A few years ago, the following would’ve been on her list: prepare papers for the homeowners association meeting; organize a ride to attend her two alumni reunions on the weekend; submit two papers for her masters degree; and organize the household marketing.
One would think this hectic schedule belongs to someone in her sixties. Well, think again. This is a typical morning for 93-year-old Consuelo “Elong” Dancel Sison. “Mommy” to her 13 children (I am her daughter-in-law) and “Lola Elong” to her 33 grand-children and six great grand-children. She is the widow of the late corporate lawyer Domingo Sison.
Born in Laoag, Ilocos Norte to a Spanish gentleman and a local lass, Elong spent most of her growing up years in Intramuros. After attending Araullo High School, she, like most young women of her time, enrolled at the Philippine Normal School for her teaching certificate and earned her B.S. Education from Far Eastern University.
After several attempts at completing a master’s degree in English literature at UP and School Administration at Ateneo, in between rearing her children, she finally received her master’s in education management from Lyceum University in 2010 at age 89!
Her dissertation was based on her teaching experiences during the Japanese Occupation, a significant period in her life, which I will touch on a bit later.
But what drives her? And where does she get her energy? Has she always been this busy and accomplished?
Actually, Elong was a late bloomer. When I first met her in 1985 (her daughter Mayang and I were best friends at UP), she impressed me as a beautiful, gracious and friendly woman who opened her doors and kitchen to every one. With her 13 children, each bringing a friend or two, plus a few relatives from the province and other household members, the Sison home resembled a veritable clubhouse filled with partygoers, even on a regular weeknight.
I knew her then as the doting wife of the irrepressible and handsome Doming, who remains the love of her life. Like most married couples, they’d often rib each other; but knowing he wouldn’t win, he’d endearingly concede and say, “O sige na nga, my ‘holy COW’”! (COW was the more affectionate acronym I offered in lieu of “cranky old woman”) And then they’d both laugh.
While juggling her roles as wife, mother and teacher, she was active in the Quezon City and Philippine Public School Teachers Association. Her roles as president and director, respectively, enabled her to travel to Canada, Ireland, Japan, Ivory Coast and Europe. Her wanderlust continued when she and Doming visited their children who then lived in Australia, Belgium, Switzerland and the U.S.
However, Elong was primarily dedicated to supporting Doming’s career, managing the household and raising their children. When he had a stroke in 1994 that left him bedridden, she attended to him and managed his care for five and a half years.
Their love story, now immortalized in the book, From Tokyo to Albay with Love: Love Letters from a Filipino Student in Wartime Japan, started in 1942 and continued through their wedding in 1948. The handwritten letters between Doming and Elong reprinted in the book recount the passion and constraint reminiscent of courtship during that period. The book, about to have its third edition, also reveals the art of letter writing as a narrative form, missing in today’s Internet milieu.
The wordsmith and advocate
Elong’s propensity for languages extends beyond writing love letters with Doming. Fluent in Spanish, English, Filipino, Ilocano and Bicolano, she regularly wrote letters to her children overseas; and when she was overseas, she wrote to her children in Manila. Even after she discovered the immediacy that emails and the Internet provide, she preferred to write her letters and cards longhand. However, with the help of granddaughter, Tala, who word processes the handwritten drafts, she has given in to emails and Facebook, to provide a wider reach and immediacy to her worldwide audience of friends and family.
While she may have picked up a few tips on argumentation from her late husband, Elong’s stint as a school principal at Quirino High School enabled her not only to develop creative solutions to the problem of overcrowded classrooms, but also to navigate the local and state bureaucracy and get things done.
Perhaps it was Doming’s passing in 2000 that triggered Elong’s renaissance as a community advocate. While she missed her husband of 52 years, she found a good excuse to celebrate his life and fill the void with her work.
Thus began her string of advocacies: heritage and conservation; senior citizen benefits; dismantling billboards; and her most passionate advocacy, establishing pre-school care for autistic children in disadvantaged communities. The latter resulted in Quezon City Ordinance No. 1915 “Establishing a Sustainable Program for Children with Special Needs in Quezon City,” which was signed 2 April 2009. This ordinance was the first legislation of its kind in the country. She has no qualms writing to a newspaper columnist, editor or politician about what she thinks and can do. She joined the Rotary, the Friends of Intramuros, established the Emilia Imperial Dancel Foundation and was appointed administrator of their homeowners association.
In one of her emails that again showed her humor and wit, she admitted to transforming from a COW to a BOW (Busy Old Woman).
Grandma at heart
Filled with energy and enthusiasm to see some of her grand-children (and being her restless self), she visited the US again in 2011. On one of those glorious summer afternoons in New Jersey, 13 June to be exact, she joined her children Teelo, Letlet and San Francisco-based Beeyong and grand-children at the tennis court. She intended to simply watch them play and enjoy the warm sunshine. When a stray ball came her way, she decided not to be a passive spectator and picked it up. Well, she fell over, cracked a femur, was hospitalized for a few days and recovered at her daughter’s house in New Jersey for five months.
Fortunately, Elong is made of materiales fuertes. She recovered well and traveled back to Manila accompanied by son Guio. She still dreams of visiting her nine grandchildren in Australia because she did not want to regret not having hugged her grand-children enough. While many would recognize Elong for her amazing life story and achievements, which are well deserved especially in the context of numerous challenges, to her family she is simply “Mommy” or “Lola Elong.” She still dreams of the day when she can bring all her grand-children with her on a tour. In the meantime, she would be just as happy giving and receiving hugs from all of them plus the great grand-children.
Marianne Dayrit-Sison is married to Elong’s fourth child Mike and lives in Melbourne, Australia with their two sons who have given Lola Elong plenty of hugs on her visits.