BELOW THE LINE
By AMBASSADOR JOSE ABETO ZAIDE
My father, the original Joe F. Zaide, never made it to “Ambassador”. That was a bureaucratic fluke.
I, the second generation and his junior, made it in the pecking order
But the original “Joe” was always Ambassador in pectore to every Secretary of Foreign Affairs, to every foreign ministry and to foreign diplomats, and to all his friends and colleagues.
He was flattered to be addressed “Ambassador” by those who mistook him to be one.
Joe was first a star political reporter of the Evening News, before he joined the foreign office. At Padre Faura, his proudest title which he always appended to his name was “Foreign Service Officer.” He never contracted that or spelled it in convenient acronym (FSO). And whenever he used it, he evoked all the cachet and the noblesse oblige that comes with it. It is a title that I always looked up to because of his example and his record. It is a title that I held up to all our young foreign service officers.
Joe liked to play the younger brother to his more illustrious kuya. He said that his distinguished elder brother Gregorio F. Zaide was the historian of the family, and he… was the story-teller.
Joe could tell stories. He spun tales better than anyone I ever heard. He could hold a convocation spellbound just reciting the “Our Father.” The ladies at DFA Padre Faura said he had that gift of gab. And we have heard a lot of stories by him.
He would have loved to tell us today how he grabbed life with both hands. And how he left the world without taking anything with him.
Because the Zaides are all dusky, they were called kawale (black pot) in Pagsanjan. Pepé (Joe) was the only fair-skinned among brothers and consequently he was the spoiled hijo bonito. With his good looks and gift of gab, he courted a girl beyond his means and above his social standing. Standing erect at 5’ 6”, (tall for a Filipino in his time), he literally swept 4’ 11” Concha off her feet.
Concepcion Segovia Abeto was class. Concha was the daughter of Quirico M. Abeto, the Secretary of Justice (Jan 1933-Jul 1934). She was also school salututorian as an interna at the Centro Escolar University and was reading law at the Far Eastern University when she fell for this smooth-talking Pagsanjeño, who affected the style of Fred Astaire and could fake crooning like Bing Crosby. Corny as it might seem to today’s genre, the lasses swooned to the likes of Joe in those times.
Because the Abetos looked down on this penniless young man, Joe and Concha eloped. The venerable barrister would have shot Pepe with his caliber .45, but for Concha shielding him. (Secretary Abeto should not have been so rash. After all, he was himself a bright young lad from the middle class, who married upwards into the landed gentry family of Flora Segovia.)
If Concha had her way, our family would probably have been many times better off financially. But she chose, as was the custom of her time, to let Pepé/Joe shine. Concha abided by Joe, despite his broken promises. (Well, she did leave him a few times; but he always managed to sweet-talk her back.)
Because of their Thomasite experience, “Pepe” became “Joe” and “Concha” became “Connie.” By his own admission, Pepé/Joe was a ladies’ man, not a Lady’s Home Companion (a popular magazine in their time). Concha/Connie was a habitué. She was a devotee of Our Lady of Fatima and of Our Lady of Lourdes; and she prayed for the conversion of her loveable scoundrel named Joe. She also prayed with her children and led them every evening to say the holy rosary. Besides raising her brood, her other distinguished work in life was as English school teacher at Torres High School in Barrio Fugoso, where the national artist Nanding Ocampo said one could be accustomed to the breathing fragrance of the kutsero’s stable.
Joe and Connie bequeathed the best education they could give to their children. Francisco, Jose Jr. and Jean Louis went to the Ateneo, and their sister Flora (Nene) went to Maryknoll.
But Joe had a heart larger than his pocket, and he could never afford his good taste. Because of his spendthrift ways, the family’s budget was often found wanting come matriculation time. The children completed their education only because Connie was often able to provide the tuition fee in the nick of time, hocking (and eventually selling) her jewelry, digging deep into her small savings, or sometimes turning to the charity of rich friends and relations.
At his funeral many years ago, Joe was remembered by colleagues with great affection and fondness. Some of the accounts revealed facets of Joe we never knew of. Some recollections of Joe were impish and irreverent. Joe Zaide was impish and irreverent. Some recollections were of his professionalism and, that old-fashioned word – patriotism. He was a professional and a patriot.
Joe Zaide was an extremely vain person. Yes, he loved good things in life, he had a taste for the finest, for signature wear, and he wore it with grace and style. Finally, he was decked with national colors – our flag draped over his casket.
With the approach this week of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, we recall with fondness our good times with Connie, our sainted mother, and her husband Joe, a merry old soul.