I am turning 77 soon. I look at my face in the mirror. Yes, I have grown old. There are wrinkles and deep lines. A few people say I look 60 or at least much younger than their mother, who is 73. That flatters me but I know that time never steps backward.
How does it feel to turn 100?
I (sort of) interviewed four ladies who have crossed that bridge: Corazon C. Mateo is 101 years old. Resurreccion O. Raqueño (“Choling” or “Rexie” are her nicknames) turned 101 years young on April 4, 1921 and lives in Toronto, Canada — she wanted to see if any of her classmates, colleagues or students were alive and perhaps would recognize her if they saw her picture.
The third lady is 101 years old: she is Remigia Valeros Peregrino (“Miming”). She was born on Jan. 9, 1920. Then there’s her older sister, Trinidad “Trining” Valeros Peregrino, who was born in 1917, and is now 104 years old. Remigia and Trinidad are sisters who are married to two brothers.
Not all of these women are in Manila. I sent their nieces or grandchildren a set of questions, guidelines to interview their beloved great-grandaunts or great-grandmothers.
What does it feel like to be over 100 years old?
CORAZON: It started happily with a visit from Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte. She handed me a check for P100,000 when I turned 100. It made me feel good to be greeted that way on this milestone. I felt recognized by the city at this late age for having been a productive citizen even if I now have poor eyesight, hearing and mobility and a caregiver who helps me move about.
RESURRECCION: I am at peace and thankful to the Lord for giving me so many bonus years to enjoy more time with my family. I am truly blessed. I am told that I don’t look a day over 65, but of course, they are exaggerating. I feel just the same as I did when I was young, studying at the University of Sto. Tomas. My long-term memory is very good.
REMIGIA: I feel very blessed that God has given me the opportunity to spend more time with my family, friends and loved ones and made me able to enjoy each passing day. Very pleased as well to reach the milestone of being a centenarian.
TRINIDAD: Napapagod na ako. Masaya sana at mahaba ang buhay, kaya lang, ang dami na ring masasakit, paa, tuhod, kamay. (I’m getting tired. I am usually happy that my life has been so long but I feel pain in my feet, my knees, my hands. That’s what’s making me so tired.)
Do you still care about your looks?
CORAZON: I used to set my hair before going out. Not anymore. My caregiver now helps me fix my hair in a neat bun to keep cool in this weather. I have to keep my air-con on all day in this heat. It’s a good thing inverter technology helps me afford it.
RESURRECCION: I am not vanidosa. I fix myself up a bit just to look neat with a little powder and lipstick when I feel like it.
REMIGIA: I am embarrassed to be considered vain but I love fixing myself as I start my day — eyebrow pencil and lipstick are my best friends. (“Kilay is life,” as the saying goes.)
TRINIDAD: Of course I’m happy with the way I look. Wish ko lang I had my eyebrows tattooed. I cannot draw them on anymore because my hands shake. Ang hirap ng eyebrow pencil baluktot ang linya. (Eyebrow pencils are difficult. I draw crooked lines).
What makes you happy?
CORAZON: I have nieces, nephews and grandchildren who love and care for me. On my 101st birthday, we celebrated with a party and they even gave me a crown! Since I am single, a nephew’s family has kept me company for 30 years now. Others visited me regularly, before COVID. I built a house for them behind mine.
I have happy memories of giving piano lessons at my pupils’ homes. Also dancing with family and friends in the family’s New Manila ancestral home and at Circle Inn.
RESURRECCION: Happiness is when I am with my family and when I see my family around the world through video calls. Although some of them have departed, I still remember and think of them. I also have happy memories of going to Luneta Park with my university friends during our vacant periods where we would enjoy the ocean breeze before our next class.
REMIGIA: I like to see that the people around me are happy and appreciative of my existence and being loved and cared for by everyone.
TRINIDAD: Masaya sana kung nakakapasyal pa ako sa anak ko sa Lipa. Masaya pag nakita ko iba kong mga anak. Masaya pag may permanent eyebrows ako. (I would be very happy if I could visit my child in Lipa. I am happy to see all my children. I would be happy if I had permanent eyebrows.)
There is nothing we can eat or drink to control how long we are going to live. So we might as well enjoy every single day that we wake up.
How do you spend each day?
CORAZON: Now that I am confined to bed in my second-floor room, I am proud to say that I walk to the bathroom, aided by my caregiver. No adult diaper for me!
I pray the Rosary many times a day. The family does not pray the Rosary together anymore at this time except for my nephew Ramon who still joins me nightly. I’m a Marian devotee. I used to kneel before Our Lady of La Naval. A few months ago, she appeared to me in a dream as if to bless me and return the favor. I attend the anticipated Saturday Mass online.
RESURRECCION: I start my day with Mass daily. Then I watch classic black and white movies, and funny television shows. I spend time with my daughter, my only granddaughter, and my other family who visit. I love to listen to classical, baroque, and opera music throughout the day, and I also try to spend time outdoors when someone can accompany me outside.
REMIGIA: I watch TV, meditate, interact with family members and my caregiver, pray and always thank God for the gift of my long life and my countless blessings.
TRINIDAD: I wake up and say the Rosary, pray novenas to many saints and novenas to those who have passed on. I pray five Rosaries daily.
“Paminsan-minsan nagtatahi sa makina ng lumang dusters. Dahil sa COVID naka-confine na lang sa kwarto, bawal tumangap ng bisita, walang kakwentuhan kung hindi ang aking alalay na si Melba. Buti na lang nakakabasa pa ako ng newspaper. (Sometimes I sew on my sewing machine to fix old dusters. COVID has confined me to my room, no visitors allowed. I just exchange stories with my caregiver, Melba. I’m lucky I can still read newspapers.)
Is there a special diet for long life? Vegetarian? Do you drink a glass of red wine a day? What did you eat that made you age so gracefully?
RESURRECCION: I eat well, avoid too much fat or sweets, get enough sleep. I used to do daily walks when I was more able. I think I have the right attitude. I think positive about everyone and everything in life.
I was never a vegetarian. I eat everything but in moderation. My favorite is the McDonald’s Egg and Cheese Muffin. I don’t really drink wine. I never liked salmon and I avoid spicy and salty food.
TRINIDAD: Basta may gata kakainin ko. Hahaha, hindi ako umiinom. Coke, pwede... Lahat kinakain ko. (As long as there is food, I eat. Hahaha, I don’t drink, I drink Coke... I eat everything.)
Who were your idols?
(I expected them to say Clark Gable or Rogelio de la Rosa, but most of them said they couldn’t remember, meaning idols are forgettable over time. Except one.)
CORAZON: I really idolized my mother, Paulina Cuenca, whom I slept with and cared for till her death at 81. We were very close, and she wanted me to take care of her. That is why I did not marry. I have another sister, also single, and a brother.
What events in the country did you witness and remember most?
RESURRECCION: Losing contact with my family during the war between 1942-1945. I was then in Iloilo for my teaching job when we had to hide in the mountains as the Japanese soldiers were about to invade the province.
TRINIDAD: Of course, the war.
How have you reacted to changes in technology, politics over a century?
RESURRECCION: I went along with technology. I have a social media account, I play online games, communicate via video calls and I go on Zoom gatherings.
TRINIDAD: Hindi ko na alam yan. Kelan na ba daw ako pwedeng lumabas? Ayaw akong palabasin maski sa garden lang. Kawawa mga halaman. Haaay, matanda na, kinukulong pa. (I don’t know anything about that. I want to know when I can go out. They won’t let me out, not even to the garden. I feel sorry for my plants. Haaay, I’m already old and still they cage me!)
What is most valuable to you today?
CORAZON: My daily prayers and the family left by my late sister Pilar de Leon, who had 10 children. It makes me happy to see them become professionals — a nurse, physical therapist, banker, etc.
RESURRECCION: I simply value a peaceful life.
REMIGIA: I value the gift of long life and my loving family and friends, my connection with God the Almighty through prayers and meditation. To the Lord, I am forever grateful.
TRININDAD: Pamilya ko. Yung makina ko. Masaya na ako kung may tinatahi ako. (I value my family, my sewing machine. I am happy when I sew.)
What’s your outlook on life? On death?
CORAZON: Life has been simple, happy and fulfilling. Thank God for financial independence, I have lived comfortably and even helped others. Properties have been taken care of.
I don’t think much about death. I live as if all my relatives and friends are still around, just missed their calls as I was asleep. I used to really feel bad and depressed upon hearing of a loved one’s passing away. Now I am ready.
REMIGIA: Think positive at all times. In God we trust, so I’ll be ready when He calls and be with him in His Kingdom. What will be will be.
TRINIDAD: Masarap mabuhay kung pagkakalooban pa ako ng mahabang buhay, syempre gusto ko pang mabuhay ng matagal. Pero handa na akong mamatay, kaya ingat na ingat akong wag magkasala para matiwasay ako sa aking kamatayan. (Life is wonderful. Of course I still want to live longer. But I am ready to die, that’s why I’m very careful. I don’t want to sin so I can die peacefully.)
* * *
What is the difference between being 77 and 104? Sure, your hair turns white, you get more wrinkles, maybe you are a bit more unsteady on your feet — unless, of course, you start walking every day. You don’t have to go on a special diet or drink wine. You can eat everything.
Many out there do not expect me to talk about my religious philosophies but I believe that our death date was written by God. It is not in our hands — no, not at all.
There is nothing we can eat or drink to control how long we are going to live. So we might as well enjoy every single day that we wake up. Life is God’s gift to us. He gave it, so let’s enjoy it. Someday we may be 100, but feel like we’re only half our age!