A year or two after the 1991 passing of my dad, E. Aguilar Cruz (a.k.a. Abé Cruz), my brother Larry dined with Nick Joaquin at one of the LJC restaurants. Without prompting, Nick expressed his intention of “someday” writing about “the life and times of Abé.” Larry was surprised and elated, but did not pursue the idea. One does not put pressure on a venerated writer, much less a National Artist for Literature.
Instead, Larry went about soliciting pieces of reminiscence from family friends like Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, Adrian Cristobal, Andres Cristobal Cruz, Carolina Malay and Alya Honasan. The book was laid out and spruced up with Abé’s drawings. It was ready to go to print. All of a sudden, Nick called Larry and said he was ready to do the book and he named a price. The offer was so tantalizing, Larry wasted no time and arranged for financing.
Consequently, the manuscript for E. Aguilar Cruz: Recollections by Friends and Colleagues was shelved, so to speak. Nick delivered his book promptly, but it would take Larry some time ;to find a suitable publisher. Jose Victor Torres, author and historian, suggested Robby Tantingco, director of Center for Kapampangan Studies (CKS) at Holy Angel University in Angeles City. Robby was eager, so Abé: A Frank Sketch of E. Aguilar Cruz by Nick Joaquin was released in 2006.
An interesting aside: Larry later learned from other sources that the reason Nick was in a rush to write another book was because at the time, Andy Cruz was seriously ill and had been hospitalized. Nick wanted to cover Andy’s medical bills. As my historian friend, Pepe Alas, joked: “Nick wasn’t about to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’; he made Cruz pay Cruz. Ingenious!” Pepe quipped.
So the book of recollections remained on the shelf. Larry died two years later, leaving the manuscript with family.
About 17 years earlier, I had inherited from my dad a small suitcase filled with his works on paper: drawings and sketches. Some 30 years after the bequeathing, I organized them in folios and discovered there were over 500 works. Our family had already donated some 36 paintings in 2015 to the National Museum so I thought it would be better to share Abé’s catalog of sketches with another institution. Why not CKS? Robby Tantingco was delighted, but I didn’t stop there. I offered to throw in the manuscript of reminiscences from family friends. Would CKS please publish them together or separately?
And so here we have two books in one: reminiscences and sketches. The launching of E. Aguilar Cruz: Sketches and Stories Drawn from Memory will be at the CKS on May 23, which marks Abé’s 107th birthday. Actually, CKS will present two E. Aguilar Cruz books on that day because historian Ambeth Ocampo will have a signing of E. Aguilar Cruz: The Writer as Painter, a book that had not had a launch due to the pandemic.
A final word on the recollections: Carolina “Bobbie” Malay, a dear family friend who had made it a point to attend Abé and Larry’s funeral, wrote about her short reunion with Abé while she was still “underground.” In her essay, she wrote about an Olivetti typewriter that she arranged for Abé to donate to the freedom fighters who took to the hills during martial law. I remember the typewriter. It was a blue Olivetti Lettera 32 released in 1963; it came with a blue leather case with zipper.
Bobbie was Abé’s colleague at the Times-Mirror-Taliba and they shared a love of French culture and language — the latter having gone on a French government scholarship to study at the French Press Institute, and the former being a Francophile, as well as francophone.
Back in Manila after her studies in France, Bobbie resumed her journalistic career, eventually going underground to join political activist Satur Ocampo in the leftist movement. They came out of hiding at the end of martial law.