Lovelier the Second Time Around

The newlyweds -- Bella Apelo Bonner and Bert Cayabyab -- walk to their wedding reception (Photo courtesy of Bella Bonner)

It was nearing the end of the night when I tossed my bouquet behind me. It caused a commotion between the two women who wanted it. Everyone laughed. How fun it was to see two not-too-young but definitely beautiful women fighting over a bridal bouquet!

I looked around and the hall had thinned out a lot. Oh my goodness, I thought. Was the party a flop? Why did guests leave so soon? Then someone came up to me and said it was almost midnight. The party was over.

I thought it had just begun, much like the song at the start of our wedding ceremony held in our tiny living room at Casa Dansalan. At six p.m. I had my blue gown on, my makeup was set and flowers were in my hair. But as I put on my glittery high-heeled silver shoes, a strap broke. Darn! Can’t wear a broken shoe! I hurriedly ransacked the closets in our bedroom, all shoe boxes and voila! I found a pair of slides with glitter. It’ll do.

I stepped out of our bedroom in a beautiful custom-made Maria Clara gown of the most exquisite piña cloth with intricately hand-embroidered flowers, for which we had paid a fortune, but on my feet was a pair of $2 slides I had bought in a local flea market.

My friends called this event a senior wedding and it was turning out to be more fun than any junior wedding any of us had ever gone to.

Dressing for the occasion was actually funny. I had never worn a Filipiniana dress, and my two bridesmaids, both Americans, had never even seen one. We were all Texans in Manila for my wedding. My gown came in three pieces, and we were challenged to put them together. But we had a picture—the one I had given the dressmaker—so we were able to pin and clip everything together to the likeness of a Maria Clara.

My groom was so handsome! Tall and dashing in his regal barong, oh my. How did I get so lucky?

Hand in hand, Bert and I entered our packed living room. Ryan [Cayabyab, his younger brother] was on the keyboard while John Lesaca was on violin. They played “We’ve Only Just Begun. ” Pastor Benja Bautista, Bert’s high school buddy who made the ultimate switch from gangsta life to one with Christ, stood at the makeshift altar. A few niceties were said and then music played again—“Two for the Road.” Bert held my hand and I knew he felt as I did. We said our vows—promises of love, friendship and respect for each other. When our musicians played “Minamahal, Sinasamba” all I wanted to do was cry.

We exchanged wedding rings and kissed.

The groom's younger brother, Ryan Cayabyab with wife Emmy, who sang for the couple (Photo courtesy of Bella Bonner)

Ryan offered a toast and we all held up our champagne glasses in celebration. Hors d’oeuvres were served while we waited for the cue to move to the Philam clubhouse where guests were also having cocktails, entertained by a four-man rondalla. It was a Philippine-Mexican fiesta. Ole! Ole!

It was a clear February night with a great moon and starry sky. The Cayabyab-Apelo families paraded on foot from our house, and when we arrived at the clubhouse, the fantastic USSR Band played “Obladi Oblada. ” Horns tooted. Whistles blew. Guests cheered. It was celebration time!

Immediately, we were overwhelmed. Look at all those beautiful people and many had come a long way to get there. From California, Texas, Massachusetts, Toronto, Sydney, Pangasinan, Nevada, Cebu and Ilinois they came and they tooted horns and let us know they made it. We felt the love and we showed it.

I remember hugging half the people in the hall even before we reached the head table. When the crowd calmed down somewhat, we all joined hands in prayer; me grateful for having Bert back in my life and for the stubborn zit on my chin that dried up that morning.

I told about a time long ago when Bert used to come to our house and play the piano. When he played “MacArthur’s Park, ” I felt I had never heard anything so perfect. But he said his brother Ryan played it better. I didn’t know his brother then or the fame he was soon to have. But on the night of our wedding, I asked Ryan to play “MacArthur’s Park” so I could hear him play it for the first time and I could then decide if he, in fact, played it better.

Violinist John Lesaca performs for his childhood neighbor (Photo courtesy of Bella Bonner)

My new husband sang me “A Song for You,” while he played the keyboard, accompanied on the violin by John Lesaca and the 15-man USSR Band. Goose bumps filled every inch of my skin.

Krina, Ryan’s daughter, sang Beatles songs a capella with her terrific Baihana group, and when everyone cried for more, they did their signature “Mr. Sandman. ” Jaws dropped, feet stomped, hands clapped in great admiration. That was only the start of the show.

Emmy, Ryan’s lovely wife, serenaded us with “Someone to Watch Over Me” accompanied on the keyboard by her husband, and again we were breathless. The excitement rose to a crescendo when Ryan played with John, “Two for the Road,” “Somewhere in Time” and a couple more.

I took one deep breath after another. My friends called this event a senior wedding and it was turning out to be more fun than any junior wedding any of us had ever gone to. Unlike our own first weddings, this time we invited only people we actually wanted to spend the evening with. There were no parents’ friends, relatives and other have-tos we didn’t even know. And I had no desire to wear white or a bridal train.

During the planning stage when I went looking for a place to hold a reception, a rondalla to play, etc., the guys I talked to insisted I was wrong. I was not having a wedding, they said. It was an anniversary.

At one point, the bride changed to comfortable clothes and cowboy boots to honor her Texas roots. (Photo courtesy of Bella Bonner)

But it’s a wedding! I exclaimed. My boyfriend and I are getting married!

They looked at me with suspicion. You are older than my mom and you have gray hair, they must’ve thought. Surely you have no boyfriend at your age and you definitely are not getting married.

Uh, oh. I was reminded that Filipinos in the Philippines cannot divorce and widows are often too encumbered by traditions to re-marry.

Oh well.

Our good friends Marita and Vin sang “The Nearness of You” beautifully. Bert and I got up, danced and owned the night.

At one point, I had to change clothes. I hurried home and switched to a more relaxed blouse and flowered skirt. Best of all, I put on my favorite cowboy boots for good luck.

The night wore on and we danced and sang and laughed and hugged. Musicians ranging from excellent to superb kept the microphones hot, and what’s great was that they all were our close friends just jamming and having fun.

I had lost my appetite and although The Chocolate Kiss did a terrific job with catering, all I ate was our wedding cake, a multi-layered multi-colored creation that gave me, unknowingly, a blue mouth while smiling before the cameras.

I had a lot of wine, of course.

Bert and Bella at their wedding reception at the Philam community clubhouse in Quezon City (Photo courtesy of Bella Bonner)

I lost touch with Bert. I knew he was near, somewhere and was having a good time too. That was enough. I loved the man deeply and his happiness was most important to me.

We are told our song should be “The Second Time Around.” It’s true. Bert and I had a thing going in 1971, but we were both too young and restless and had yet to conquer the world. He went off to Massachusetts and got married while I stayed single till ’81. The best part of the story is that neither of us looked for the other for the next 36 years, so no time was wasted wondering if.

When we found each other again, he was single and so was I.

We tested the waters and finally, we were ready to settle down. At age 62 going on 63.

A part of the song goes:

Love is lovelier the second time around
Just as wonderful with both feet on the ground
It’s that second time you hear your love song sung
Makes you think perhaps that love, like youth, is wasted on the young.


Bella Apelo Bonner, journalism graduate of UP, was raising millions for the American Red Cross when she retired and moved back to Manila in 2011. She spends her days making artisan cheeses, growing vegetables and exploring the world.