Tying the knot in different worlds

Published November 22, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Jaime Laya

Weddings then and now


“Kumare, nais na yatang manahimik nitong dalawa,” began my mother-in-law to be, Conchita Hidalgo-Sandoval, as Alice and I sat there silently. My mother and I had come to her Makati home to formally ask for her hand, the ancient Filipino pamanhikan.  It was so simple, unlike other such rituals I have attended since. In one, the groom and his family showed up loaded with diamonds and rubies for the bride-to-be.  In another, the groom and 30 relatives arrived with a Japanese cook, all the ingredients for a full-blown Japanese dinner, and a teppanyaki grill.

I don’t remember now what my mother and I brought along, but the kumares had last met almost 50 years earlier, when my mother was Mrs. Sandoval’s algebra student and the class was invited to the Hidalgo home on Magdalena to view the latter’s wedding dress—she was about to be married to Claudio Sandoval of Palawan.

Another ancient tradition soon followed, the despedida de soltera held at the Sandoval home. It was a lopsided gathering of the clans—Alice had eight brothers and sisters and as many aunts and uncles, while I only had one aunt and three young sisters.

That was in 1966 and today’s events organizers had not yet been born. Alice decided on Holy Family Parish Church in Makati’s Barangay San Isidro, intimate enough for the guests we had wanted to invite and where a couple of her close friends had been married. Her wedding dress was sewn by the wife of a family friend. We only had a couple of sponsors—Alice’s aunt Pilar Hidalgo-Lim and Sen. W. Rancap Lagumbay, husband of one of my first cousins.  

Morning weddings were considered auspicious and the night before, the ladies of both families descended on the church bringing flowers and ribbons to decorate the place for the next day, the 8 a.m. mass on Nov. 19, 1966.  Everything went smoothly and afterwards everyone proceeded for breakfast at Sulo Restaurant at Makati Commercial Center. It cost ₱25/plate, service charge and doves inside a paper bell included, although the wedding cake was extra. In all the excitement, everyone forgot my mother who had to hitch a ride home with a friend.

Baguio was venue of choice for honeymooning. Nanay vetoed the idea of my driving up so Alice and I took a train from Tutuban that brought us to Damortis in La Union, where a connecting bus brought us up to the Pines City. Then to the Country Club where we were booked. We were assigned to a room in the old wing and were greeted by the majordomo, Claro Delmendo, who turned out to be a relative. He refused to check us in and insisted that we be moved to the new wing.

It turned out that the old wing was prime Club entertainment center. Walls and ceilings were riddled with strategic holes providing a side and top view of goings on inside guest rooms, a male staff job perk. Ceiling holes (appropriately called manhole) were for the athletic—the eager had to hoist themselves up. I owe Uncle Claro one.

The next family wedding event began in 1994 when our daughter Mianne chose a business school classmate from Spain, Carlos Ortega Arias-Paz, as life mate. On the day of their graduation, Mianne, her brother Jamesy and I and the Ortega family (four Kastilas) met at an elegant candle lit table overlooking Boston harbor and Cambridge in the distance. The evening passed pleasantly, the equivalent of our pamanhikan.

There was long trans-Pacific discussion on where the wedding would be (the bride pays for weddings in the West) and finally the decision was made. New York it would be, where they were both working by then and convenient for their school friends who had wanted to be present. It also avoided me working out NAIA greetings and farewells, hotel accommodations, transpo, tours, etc. etc. for visitors.

Well organized, Mianne saw to all the New York preparations. She and Carlos decided on the Lady’s Chapel of St. Patrick’s Cathedral but it proved to be too small and hot for it was summer, so the main church it was.  

FROM THIS DAY FORWARD A wedding at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York.

St. Patrick’s does weddings well. Weddings are every hour on the hour, practically every day the whole year round. There is a checklist of everything that needs deciding, down to the repertoire of the church organist (Wagner, Vivaldi, Telemann, Mozart, pick from the list). The church also takes care of decorations and all who wed there have to be content with the day’s flower arrangements, thereby avoiding the Manila spectacle of indecorous decorators noisily ripping away the botanicals even before the preceding pair receives final blessings.

Arriving groups enter via the left door, while the preceding wedding party exits via the main door. Only the bride and groom are allowed to pose for an altar-steps picture after the wedding.  

It was memorable. In the gloom and stained glass of the high gothic cathedral, the golden altar glittered, smothered in white lilies. The young ladies—sisters of the bride and of the groom—were elegant and lovely in their flowing pastel gowns. In their gray morning formals, the men were proud and handsome as they walked up the aisle. The bride, in her piña grown was at her loveliest, the groom at his most dashing.

The wedding mass over, the wedding party and guests walked down the aisle to triumphant organ music. As the cathedral bells pealed, the great front doors burst open and the beaming bride and groom emerged on sunlit Fifth Avenue. Passersby applauded in celebration with the beautiful couple.

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