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Saturday, August 11, 2012

My Mom's 85th Birthday

I want to dedicate this post to my beautiful and loving mom.

My Mom, Merced Hernaez Banzon

At about the age of 38, shortly after I was born, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Though I have absolutely no memory of those days, I can only imagine that it was a very tough, sad and worrisome time for her. By that time, she was a young mother of 8 kids all under 11 years old and married to our dad who chose the glamorous but low paying job of being an officer in the Philippine Air Force.

Mom with her eldest child, Joan our sister.

Mom and Dad with 5 out of the 8 kids.

But my mother is a survivor. Sadness and tragedy was nothing new to her. She lost her own mother at the tender age of 3 and was raised by her Dad - our Lolo Pepe (Jose Hernaez), her elder siblings and her aunts - the sisters of her mother. She is from a wealthy landed family from Cebu and always has a cheerful disposition. So, I can imagine her childhood must have been quite happy despite the absence of true maternal love. Unfortunately, tragedy would strike again after about a decade. World War II reached Philippine shores in the form of the Japanese Invasion and life as she knew it was rudely interupted. She would tell us stories about the evacuations they had to do to stay away from the Japanese soldiers given the 5 beautiful females including herself in the family. She lost two of her siblings during the war. Her sister, Honey who suffered thyphoid from eating dirty ice cream at a small party during a break from evacuating and evading the enemy and her brother, Pepito who was shot by Japanese soldiers as a guerilla. Honey was only 13 when she died and Pepito was barely out of his teens.

I recall her telling me about her prayers and how she marched forward reciting the Rosary on her knees at Baclaran church to ask the Almighty God to make her survive her cancer. She didn't ask God to spare her life. But rather, she asked God to give us, her children a good mother who will take care of us and love us unconditionally. Something she was deprived off as a child and into her adulthood.

I sincerely believe that to this day, God always stops and listen whenever my mother prays. Because, not only did she survive the aggressive surgery and treatments in those days to rid her of cancer, but through our many challenges as a family, small miracles have always happened when we needed it most and in perfect timing.

My mother's name is Merced Hernaez Banzon. She took up law at the MLQU after graduating from the University of Santo Thomas. And though was breathtakingly beautiful and from a well to do family with many suitors, she married for love. She chose not the richest, nor the most handsome or the one with the fanciest car. She simply married the one she loved - my dad who at that time was a debonaire pilot from the Philippine Airforce.

Mom as a law student.

She has kept the promise she made 59 years ago to love eternally as she has stood by my dad through the best of times, to the worst. Through abundance and even through poverty.

Wedding Picture

Thier wedding was a golden moment in time blessed by God as mom and dad had 8 healthy children. And though the large family would put a major strain on our resources and on the marriage, my mother would always somehow pull off a hat trick and, with the help of my dad,  give a quality education for 7 boys at De La Salle and our sister at the school next door, St. Scholastica's. We didn't have the frills and thrills of our rich classmates, but we had more than our fill of caprices and tiny luxuries.

Joan's Graduation at St. Scho
Family Picnic
Rene in his batman sneakers, red socks having simple fun....
grew up to be a chicksboy.....until.....
Mom with three of her kids and three nieces (the Zayco kids).
Many wondered how my mother divided her love among 8 kids. I'll tell you her secret. She didn't divide it. She multiplied her love for us so she could keep her promise to God to love and care for all 8 of us. We'd have our meager but consistent daily allowance and baon for school and when cash would run low, she'd get a lucky streak at the mahjong table which would augment our money. She would stay up all night when we'd get sick and would patiently care for us even for simple toothaches. She knew all the moves and just having her there would make me feel good.

Erwin and Jun - simple fun.

Raoul and Baby
Rene playing near the fish pond inside the house.

The three athletes in the future...who would have thought.

Maximizing the assets....hand me down pants for Jun.
Di naman masyadong

We had picnics and occassional trips to her hometown in Cebu where we had a chance to visit our relatives and her farm (before Land Reform). We didn't fly PAL. Rather, we were frequent fliers in military planes. We would sit on metal seats along side soldiers, both living and the dead (sometimes we'd ride a transport flight that ferried the coffins of soldiers from the conflict in Mindanao at that time).

Lunch at the De La Salle Taft grade school followed a strict schedule. And when the yaya wouldn't be able to bring our lunch in time, we'd later on see our mother at the door of our classroom calling us out to have lunch. I can still very vividly remember her well dressed and perfectly coiffed hair standing outside the classroom signalling me to come out to eat. And as soon as I come near her, she greets me with the customary term of endearment "hello, tots". That's why she is called Tita Tots by some of our cousins.

Hello Tots

Our main source of income as a family was my dad's military pay check and my mom's earnings as a sugar planter in Cebu. But when the sugar industry collapsed, we found ourselves scrambling for cash to pay tuition. She personally appealed to the De La Salle Brothers to give us discounts or even scholarships given the many Banzon boys who went through the exclusive boys school and our very active participation in sports. This continued all the way through college.

She was our BIGGEST sports fan. She scrounged for money to buy us running shoes and track shoes. She bought the fruits and vitamins that we said we needed to help our performance after reading Runner's World magazines. She would attend all our competition and even if we were on the outer lane on the other side of the very large Rizal Memorial track & field stadium, we could hear her cheering us on as athletes at the top of her voice. Calling us out by name.

Baby during Track Days

One time, when my brother Jomari (aka Baby) ran the Milo Marathon in his teens, she surprised him by being along the run course in the final few kilometers lugging some food and coke in a plastic bag.

We would always rib here about her penchant for singing ballads in the wrong key, wrong tune and even wrong lyrics. Even our family driver, Mang Tomas (aka Horse) would join in the ribbing by saying, "patayin nyo nga ang radio" even when the car radio would be turned off and the only music was my mother singing.

She is happiest when my dad would be home for his monthly visits. She brings out the best food and would patiently still be "waiting on him" like a newly wed bride.

She is also happiest when we visit her and she gets to see her grandchildren. Always insisting on having more food than we can eat for days all laid out on the table. I feel so guilty when ever I miss the weekly Tuesday dinner with mom. And when I am there early, I see her sitting quietly in her couch just waiting for us "kids" to come home to her.

We "surprised" our parents with a grand party on their 50th wedding anniversary 9 years ago. And on that day, I could see that she was really, really happy. We had a video recap of their lives as a couple and all their relatives and friends were in attendance. It was a bit sad that as my Dad's sibblings were still mostly in attendance, none of my Mom's were present. By that time, she was the only surviving member of her immediate family. But nevertheless, her happiness was from seeing all of her children and their families present. That night was capped by a slowdance by Mom and Dad to the song of Nat King Cole. The lyrics where very touching:

"For all we know, we may never meet again.
Before you go, make this moment sweet again.
We won't say "good night" until the last minute,
I'll hold out my hand and my heart will be in it.

For all we know, this may only be a dream.
We come and go like a ripple in a stream.
So love me tonight, tomorrow was made for some.
Tomorrow may never come, for all we know".

Mom and Dad in their older years.....

Over the years, we saw my mother transform from a vibrant, beautiful and charming woman to a frail grandmother. She suffered a fall a few days before her 81st birthday and broke her hip. She had to go through hip replacement and I was the one "available" to keep her company at the hospital in the morning of her surgery. As I walked in at 7am in the morning, I saw her tearfully writing her "Last Will and Testament" in case something would go wrong on the operating table. That was a very, very rare moment to see her weeping. She is tough and always has a happy disposition. I assured her that she would be okay and she soon collected herself and was calm and had a brave look on her face when they carted the bed away to take her for her surgery.

I looked at the Will and smiled. She doesn't have that much possessions. But read that she left me some of her silverware from Rustan's.

More than the silverware though, she has already gave all of her children the gift of lifelong loving care of a great mother, support and confidence in our triumphs but more so in our most challenging moments. She taught us humility and was a shining example of how to love eternally and unconditionally.

Mom with the Boys

Mom and Dad with the kids and spouses.

I am glad God listened as my mom knelt and whispered in prayer.

Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Lord.

Happy 85th Birthday.


  1. Very touching and very nice tribute to Tita Merced. Thank you for sharing it to us. We love you, Tita Merced and wishing you a very happy birthday!


  2. I love this. Thank you Greg for writing this birthday tribute to Mommy. I was weeping like a girl while reading it.

  3. Greg, I never miss reading your blog. It is such a joy to read. Thank you. This made my day.


  4. Great tribute Greg. Thanks for sharing.

    louie cruz

  5. Such a well written blog, Greg. I am sure that your Mom is smiling widely as she continues to look over her family with the unconditional love that only a mother can give.


  6. Greg, I'm reading this again and I'm so touched by your tribute to your mother. She was truly a gracious lady.