When Elena Patron passed away last January 14 at the age of 87, people wrote about how she found success in the male-dominated world of Filipino komiks. There was a time when the komiks scene was ruled by its three queens: Nerissa Cabral who wrote “Bituing Walang Ningning,” Gilda Olvidado who created “Sinasamba Kita,” and Elena whose most famous komiks novel is “Blusang Itim.”
They had a hold on the female market, their finger always on the public’s pulse. And when movie producers turned their serials into feature films, it assured them of greater renown. Many of Elena’s serialized komiks novels were adapted for the big screen: “Oras-Oras, Araw-Araw,” “Kape’t Gatas," and the Ishmael Bernal-directed “Nagbabagang Luha.” Her first komiks novel, “Kapatid Ko ang Aking Ina," won a FAMAS for Best Story.
Elena won many accolades throughout her career. To her family, however, the komiks icon was simply Lola Lena.
Not that her grandchildren didn’t care for her achievements. In fact, a corner library in their Parañaque house is devoted to her many novels, shorts and comic strips—at least according to Jay-R Patron who posted a home video interview of his grandmother in 2013 on the occasion of her 80th birthday. But yes, at home, the lady was more celebrated for her sense of humor, her faith, and her devotion to family.
We get a glimpse of these facets of Elena in the video, which allows us to know the woman behind the novels. The woman who, at 80, was still sharp, quick-witted, and funny.
It’s not the most romantic of beginnings, the story that led to Elena’s career in writing. She didn’t go to college, even though she passed the entrance test at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (formerly Philippine School of Commerce), even earning a place among the top 10 examinees. The family just didn't have the money.
“Naranasan ko na alas dose na wala pa kaming maisaing,” she said in her naturally mellow voice, recalling how one of her brothers would come home without dilihensya. “Dream ko, mapasok lang ako sa factory, kumita ng P10 a week, para may pambili kami ng bigas.”
This inspired the title of an autobiography she was working on at that time. The title? “My only wish. May Maisaing Lamang.”
To literally put rice on the table, she would tag along with friends to publication offices, bringing with her a short story she had written. “Nagdadasal ako sa Poong Nazareno na sana ma-approve. That time, P20 lang yun,” she said, recalling the measly rate per story.
These little rackets eventually opened doors for Elena. She became a feature writer in Liwayway Publication, which eventually offered her a job to become the assistant of the general manager. She didn't even know where she got the inspiration for those early stories. “Siguro gift lang,” she said.
Unable to avail of a proper college education, Elena read books to increase her knowledge and refine her writing. She believed destiny and luck might have a role to play in her success as a writer. “Siguro sinuwerte lang ako. At naniniwala ako sa takda,” she said, meaning she just followed her fate. “Takda” was also the title of her novel running in Liwayway at that time.
Despite her mostly dramatic fiction, Elena was actually naturally funny. In the interview, when she was asked about her favorite dish, she answered—“Yung pinakamabuti sa alta presyon—paksiw na lechon.” And when it came to her favorite color—“I will be wearing blue [on my 80th birthday]. Somebody from Ukay Ukay Incorporated will give me [a blue dress].”
When asked about her favorite movie and TV shows, she said she avoids watching movies and TV as much as possible. “Baka makopya ko unconsciously,” she replied. Her favorite among the books she has read and written? “My book launched by Ateneo. A collection of my short stories.”
When she was asked to tell a funny story, she recalled something from her younger years. “Kumain kami ng lumpiang prito sa Plaza Miranda. Bawal pala, hinabol ng pulis ang nagtitinda. Tumakbo rin kami. Shall I say why? Dahil hinahabol namin yung suka.”
Asked why she and her husband, Angel, decided to have only one child, she answered, “Hindi kami mahilig,” eliciting laughter from her audience.
Elena and her husband, an insurance consultant, was blessed only with one child, Ardee De Los Angeles. “Ang lolo Angel nyo, 18 magkakapatid. Kami, walo. Ako, isa ang anak. Kaya pala isa lang, kasi madami akong magiging anak. Ang aking apo, hindi ko na mabilang. Apo ko sa tuhod, hindi ko na din alam kung ilan. Baka next time meron na sa talampakan,” she said in the video.
Ardee is also a writer. “She’s the reason I ventured into writing, and editing as well,” Ardee told ANCX recently when asked about Elena. “She inspired me as a writer but all the more as someone who gives a lot to her family and other people.”
According to Ardee, Elena would ask for his opinion about titles and characters every time she thought of a story idea. She had a notebook where she would write her scripts before she would transfer it to a typewriter. Eventually, she would have the scripts on her notebook typed on a laptop. Asked to describe his mother, Ardee said, “She was very loving, thoughtful and responsible. She always had time for family even if she had a deadline.”
In the interview, asked about the greatest challenge she’d have to face in life, Elena said, “Siguro yung paano ko maiiwan nang maayos ang maiiwan." She was talking about Ardee. “Pero ayaw ko pa syang iwan.”
Elena did stay on for seven more years for Ardee and for her grandchildren after that 80th birthday, and created more beautiful memories for her loved ones to remember her by. (Her husband died on the same day Elena did in 2004). She also remained a dutiful writer until the last days of her life, whipping up a food column for Liwayway magazine called “Magluto Tayo” and a novel entitled “Lover Boy.” She died peacefully in her sleep, said Ardee who takes pride that his mother had sent many of his cousins to school and helped a lot of people in her lifetime. “Mabait siya talaga,” he said. “Gusto ko siyang maalala na nagmahal ng tao at minahal din.”
All photos courtesy of Ardee De Los Angeles