Andrew In Excelsis

My dearest Lola Charing passed away on 18 May 1977, Wednesday, at 4:15 a.m. at the UST University of Santo Tomas Hospital ICU intensive care unit.  The wake was held at the Premiere Chapel of the Loyola Memorial Chapels in Guadalupe.  The final evening of the wake was held at  the Apalit Church.  The highly emotional funeral was held the morning after at the old Gonzalez Mausoleum at the Apalit Catholic Cemetery. 

It was truly the end of an era.  And the beginning of another one.  At that point, the Age of Brother Andrew commenced.  And it was a rather dazzling time for us young children!   Brother Andrew, extensively educated in the United States, brought a new level of worldliness and sophistication to the family.  Brother Andrew practically decreed that it was “in with the new, out with the old!!!”

Whether it was out of a modern outlook or sheer depression nobody will ever know, but Brother Andrew began the new era by clearing out Lola Charing’s personal effects.  It was not exactly the right thing to do when the deceased had owned so many things of high quality and the remaining family, clearly lacking in knowledge and appreciation [ how 1970s 😛 ], was clueless enough to dispose of them.  All her dresses, shoes, bags, purses, fans, handkerchiefs, perfumes, cosmetics, wigs, and many other things were laid out throughout the second floor of her house so that the family, relatives, friends, and staff could take their pick.

Among the dresses were several long gowns made of Swiss and French fabrics by famous couturiers — Ramon Valera, Salvacion Lim-Higgins, Roberta Paras, Aureo Alonzo, Jose Moreno — that Lola Charing had worn to important social occasions, like the 1969 Don Eugenio Lopez Ruby Wedding Anniversary, and to various Lopez, Cojuangco, Madrigal, and other high society weddings.  The majority of her day dresses were made of upscale European textiles, like genuine silks and Swiss eyelets.  Dozens of the bags and purses were top French, Italian, English, and American leather name brands.  Many were of costly crocodile and alligator leather.  There were ordinary wooden fans to be sure, but no distinctions could be made by the household staff when it came to the French and Spanish ivory, mother-of-pearl, inlaid lacquer, and handpainted ones!!! Her formal handkerchiefs were of very expensive Chantilly, Alencon, Valencia, and Venetian lace, but again, the household staff could not tell.  Her French perfumes were in exquisite crystal flagons, some with their shagreen [ sharkskin ] boxes.  I remember a dozen unopened big [ Baccarat crystal ] flagons of “Joy” by Jean Patou, many unopened bottles of “No. 5” by Chanel, many unopened bottles of “Madame Rochas” by Helene Rochas and “Narcisse Noir” by Caron, and big unopened bottles of uberexpensive “Imperiale,” and the more recent “Shalimar” and “Mitsouko” by Guerlain, among hundreds of other bottles.  There were many unused cosmetics of French and American brands like Erno Laszlo, Lancome, and Elizabeth Arden.  And because she was a pious woman, she bought beautiful rosaries by the armfuls in Europe and in Israel.  There were plastic rosaries to be sure, but again the household staff could not distinguish between the gold, silver, genuine pearl, mother-of-pearl, semiprecious stones, ivory, red coral, cedar, sandalwood, and other rare materials!!!           

The ones given first dibs by Brother Andrew were the two daughters-in-law, Pilar and Leonie, but the two modern-minded ladies only picked a few things since they were really not into hand-me-downs.  We grandchildren only took cursory looks because we didn’t have the faintest idea of what we were seeing at that time.  Lola Gely Lopez was asked if she wanted anything but she only requested a rosary of black onyx that I had picked out previously.  I refused to give it to her. Even at the young age of ten, I already knew that she had far grander things so I gave it to Lola’s youngest sister, Lola Ising, who did not have much in life.  After Lola Gely, Lola Ising Arnedo Sazon, Lola Charing’s only surviving sister, and her dentist daughter Linda were called.  They were followed by the Gonzalez-Valdes ladies, Tita Erly Valdes Gonzalez-Rodriguez and her sister Tita Raquel Valdes Gonzalez-de Leon, their sister-in-law Tita Betty Valenzuela-Gonzalez, and a few others.  And then the household help were allowed to take whatever they wanted.   

Having done that, Brother Andrew decided to build his longtime dream of a swimming pool at the house.  He contracted FNSP, then the leading swimming pool company, to construct it over what used to be Lola Charing’s orchid greenhouse. 

As he told me many years later,  “Mama was always afraid that the money would run out, so she kept on saving.  Hector and I had so much money after she died that we didn’t know what to do with it!!!”  Brother Andrew probably really didn’t know what to do with it,  so he completely went through it through the years by spending, but mostly by donating it to charity!!!  At least for him, Charity did not, I repeat did not, begin at home!!!   😛   😛   😛 

In 1978, the huge Brother Gabriel Connon F.S.C., the erstwhile President of the De La Salle University, passed away from a heart attack.  The Christian Brothers looked all over the city with great difficulty for an oversized coffin where he could fit.  It was suggested that he be buried in the case of a grand piano.  Brother Andrew, also big, remembered that difficulty and promised himself that when the time would come, he would be cremated to spare the Brothers the difficulty of looking for an oversized coffin!

And so, the huge Brother Gabriel Connon F.S.C. was succeeded by the big Brother Andrew Benjamin Gonzalez F.S.C. as President of the De La Salle University.  Brother Andrew was only 38 years old when he assumed that prestigious post.  As he himself said, his job as President was mainly to source funds for the University.  To do that, he needed to go around town asking for donations from the rich and powerful of the land.  He became, as he said, “the most glamorous beggar in town.”

In later life, in his early 60s, Brother Andrew regretted some of his past, rash actions in the family, saying:  “Had I known… I was trying to be “American”… now I wish I hadn’t done those things!!!”  Ah, the “Spoiled Child” [ his pet name with Lola Josefa “Siting” Escaler-Fernandez, Lolo Augusto’s first cousin ] had spoken!!!

To which I flatly replied:  “Really, Brother.  You were trying to be “American”?  Well, look at where America is now!”

 *unfinished*

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