Lola Tayang was a well patronized costurera by the American ladies who came with their husbands after the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. Being single and earning well, she took in her care two nephews and a little grandniece, Lucita, to ensure their schooling. This was a time when some parents, like Lucita’s, intentionally avoided educating their children, fearing audacity in the youth.
As Lucita was growing up, two childless American ladies grew very fond of her. Mrs. Anderson sought permission for Lucita’s adoption to take her to America. However, Mrs. H.B. Pond intervened with her plan. She believed that racial prejudice at that time would most likely be detrimental to the young girl. Mrs. Pond’s wish for Lucita to stay prevailed, and over the years their friendship flourished.
On Lucita’s eighteenth birthday, August 24, 1928, Mrs. Pond gave her a Singer sewing machine, delighting the teenage girl. Like her Lola Tayang, she sewed her own clothes. She even modelled her working girl wardrobe on a feature by the Philippines Free Press, a nationally-distributed magazine.
When Lucita met Vicente
Vicente was the fourth child in a brood of nine, born to Brigido and Natalia Bobis on June 3, 1910. His father, a copra trader and one-time mayor of Tabaco, Albay, made sure the children were well educated, and indeed all nine eventually finished college.
By 1928, Vicente was on his way to pursuing his dream of becoming a lawyer. He was a freshman in the University of the Philippines, enrolled in the Business Administration program, and working his way by taking on the job of a Student Registrar’s Assistant. One day, an attractive young lady wanting to go ahead of the line at enrolment was firmly reprimanded by Vicente. This young lady turned out to be Lucita, a Library Science major in the university.
When Lucita Cachuela married Vicente Bobis in 1933, Mrs. Pond gave them seed money for a house, as they got ready to raise a family. Vicente, recently graduated with a BS BA in ’32, was immediately employed by the University of the Philippines in the Registrar’s office; he put on hold his dreams of becoming a lawyer, as he was to become a father in ‘34. Lucita was sadly unable to finish her degree, but with a determined attitude, took on the challenge of her new family by taking on lodgers and renting out the first floor level of their house in San Andres, Manila.
As World War II came crashing on the Philippines, December 1941 found the young Bobises scrambling for safety away from Manila to escape the invading forces, and to meet up with Vicente’s sister’s family in Lucena, Tayabas. Little did they know they were headed right near where the invading forces landed. And so by bus, car, kariton or the wheel-less paragos, on leg across broken bridges, Vicente and Lucita, and their growing brood of three daughters and a son, made their way back to their house in San Andres, Manila.
The Japanese occupation took its toll on everyone.
Mr. and Mrs. Pond were taken from their home and detained at the internment camp for American expatriates at the University of Santo Tomas.
Vicente was shortly out of work, as UP was closed by the invaders. He had to sell their house in San Andres, with the proceeds to use as capital for buying and selling commodities, the profits on which he was able to feed his family and provide for the Ponds’ needs as well.
Despite Vicente’s anxiety, and with stern encouragement from Lucita, they would push their kariton to Lamayan, Sta. Ana every morning, to bid on coconuts, corn, seasonal fruits and vegetables—produce from the provinces that came by way of the Pasig River. At Paco Market, near their rented apartment, they would sell these.
Every few days, Vicente would bring the Ponds some slow perishable foods like avocados, bananas, papaya, corn, sweet potatoes, and sometimes hard boiled eggs, which came from chickens that the family raised. They also took on a beautiful, reddish-haired sow, which the kids named Linda, counted on to provide piglets in adulthood. This was life during the war.
With the liberation of Manila impending, amidst intensified bombing raids by the US Forces, on February 1, 1945, Lucita decided to submerge her precious Singer sewing machine on the banks of the Estero de Paco, to keep it safe from the expected burning of the city. Two days later, the chickens became chicken adobo. In the next two days, with the fattened Linda in tow, the family was criss-crossing the banks of the Estero de Paco, this tributary of the Pasig River, to keep away from fires and fleeing Japanese soldiers determined to kill on sight.
On daybreak of February 6th, shouts of “Americano! Americano!” woke the family. Slowly, from behind ruins, Vicente emerged, with son Horacio in tow, and their precious half sack of rice; eldest daughters Daisy and Lorna together, each with their pillow-case sack of clothes; Lola Tayang with little June, and pots of adobo, rice, and a bag of clothes; and Lucita with baby Don, the youngest born in the middle of the war.
The next few days found the Bobises seeking shelter with a friend of Vicente’s in Pandacan, and having to sell Linda, their beloved pig, at the slaughterhouse. Her meat sold out easily, but the little bit that Vicente took home for making adobo did not sit too well with the kids.
The next couple of months found Vicente helping in the retrieval of UP student records, shuffling among the badly damaged UP buildings, at great risk from stragglers hiding in the ruins. This was how, after the war, some re-enrolling students would attempt to bluff their way past required courses they never took up, but would be met by proof of their being remiss.
Within months, the Ponds were able to locate the Bobises, for which they generously sent money to rebuild. The family returned to Paco, rebuilt their home from whatever was left by the fire. Lucita retrieved her sewing machine from the banks of the Estero de Paco, and was soon at work on bolts of clothing material sent by the Ponds.
By 1947, Lucita had the Varsity Cafe, her own restaurant catering to American soldiers in Manila, and later to students of the reopened UP in Padre Faura. Doctors from the Philippine General Hospital likewise patronized the eatery. No less than the PGH Director had the chicken sandwich as his Monday to Friday lunch favorite. For the next four years, on leave from the Registrar’s Office, Vicente stood by her side, running the place. New life came when the Bobis kids welcomed yet another sister, baby Iren, namesake of Lucita’s mother.
When the University transferred to Diliman in 1949, the family were among its pioneers. Daisy recalled being among those students that planted what became the great big old acacias of the Academic Oval.
A year later, Vicente rejoined the University Registrar’s Office as Administrative Assistant, working alongside Dean Tomas Fonacier of the College of Liberal Arts. For a short time, he also opened a restaurant with Lucita’s brother as the supervising cook, while Lucita was also running her own lunch counter operation at their residence in the campus. With all this energy, nary a pause came when their youngest Natalyn was born in ‘53, named after Vicente’s mother, and good old Lola Tayang. Three years later came Joy, their first grandchild, Daisy’s eldest.
In ‘56, Vicente was Assistant Registrar; by ’63, he was promoted Registrar, a post which he kept ‘til his retirement in ’75. In the summer of 1965, the Bobis family moved to UP Village, leaving with many happy memories of their old UP campus neighbourhood at Area 5.
Their new home stood as a symbol of the enduring friendship with the Ponds, for it was from the proceeds of Mr. and Mrs. Horace and Daisy Pond’s last will which made it possible for Vicente and Lucita to purchase the land, and have the house built. Fortune smiled on the Bobises, at their home on Maginhawa Street.
At UP Village, it was business as usual.
To augment Vicente’s modest salary, Lucita’s resourcefulness prevailed, as she took in UP students for board and lodging. Her delicious cooking and wise management of the family’s finances provided for the well-being of her children, and she became much like a second mother to many of these boarders too. Way past the average four years most of these students stayed, lifelong friendships ensued between the Bobises and their Maginhawa alumni family.
Of those years, where Vicente is remembered as the doting one, the one who took the kids to the ball games and the dentist, on the homefront, Lucita is the rock.
When Lucita passed away in 1978, she was survived by two librarians, two nurses, two UP professors (and between them, one great cook and talented seamstress, who surely got the gene), and an airline pilot, all UP graduates; her nine grandchildren (four graduated UP, eventually); and Vicente, who was by that time, retired from UP.
Vicente kept active with tennis matches at the UP Diliman Tennis Club, a habit he kept from his undergraduate days. By the early ‘80s, he was elected Barangay Captain of UP Village, where apart from administrative duties, dispensing simple justice as mediator between disputes became part of his routine.
As two of his children and two eldest grandchildren were by then established professionals in the US, Vicente did finally retire abroad, if one could say it like that, at the end of the ‘80s. In the next decade, he immersed himself in dancing, senior citizens’ affairs, more dancing (his Manila visits would bore him, because there were no seniors’ dances), a second marriage, a touching intimacy with his great-grandkids who grew up with his presence, and the noble goal of erecting a Rizal monument at Echo Park in LA when he joined the Knights of Rizal. In 2004, as the seventh of his children inched up closer to his bedside, in a circle of held hands, he took his breath through the last Amen of the Glorious Mysteries.
Originally written as a family memoir for the Bobis family. Published with permission.