Sense and Sensibility

The following is an article to celebrate Manny, my husband of 45 years.

 

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

Sense and sensibility, it seems to me, is as good a formula as any to constitute a good marriage. One of the partners should have the good sense to provide for the family’s basic needs, and, the other, the fine sensibility to enhance family life.

When I married my husband, Manny, I believed he had the practical sense to earn our living. I, on the other hand, would provide the sensibility. I thought myself cultured and refined, to be well versed in history, literature, art appreciation, and psychology, having been schooled in an “exclusive” college for women.

My husband got a “no-frills” education in public school and as a working student, took the highly technical course of Industrial Engineering. When I first introduced him to my friends, I didn’t get unreserved approval. He was not, after all, part of our collegiala circle. He was, indeed, by my friends’ standard, a poor boy.

But they did concede that he was not bad looking. He had attractive, dark eyes and the perfectly classical nose. He dressed simply, very neatly, and one couldn’t fault his manners.

Although my family was much better off than his when we married, I saw no reason to feel superior, to even think that I was marrying “beneath my  station”, (aside, of course, from the truism that “all women do”). Though well educated, I came from peasant stock (and don’t my toes show it!). My father was a “risen peasant”. It was his exceptional intelligence that won him a full scholarship in college, a Civil Engineering degree and good well-paying jobs that raised his own family’s status into upper middle class. My mother had claims to a Hispanic heritage. Her grandfather was a “peninsulare” who came to the Philippines as a member of the Guardia Civil stationed in Pangasinan. But she was born and grew up a provincial and only came to urban Manila as a young bride.

Manny may have grown up in the school of hard knocks, but he comes from “fallen aristocrats”. His father grew up in Intramuros . He was a true gentleman of the old school who stood out at my wedding wearing  a decidedly elegant white suit. And the rest of his forebears are decidedly Manileno. His maternal grandfather, Godofredo Dancel, was Secretary to President Manuel Quezon. His grandmother was pure Castillian so he has more Spanish blood than some of my Spanish speaking friends, if Spanish blood is at all a measure of personal worth. And his great grandfather, Antonio Dancel was once Governador of Rizal.

As a child, he would tell me, he used to ride his three wheeled cycle in the passage around his maternal grandfather’s living room in a grand, old bahay-na-bato  in Tondo. The house, unfortunately, became one of the casualties of the American Liberation of Manila in 1945. I have no such memories. My own grandfather had a large 3-level house at the edge of his coconut plantation in Calauag,Quezon  but it stood by the railroad tracks, next to the train station and its proudest wall ornament was the graduation photograph of my not-so-good-looking father.

It was his mother, Ana,  who “fell” from grace by eloping at 16 with a handsome man who was and remained a small time bureaucrat and having ten children by him.

But even poverty could not erase nor diminish the innate fine sensibility and good taste derived from her “aristocratic” heritage. To supplement her husband’s meager income, she fashioned exquisite children’s dresses that were exclusively sold at Tesoro’s and bought by Manila’s wealthiest families. She was already in her sixties when my daughters were growing up, but she paid me the complement of making them each a particularly lovely party dress. I could and did sew my children’s dresses too, but I didn’t have her way with ribbons and laces. They lived in a small rented apartment but the few ornaments  were delicate porcelain figurines and the finest crystals. My daughters used to love to visit their Lola Ana and listen to the musical Lladro figurines. She also had a way with dish gardens. Instead of planting a small garden, she turned the 10- 12 sq meter space in front of her apartment into a beautifully arranged display of her dish gardens. Her sense of proportion was faultless and her attention to the most minute detail, remarkable.  On the other hand, having borne seven streetwise sons, she could cuss like the best of “kanto boys”, a habit I had to train my husband to unlearn.

I was to find that sensibility is an innate quality of the mind, a cultivation of proper feelings, a control of the senses that is not, necessarily, learned in school nor derived from ones upbringing. Schooling and upbringing could, of course, help in increasing and refining it. But  it is ultimately a product of one’s heritage. People coming  from  a long line of “buenas familias”, I must concede, have a better claim to refinement than most. My grandmother used to say that, “It takes three generations (of good genes, careful upbringing, and education) to make a lady”, keeping her fingers crossed, I imagine, that she had, perhaps engendered a gentlewoman in me.

I also find that sense and sensibility are not mutually exclusive.  Everybody has both in varying proportions. “Aristrocrats” may not necessarily have a larger share of sensibility than sense.  And the common tao is not always just commonsensical.

Manny inherited his mother’s fine aesthetics and used it with practical sense in setting up an advertising art studio that generously provided for me and my two daughters. The girls trust their father”s taste and share his love for things that are exquisitely designed and well made. They prefer to have him with them when shopping, especially for shoes. I do too. But I always find the best buys, fine things at more reasonable prices.

I am not very good with ornaments (I hate clutter!) so I keep a very simple and practical home with emphasis on the good use of space.  The few ornaments in the house are gifts or Manny’s acquisition. And t was Manny’s best friend Onib Olmedo who provided most the many wonderful paintings that have filled the walls of our house . Perhaps after all, Manny has the greater share of sensibility and I have the more practical sense. It really doesn’t matter.

Because after all is said and done and having been married for almost 45 years, I am truly grateful  that he had enough sensibility to love me, and even gladder,  that I had enough good sense to marry him.

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