Gilda Cordero-Fernando's last years from her apo's eyes 2
The author with his grandmother, cultural icon Gilda Cordero Fernando. Image courtesy of Io Regalado

The last years of Gilda Cordero-Fernando, from the eyes of her apo

On the first anniversary of her passing, we remember the fabulous writer-artist from the intimate recollections of her grandchild
Io Regalado | Aug 27 2021

I had the privilege to live with my Lola for about six years. And in those years, I’ve learned so much from her and got to know much about her from a very different perspective—as her apo. Though I may be all over the place with this, let it be my little attempt to share what it was like. There’s too much to talk about but here goes a little something for the Gilda books. 

Let me start with her daily routine. For longer than I had stayed under her roof, her morning ritual never changed: it involved a simple tablea cacao—“La Resurreccion & Sunteck” from Binondo—with Stevia and green pinipig. The house always had the tablea and it was the best universally timpla-ready drink to serve her guests next to coffee—and she always had guests. 

Gilda Cordero Fernando
"She smiled a lot at everyone and, around family, she liked to smile, as a joke, without her pustiso on," wrote Regalado on her grandmother. Image courtesy of the author.

On ending the day, however, it was all about her skincare regimen. She never failed to moisturize—for the curious, that was her only skin care secret. After that, she lay with a good book or newspaper to read, or with some paper to write, secure in a kulambo inside her air-conditioned room while I slept in the living room couch.

She smiled a lot at everyone and, around family, she liked to smile, as a joke, without her pustiso on. 

She liked talking to strangers and always made conversation in elevators, usually with the operators. She made sure to tip them with a drink or some snack in her bag. 

She was very vocal when it came to her opinion on her surroundings—whether it’s good or bad—which she sometimes raised to a level that only became tolerable because she was an old lady on a wheelchair.

She treated everyone like good friends. Even if you just met her for the first time, she would engage you with an energy that just drew everyone to like her.

Gilda Cordero Fernando
Io is one of Gilda's nine grandkids. He lived with his lola the last six years of her life. "I was the one who brought her to the hospital," he tells ANCX. Image courtesy of the author.

She welcomed everyone to her house, from high-profile personalities to the less fortunate, for example a lady who lived in the jeepney shed on the street corner. 

She had a sense of justified generosity—giving food to those without work (like beggars, for example) and money to those who do (like street vendors). She once wrote a letter to someone who used her writing in a published material, asking for a minimum one peso for compensation—the amount wasn’t important, she only wanted rightful acknowledgement. 

As a former shopkeeper who sold accessories and trinkets, she liked hoarding a lot of things, but she liked giving them away even more. Dapitan, Cubao Expo, the ukay-ukays all over QC were all her go-to places for finding “treasures.” On her ukay-ukay shopping sprees, she’d bring all the house helpers along and treat them all to entire wardrobes of “new” clothes. Everyone would come home super happy. 

She’d brag about her Expo hauls and display them with pride in her room until someone would notice them—to which she’d respond without hesitation, “You like it? Sige, sayo na lang.” I never imagined anyone so fascinated by things but just as unattached to them that she didn’t mind letting them go if they’re going to make someone else happy. From clothes, vases, random toys and trinkets—for her it was not about owning the object; it was the joy of having found something and then being able to share it. She was willing to give away almost anything and you better not test it. Then again it was what she did best —sharing, which is why she also wrote.

Gilda Cordero Fernando
"She liked sashimi or anything fried shrimp. She'd order Bacon Wrapped Prawns from MannHann often—as deadly as it sounds," wrote the author. Image courtesy of Io Regalado.

Her fashion sense can be tacky (she’d even own up to this description). It can be avant-garde. She’d wear a pineapple top and pineapple print pants, with gold pineapple earrings and a pineapple bag, all from separate ukay-ukay trips. She also had these sets in stripes and animal patterns. She wasn’t afraid to be different or to stand out. She went to the mall a lot and would parade her new clothes while “exercising,” as someone pushed her wheelchair.

When I first stayed with her, she used to be able to freely lakwatsa until she eventually needed the aid of a cane, then of a walker, and then after she fell off an office chair that fractured her tail bone, a wheelchair. 

But that didn’t stop her from seeking adventures. She was happy because, after all, being in a wheelchair required less effort for her to wander about. One random day, after passing by a maker of jeepney signs, she bought every kind of sign he offered and stuck them on to her wheelchair. This became the inspiration for her to do her wheelchair art show (or maybe the art show inspired her to put the jeepney signs on her wheelchair, I’m not sure anymore). 

She had a lot of wacky ideas, like having a tattoo on her arm that said, “If found, please return to 37 Panay Ave.” She liked to get lost in her wanderings but she was afraid of getting left alone.

She loved eating out and trying new things. So once a week I’d be her driver and we’d eat at new places I usually picked, places as random as Rodic’s Tapa or a restaurant at S Maison. The palate my lola had was not the one suggested by her foodie books. It was based on what was easy and sure to be comforting for her. She liked sashimi or anything fried shrimp. She'd order Bacon Wrapped Prawns from MannHann often—as deadly as it sounds, it was her favorite ipadeliver. She would often make a face with a silly smile, or something close to a grin, with food still in her mouth.

Gilda Cordero Fernando
In her pineapple shirt, sans the rest of her pineapple ensemble. Image courtesy of the author.

She also loved junk food, and would sometimes jokingly say she’d just have a bag of chips as her meal when she’s tamad kumain. (I still blame the sudden trend and availability of salted-egg chips for her second stroke. But she loved them too much to care.) She was carefree in the truest sense. She didn't care about a lot of things as she believed a lot of things didn't need caring for. She always had a container full of bags of assorted chips beside her bed. 

At some point, keeping herself entertained became harder when it became tougher for her to read at night. So when she discovered downloading movies, she asked us to download every single film she can remember, and she watched them over and over. So the chips beside her bed found their perfect partner. 

With a name like Lola Mad, it’s ironic how she never got mad. Frustrated maybe but never mad at anyone, never mad enough to hold a grudge, never. If I want to picture her happy, it would be her dancing. She loved to hum and dance. We would play CDs for her in the afternoon and she’d dance her only dance move, a very specific meditative ethnic-like sequence of arm movements. She’s use it for everything, even if it didn’t suit the music.

She wasn’t afraid of talking about death and would often, at random moments, say “I want to die already.” It’s not something anyone would take comfort in hearing but she always said it with a tone of contentment. Not because she lost hope, but because she was already satisfied with her life, with what she had achieved in her lifetime, and her age was telling her it was already someone else’s turn. It was time for the newer humans of the world to take over and experience life. She didn’t want to be a burden as she believed the older she got, the more magastos it was for everyone. She held her wake while she was still alive because she genuinely wanted to hear what her friends would say.

Gilda Cordero Fernando
"She loved eating out and trying new things," writes the author. "So once a week I’d be her driver and we’d eat at new places I usually picked, places as random as Rodic’s Tapa or a restaurant at S Maison." Image courtesy of the author.

One dinner time, we had a conversation. 

Me: What is love?

Lola Mad: Ang corny mo naman.

Me: What is happiness?

LM: That’s a stupid question. Only you have an answer to that.

Me: If you wanted one thing right now what would it be?

LM: I will wish for 20,000 pesos. *Opens her wallet na walang laman* (I think this was the price for the car maintenance she had just paid)

Me: Why not gumaling na lang likod mo?

LM: *Ignoring what I said* 20,000 lang and then +9 for apos or 18 if you want 2,000 each.. andami pala so minus 4k nalang kasi wala naman Chin and Majalya dito. (She has 9 grandkids, two of whom, Chin and Majalya, are based abroad). 

And this touched me still. Because it may sound silly, but she always lived in the now and never failed to put others before herself. Mga sagot pang Miss Universe.

Eventually, she became more ulyanin. Eventually, she spoke less and less words in a day. Then came the coronavirus, ECQ, lockdown. The start of the Covid quarantine marked the absence of adventures. She became bored really quick and would sometimes force the driver to just take her around the neighborhood in circles, just to see sights different from the one from her bedroom window. At her age, I doubt she would be able to go out as freely as before. 

It would have been a new normal she wouldn’t enjoy. It was the lack of exploring and looking for the next interesting thing to talk about, write about or even paint about that ended her adventures—well, in this world, at least.

Bless her kind and loving soul.

There was so much wisdom I learned in the time I 'took care' of you. I love you, Lola, and I miss you.

[Io Regalado is the second son of Gilda’s daughter Wendy. He wrote this tribute in June on the occasion of his grandmother’s birthday. He is a graphic designer who just started his own design studio.]