Kaarawan ngayon ng yumao kong tiya. Kung nabubuhay siya, dapat ay 96 years old na siya ngayon. Bilang pagpupugay at pag-alaala ko sa kanya, ibabahagi ko itong personal essay na sinulat ko may tatlong taon bago siya pumanaw. Dahil sa kanyang edad, hindi na niya ito nabasa. Sana kung nasaan man siya ngayon ay makarating sa kanya ang mensahe ng sanaysay na ito. Simple lang naman yun: lab at miss ko siya. Happy birthday, Dada. Lagi kitang naaalala.
Long before Maricel Soriano was called “Taray Queen” of Philippine movies, my beloved aunt, Isidra “Sider” J. Gutierrez, was already reigning as the supreme icon of sternness in our small neighborhood in Batangas City. Children would fearfully scamper away at the mere sight of her. Relatives would literally shake when she starts arguing with them. And when her voice reaches that angry note, expect deafening silence in the house. Nope, Auntie Sider was not a neighborhood toughie who kills bad men. She simply would slap nephews and nieces who misbehave, wield a sharp bolo at inebriated men who would roughly answer back, and drive other neighbors to tears when her acerbic tongue would start to hurl those famous crisp invectives. “Iaanak pa ang katatakutan ko“, she would often say. If her life would be made into a movie, that famous line of hers would certainly pass for a good title. For Auntie Sider, being a true-blooded Batangueña, never retreats from any fight.
Yes, if her life would be transformed into the big screen, it would be an action-comedy genre — very verbal, kinetic, and a rib-tickler. Those three adjectives might as well give us an idea to her multifaceted and colorful character. For my auntie is an amalgam of words, energy and humor. She talks her mind out, works like a horse, and laughs at herself. The result is a synergy that translates to strength. Today, at 83, that strength continues to sustain her every waking hour. She still does the daily house chores, goes up to Baguio alone twice or thrice a year and is an expert in entertainment gossips.
One morning, as she was getting out of the grocery store, the security guard opened the door for her and courteously said, “thank you, lola.” Auntie Sider was aghast. “Putang ina, dismayado ako“, she told all of us when she came home. “Sasabihin nyang lola na ako eh ni hindi pa ako nagkakaanak? Ngali-ngali kong umbagan.”
At another time when we were in Rustan’s Makati, she was looking at this opulent and expensive Charles Jourdan shoes, when a pretty and friendly saleslady approached her and said: “Can I help you ma’am?” Auntie Sider replied in her thick Batangueña accent,” Magkano ari ineng?” “Six thousand nine hundred fifty ho,” the saleslady politely intoned. My auntie’s eyes suddenly became big, like that of a dog who has spotted its enemy. “Ay sa putang inang `yan! Inyo na `yang sapatos na `yan. Paghihirapin nyo kami.” The lady, instead of getting angry, giggled quietly.
Now that is what I call colorful character.
She also loves to tell this story. In the late `60s when my mother owned and operated a beauty salon in the heart of Batangas City, my auntie Sider took a shower one afternoon and noticed the lysol liquid disinfectant in the bathroom floor. Knowing that it kills germs, she poured a small amount of lysol in a tabo, and used it like a feminine wash to clean her, uhm, private part. Since she forgot to dilute the concentrated disinfectant, the effect was like that of pouring acid into the skin. Alas, that was what exactly happened. She shouted at the top of her voice and like a wounded horse, jumped and jumped to deaden the pain. My mother’s patrons, of course, were scandalized. When my auntie got out of the bathroom, they asked her what happened and when she told the whole story without missing any detail, everybody burst into peals of laughter. “Masama na ang tinawa ng lahat, lalo na si Bining.” She was referring to a neighbor who like her, is also a spinster. “Pero talagang hirol ako. Masakit ang putang ina.”
Yes, my auntie would say putang ina (son of a bitch) as if she is merely putting a period or comma to every sentence. She could do that and get away with it. But if there were children listening, she would almost always give a warning. “Hoy, mga bata, huwag nyo akong gagayahin, ha? Hayaan nyo na la-ang na ako ang magmura.” In my entire life, I must have heard a million of putang inas from her, up to the point when it didn’t seem to sound like cuss words anymore. Truly, among those kids like me who grew up with her, no one acquired her fixation on that horrible expression.
From her name spawned numerous derivatives. From Isidra, she was called Sider. Her brothers and sisters, on the other hand, would sometimes call her Cinderella, while we, her nephews and nieces, would address her as Auntie Ida. Now, her apos sa pamangkin (grandchildren from her nephews and nieces) call her dada. She is comfortable in all those names, just as she is with her civil status. When people ask her why she didn’t get married, her reply is a standard one: “May pagka-suplada kasi ako noong araw, she would say matter of factly,“Takot ang mga lalaki sa akin,”. There’s no trace of regret in that voice. Just a casual explanation from someone who has accepted her fate, and has become very contented with the choices she made in life. “Kung walanghiya lang ang mapapangasawa ko, mapapatay ko pa `yon kaya mabuti na `yong di na nga ako nag-asawa.”
And true enough, when a married sister of hers went to our house to complain about her marital woes, Auntie Sider began her famous litany: “Ayan na nga ba ang sinasabi ko. Dati rati’y sinasabihan mo pa ako na kesyo walang nanliligaw sa akin. O ngayon, sino sa atin ang kalbaryo ang buhay?” And the poor sister agreed, “Oo nga. Mabuti ka pa.” With arched eyebrows, my auntie just looked at her sister with that stoic expression that seemed to say, guess who’s having the last laugh? Talk about vindication.
Auntie Sider never smiles at pictures. One time when I was helping her organize her photo album, I noticed that she had this standard facial expression — like that of an action star with that serious, stern look. I asked her about this and all that she said was: “Ay sa ganun ako eh, ano’ng magagawa mo?” Anyone who meets her for the first time would say that she is, indeed, stern. But that is only on a surface level. For underneath that stern and abrasive façade is a funny woman with a heart of gold.
Isidra J. Gutierrez was born on May 15, 1918 in Batangas, Batangas (now city). The sixth among the 11 children of Cecilio Gutierrez, Sr. and Marciana Clar de Jesus, Isidra grew up playing with the boys. She effortlessly climbed towering trees, wore a slingshot around her neck, and punched and kicked her playmates. “Lumaki akong tomboy,” she recalls. “Bata pa’y di na ako nagpapaapi.” Because she was extremely naughty, her mother often spanked her with a slipper. One time, the spanking went a little bit too far. She was badly hurt. “Lupaypay ako sa sahig. Pero di ako umiyak. Yung tingin kong `yon sa Inay, ang ginawa ko, pinunit ko yung damit ko. E bagong bago pa naman.Hindi kasi ako makalaban kasi magulang ko `yon, e. E di sa damit ko binuhos ang galit at iyamot ko.” Her mother could not believe when she saw her with torn clothes. She just turned to her husband and said: “Look at her.” Auntie Sider’s father only shook his head and bristled: “I told you, Marciana, she’s going to be a problem.”
Well, she didn’t really grow up to be a problem child. She was simply hyperactive and fought whenever she felt that her personal domain was threatened. During her adolescent years, she discovered the movies and became a movie fan. “Sumusulat kami noon ni Ate Dading kay Fernando Poe, Sr, ” she fondly remembers, “pero hanggang doon lang.” Ate Dading was her elder sister who went to the States right after World War II, and never returned back to the Philippines. Their youngest sister, Maria, is my mother.
After the war, two Americans courted my auntie when she worked as a clerk in an American camp. They happened to be brothers who competed for her attention. “Si George at si Ralph Clark. Sabi sa akin ni George, hey Isidra, which do you prefer, to marry an American or a Nigger? Eh alam kong hinuhuli ako. Kaya ang sagot ko, I prefer to marry my own race. Sagot ni George, but I’m not asking for your own race? Nakangiti la-ang ako. Akala nya makakaisa siya.” Both brothers wanted to marry her but it was her lawyer brother, Mario, who dissuaded her from marrying. “Sabi ng Kuya Mario, sige magpakasal ka. Pagkatapos, I-di-divorce ka lang nyan. Anon’ng gagawin mo sa Amerika pag nag-iisa ka roon?” Though she was known to be a rebel, she was subservient to her family on things concerning romance and marriage. That’s why she heeded her brother’s advice. She dumped her two American suitors and continued to watch movies.
It was the movies that paved the way for her to work in a movie theater for more than 20 years. Even when I was still a toddler, auntie Sider was already working as a portera at Emelic theater in Batangas. Everyday, she would tear movie tickets after movie patrons bought it from the takilyera. Quite an easy job, one might say, but auntie Sider said it wasn’t so. She constantly watched for people who wanted to sneak inside the movie house without paying for the tickets. And she caught quite a few. “Pinipitcherahan ko sila. Wala akong pakialam kung lasing.” When she went home every night, she carried an umbrella with abalisong knife inserted inside its folds. Just in case, she would be attacked, she said she was always prepared to fight. “Iniisip ko, lapit kayong mga linsyak kayo at pag di ko pinaglalaslas ang mga pakana nyo!”
It was during her Emelic days when she forged friendships and found a regular barkada. There was Delia, her best friend, who later married Rudy, the jeweler. There was Gloria, another married woman, whose husband was a war veteran. Other middle-aged members of the group were Aurea, Lydia, Belen, Naty. There were some men in the group whose names I can’t remember anymore. This group often went out to drink, attended fiesta celebrations in different towns, and even watched x-rated films. “Fighting fish ang pinapanood noon nina Gloria. Tinatawag nila ako. Manood ka na, Sider. Pero ayoko. Nasa labas la-ang ako. Sabi ko, kayo na la-ang at may mga asawa naman kayo. Pero `yang si Delia, nagkaka-dalagang tao `yan noon, nanood. Napaka-hayop. Kaya hayun, nag-asawa.”
Auntie Sider’s boss at the Emelic theater was a woman called Mary. She was the theater manager, and by my auntie’s recollection, also had the temper of a tigress. “Pero di sya umubra sa akin kahit pa sabihing mataray sya. Minsan nga, pinalabas ko `yan ng opisina. Sinigawan ko. Basta ako nasa katuwiran, di ako natatakot, kahit mawalan ako ng trabaho at makarating pa kay Mrs. Rodriguez.” Mrs. Rodriguez, a woman of Spanish descent, was the theater owner.
In 1972, a few months before Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law, Auntie Sider went to the United States at the invitation of her youngest brother, Danny. She stayed there for six months in Milpitas, California and went sight-seeing, shopping and eating. She savored the taste of American life. It was I think the most relaxing moments of her life, for many years after she returned, she still kept on narrating her U.S. trip like a broken record. She did love it there. As a matter of fact, she gained a lot of weight from eating ice cream and milkshakes. Still, “there is no place like home,” she quips.
When she came back to her life in Emelic theater, auntie Sider was treated like a movie star. Everyone called her “stateside.” Her skin glowed, she gained weight, and looked very much rested. “Hindi makapaniwala ang mga kaibigan ko na ang porterang ito ay makakarating ng Amerika.” She was very proud of such an achievement that I remember every time we had a visitor in the house, she would always insert her U.S. trip into the conversation. “Noong nasa Amerika ako, panay ang pakain ng ice cream sa akin ni Danny. Ika ko, ay busog na busog na naman ako Danny. Pero magagalit si Danny. Basta kumain ka Ate!”
Two years later, in 1974, Auntie Sider’s eldest sister, Goring , succumbed to cancer of the throat and lungs. She, too, was unmarried. From the beginning to the end of her sickness, it was Auntie Sider who took care of her. They took the public bus and went to Manila, checked into a hospital and there, under medical supervision, fed her, gave her sponge baths, took her to the bathroom, gave in to her requests. Everyday, Auntie Sider saw how her sister’s health deteriorated. She got scared, but toughened herself. “Umiiyak ako noong mag-isa sa banyo, ” she told us right after Mama Goring’s funeral, “hindi ko pinapakita sa Ate na natatakot at naaawa ako sa kanya. Ayaw ko siyang panghinaan ng loob.””
For Auntie Sider, life went back to Emelic theater after Mama Goring died. I never really saw her mourn for a long time. She bounced back into the groove easily. She got up before sunrise, sang in the shower, went to work before eight in the morning, and came in the evening with the latest in showbiz gossips. For years, that routine never seemed to end.
But not for long. Several years later, Auntie Sider resigned from her job and Mrs. Rodriguez lost a legal case to have the theater continue its operations. The Emelic theater barkada still saw each other from time to time but after a few years, they completely lost touch with one another. Oftentimes, when I would accompany my auntie in shopping malls, she would start looking for faces of her barkada among the flock of busy shoppers. “Hindi ko man lamang makabangga dine sina Delia at Gloria. Nakaka-sura.”
Post Emelic life meant staying and working in the house. For years, she would wake up before sunrise and cook breakfast for all of us. When I was a child, it was she who bathed me everyday. And then, she would go through the motions: washing and ironing our clothes, going to the market, cleaning the house, cooking lunch, washing the dishes and preparing dinner. Her forms of rest were watching television, reading the newspapers and listening to the radio. Sometimes she complained about the monotony of her life, but she still did her daily chores as perfectly as she could. I remember her gastronomical delights — that Chinese dish, pork “humba,” with “tahore,” the “chopsuey,” “paksiw,” “tapa,” “sinaing na tulingan,” “giniling,” etc. Such dishes peppered our Sunday lunches and dinners. They were all small meals, but to me, they were like Bacchanalian feasts — delectable, redolent and ambrosial.
Another funny story happened when she underwent appendectomy at the St. Patrick’s hospital. Instead of getting worried about going under the knife, what concerned her was the thought that she would be shaved down there. “Naku, ineng,” she told the nurse who already held the sharp razor, “ako’y hiyang-hiya sa iyo. Itong pinagkatago tago kong pakana na iningatan kong walang makakita sa matagal ng panahon ay makikita ninyo.” The nurses were all giggling. “Hayaan na ho ninyo, they all assured her, “pareho naman ho tayong babae.” For many months, she also got worried at the thought that the male doctors who formed part of the operation team, saw her prized “treasure.” “Bistado na ako ni Dr. Pastor,” she said. Linsyak na iyan. Pabayaan ko na.”
When she is in a good mood, Auntie Sider would sing and dance even if there were people watching. Sometimes, when we have informal parties in our house, she would even dress up and spray perfume before she would dance. “Mukha akong alila pag narito sa bahay, pero pag labas ko naman ay sinisigurado kong isputing ako, she would often say. “Isputing,” to her, meant wearing her Sunday’s best — jeans, t-shirt, sandals and a face made up — complete with lipstick, powder and eyebrow pencil. Why don’t you try putting on rouge? I would often joke her. And her answer was also a standard one: “Hindi na….bagay lamang `yan sa mga mayayamang artista.”
It was from her that I learned old “deep” Filipino and Batangueño words — words, which I don’t hear spoken anymore today. For example, she would call a loose, flirtatious woman “pandit,” “pulandit” and “maluwag ang sihang.” Cleavage, she would call “lukan,” while a tough killer, she would term as “tiribut.” When a woman loses her virginity, she would say, “butas-te na ang babaeng `yan,” while people with bladder problems who pee in their pants she would say, “maluwag ang kanyang roskas,” which means his/her “screw” is already loose. As a communicator and researcher, I found those words fascinating for they are indigenous and endangered. As a matter of fact, I told my colleagues in media one time that I’m going to make a collection of my auntie’s private lexicon. It’s a project, which until now, I have yet to start.
Although she is an Aglipayan, auntie Sider does not regularly go to church because she said she feels like she’s committing a sin whenever she would see people she doesn’t like. “Mas nagkakasala la-ang ako pag nakakakita ako ng mga butas na medyas, batang iyak ng iyak, mag-nobyo na lambutsingan ng lambutsinagn. Putang inang `yan.” She said she would rather pray in private.
At 83, going on 84, auntie Sider is still as active as ever. Except for an arthritis problem, which attacks her joints during cold weather, and her weak left lung, which gives her occasional coughs, she is still strong compared to other women half her age. She never had weight problems, and would still drink coffee everyday, eat meat and all fattening foods with gusto, and at times, even drink beer with the boys. She knows the latest movie stars and watches television as if she were an annotator. “Putang ina mo, sampalin mo!” she would shout at the TV screen every time she would see Judy Ann Santos being maltreated by the contrabida in her favorite TV soap opera. Kung sa akin lamang nagtama `yon ay pag di ko iningudngod sa sahig ang hayop na `yan– ay sabihin mong sinungaling ako.”
Perhaps what contributes to her longevity is the fact that she does not really have an emotional baggage. She says everything that bothers her without using any forms of “filters.” She could tell nephews and nieces ugly things about their lives and make them stand there like wet cats as they quietly reflect on their mistakes. Her words could both hurt and heal. And while we would not always necessarily agree with the wisdom of what she says, we always leave our house with the astounding impact of her own little sermons resounding in our heads.
Auntie Sider was never married, but she never felt alone. For she touched our lives in her own unique way and showered our family with love like no one else did. Her zest for life, faith, fortitude and ambivalence continue to mesmerize and inspire us as we face the slings and arrows of life every day.
I ardently love our undisputed “Taray Queen” more than she will ever know.
P.S. Three years after I wrote this essay, my Auntie passed away. It took me a long time before I became my old, funny self again.