Early this morning, I was chatting with Tita Maggie Ziálcita de Tomás, a former print model and an old friend (we used to be neighbors back in the 80s). I was asking her help if she knows where I can recruit household helpers (a usual problem for me and my wife).
Suddenly, her mobile phone rang. It was from her cousin Manny, a brother of renowned cultural anthropologist, Fernando “Butch” Ziálcita.
Tita Maggie’s voice startled during the brief phone conversation. After the call, she broke down. The news sucked the air out of my brain: Manny and Butch’s father, the great Don Hilario Ziálcita y Legarda of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española (RAE), was dead. He was to turn 98 this year.
Prior to his death, Don Hilario may have been the oldest known Spanish-speaking Filipino, and was the oldest member of the RAE.
Flashback to 30 April 2004: a lazy afternoon at SPI Technologies. I was surfing the net when I suddenly encountered a news article reporting the unexpected death of Nick Joaquín the day before. Nick was one of the greatest Filipinos who had ever lived. And I almost met him a couple of times but didn’t. I quietly left my work station… and wept at some corner overlooking —of all places— Monte de Maquiling.
I idolized Nick so much to the point that I made an altar of him in my mind. Señor Guillermo Gómez, a close friend of his, proposed at least two or three times for me to finally meet him. But nothing came out of it due to schedule problems. What a wasted opportunity. What could have ever happened if I met the creator of Joaquinesquerie himself? Sayang. One of my life’s biggest regrets.
Now it’s followed by another loss.
Tita Maggie has invited me many times to visit her uncle. Don Hilario became one of my favorite poets after having read his collection of poetry, La Nao de Manila y Demás Poesías / The Manila Galleon and Other Poems, which his son Butch gave to me and other members of the Círculo Hispano-Filipino two years ago. It is a bilingual book published in 2004 containing some of Don Hilario’s poetry in Spanish coupled with English translations that were edited by Lourdes Brillantes. I then gave the book to my daughter so that she could perfect her Spanish.
Another sayang moment here because I was planning to interview Don Hilario, mainly to know more about the Intramuros of old, his poetry, and perhaps a chance to feature him in a new magazine that I am connected with right now. But it didn’t happen because me and Tita Maggie had a petty falling out a few months ago.
Nevertheless, 97 years on Earth is already a big achievement. Only a few people today are blessed to live that long. Don Hilario is one of those few. And his credentials are amazing. Don Hilario was a poet, a medical doctor in the field of radiology, a distinguished académico for the RAE, and a nationalist and true Christian — indeed, the quintessential Filipino, a gentleman of the old school, and a descendant of Don Agapito Ziálcita, one of the signatories of the Philippine Declaration of Independence.
THE RINGING OF BELLS
From the church… bells reverberate,
They reverberate, they reverberate
The dawn of a new day,
Its charms, its joys…
The bells reverberate, reverberate
Ringing out the memories
Of my life…
The most precious moments,
Remembering the happy ones
As sleep comes…
The dying echoes
Moving away, moving away
Without wanting to.
I go on dreaming,
Reliving your memory,
Not wanting it
For you are unforgettable…
10 October 1997
Sioux City, Iowa
You, Don Hilario, are unforgettable. At last you are now with your beloved Merceditas…