevCom program and join our sorority, the Sigma Delta Phi sorority. It was a real proud moment for Giselle and myself – when the youngest sister who showed the least ambition eventually got into a state university and even became a greek member herself. Unfortunately, just like many other things she began, she was not destined to finish her education in UPLB and had to transfer to UP Diliman.
It was around this time that Daddy was frequently in the hospital and gravely ill. I was busy in law school and Giselle was already away in Saudi. As is her wont, Gayle is used to taking the backstage and took a leave of absence from university. She took on the responsibility managing our small neighborhood convenience store – taking inventories, ordering supplies, and accounting for daily sales while Mama attended to Daddy. Even then, she showed an aptitude for handling financial concerns. About this time, Albert was also going to the Philippine Air Force flying school in Lipa, and Gayle would dutifully visit him there, driving the long distance by herself (sometimes accompanied by me), to give him the necessary moral support. These things she chose to do, not considering them as sad, personal sacrifices, but as practical decisions which had to be made, fully conscious of their importance. And she was the same when she became a wife and a mother years later. It was from her that I heard the best argument for counting the “reproductive work or household labor” women are contributing as part of the national GDP.
As such, we never underestimate Gayle. Daddy was instinctively correct in thinking she would’ve made a great lawyer; because just by listening to me study and watching enough “Ipaglaban Mo” episodes, Gayle become proficient in the Family Code of 1988. Her reasoning and argumentation is impeccable, fit for a debate team or mock trial. She was never into piano-playing, but later showed some singing talent. She didn’t like the girl scouts but became a proud sorority girl. If anything, it is characteristic of Gayle to know what she wants and she usually has the determination to go after it – just like when she enrolled herself in driving school using savings from her allowance.
* * *
Nowadays, Gayle would often self-deprecatingly label herself as “housewife lang, hindi tanga”. Yet she would also joke that it appears that she is the smartest of us all because she is a true “Dona” without having to work a day in her life or seek employment herself.
That is the most perennial and refreshing thing about Gayle – her sense of humor. She can be so “maldita” in defending Giselle, quite mature and sensible in her financial advises to Che, but it is her laughter that we in the family most treasure. In spite of her childhood pain from fractious family relations and declining financial conditions, she grew up managing to keep her positive attitude towards things.
Thus, until now, I consider Mommy Gayle to be synonymous with fun and relaxing weekends – be it simply staying home for Sunday lunch which inevitably extends to merienda and dinner since our stories and discussions don’t allow us to leave the dining area anyway, to out-of-town daytrips, and impromptu shopping sprees at QC circle or Centris. Truth be told, it’s not only advise she is frequently generous with; rivaling only that of Tita G’s own kindness, many have benefitted from Mommy Gayle’s generosity in her familiar low-key, low profile manner.
However, if Mommy Gayle had any weakness, it’s her attitude towards her health. She often joked that she had only been hospitalized twice in her life – the first, when Mama gave birth to her, and the second time, when she herself gave birth to her own kids. She is deathly afraid of hospitals and cannot be persuaded to be a “bantay” to someone sick and confined. She wouldn’t mind driving back and forth for errands, but don’t ever ask her to be the “bantay”. Even during dental procedures like simple prophylaxis, she would request Dra.Che to use a sedative or painkiller on her so she wouldn’t feel anything. Unfortunately, Mommy Gayle is averse to anything medical and for most of her life, nature has sided with her and spared her from any serious doctor’s appointment. But owing to our genetics, it is inevitable that some chronic and degenerative diseases begin to show as we approach our middle-age. We have asked her to take advantage of healthcard benefits and have regular check-ups. But again, one of Mommy Gayle’s trademark mottos – she’d rather not know about bad news. Instead, she thrives on the slogan, “You only live once (YOLO)”!
So on her 44th birthday, we expect her celebration to be attended by our favorite party food, good company of family members, stories and much laughter. Happy Birthday to our beloved Mommy Gayle!