Last Sunday, I had lunch with my youngest granddaughter, Uma Leona, who will turn 19 at the end of the year and will probably be taller than I am by then. As we crossed the street to her home, she said that for history homework, she had to paint three scenes from El Filibusterismo. I was pleasantly surprised that she had indeed read Rizal’s second novel and that her teacher is among the adherents of the Rizal Law. She painted the “wedding scene” with Simoun’s deadly lamp, a classroom scene with Basilio, and “what else, Lola?” – she asked. Why not Fr. Florentino throwing that chest full of jewels into the sea?
While waiting for the rest of the family to arrive, she served me an authentic Mexican mezcal, on the rocks, because it was a warm day. I told her that I might just write my memoirs, but did not know where to begin. “When you were in high school!” she exclaimed, “we (the Gen Z) are interested in what life was like when you had no cell phones, laptops, internet, Google, YouTube, nothing!” I suddenly felt antediluvian.
Uma asked if “that telephone” was the only means of communication. She meant the cumbersome desktop contraption with a dial. Life would have turned out differently, I affirmed, had all those gadgets she mentioned been commonplace when I was in high school. “That telephone” was the only way, or snail mail, telegrams with a limited number of words, or “couriers” – a close friend or relative, a trusted driver or yaya. We were letter writers then. She thought it was romantic, so like Romeo and Juliet.
Indeed, some young lives were mindlessly divagated, I told Uma, not by destiny, but for lack of modern technology. When we were in fourth year high school a few months away from graduation, my classroom seatmate disappeared from the face of the earth and was missing in action even on graduation day. I learned much later from another classmate who was her neighbor that one day after school, she was suddenly whisked to the airport still in her school uniform. She was sobbing and clutching a teddy bear which her boyfriend had given her. Apparently, her parents found out that she was “going steady” and were afraid she would elope, get married against their will and while still too young.
Uma clutched her pearls in horror: “Your friend must have been devastated! They couldn’t even say goodbye to each other. Had cell phones been invented, she could at least have sent him a message and continued to be in touch.” Her boyfriend wanted to know if she took along the teddy bear. When she returned to Manila after college in the USA, she was no longer the sweet, cheerful classmate with whom I used to share confidences and snacks during recess. She was smoking defiantly, but elegantly, with an Art Deco cigarette holder, spewing cynical opinions that mortified us, her former classmates. She has mellowed since then, I told Uma, after two unhappy marriages. We do poke fun at the GenZ for not having discovered the art of conversation.
It had never occurred to me that we were living in the neanderthal age of communications; we had transistor radios, box cameras, ballpens, typewriters and photostat machines. We had fun playing practical jokes with those heavy, black contraptions called telephones. Sometimes, when the phone rang, which meant someone was calling, I would answer, “Funeraria Quiogue,” hear a gasp and an apology, “Sorry, wrong number.” Once, the caller asked, “Lovely Lady?” And I answered, “How did you know?” He hung up; of course, he must have been calling a beauty parlor. Early on when private lines were hard to come by, we shared the facility with a party line. I told my granddaughter that I was never allowed to eavesdrop, that was very rude.
I met one of my dearest gentlemen friends when our telephone lines got jumbled during a storm. We were both trying to make a call and I rather boldly asked for his name because I liked the baritone timbre of his voice. But, I did not dare give him my real name; I said I was Anette Guevara. Later at a party, I revealed my real identity. We are friends to this very day, thanks to the tangle of destiny and archaic technology.
“Why did you give a false name?” Uma was mystified. I felt it would have been awfully forward of me, under such circumstances. Good girls were not supposed to call up boys that were just not done; it gave a bad impression. So, we suffered in silence and waited by the telephone. “Now that you have a cellphone and times have changed, do you call your boyfriends, Lola?” Wait for my memoirs, I said. (firstname.lastname@example.org/gemmacruzaraneta.com)