Remembering Vic Laoyan-A A +A
By Ramon Dacawi
Friday, October 18, 2013
YEARS back, long before these lapses began their assault on this personal treasure trove of memories we hold dearest, Victor Laoyan suffered two major heart strokes. The second attack came just as he was recovering from the first, devastating his family and all others he held dear.
For years, Manong Vic, a scion of the Ibaloy clan who used to own this valley floor we now call La Trinidad, Benguet, was down, half-paralyzed on a wheelchair, Yet he was never out, not even a few days before he would go evening of Sept. 30, just 20 days after he turned 69. His thumb would go up, parodying those of his children watching over, or that of a visitor trying to brighten him up, assuring the latter he was all right, even while he knew he was no longer.
That was Victor Laoyan’s magic: a love of life no heart attack could extinguish, and a gift of humor not even a funeral wake could repress.
At the wake for his wife, Frances (nee Kollin), between last Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, Manong Victor, propped up on his wheelchair facing the pine casket, couldn’t help but recall when a doctor asked which part of his body was in pain during one of those numerous post-cardiac attack medical check-ups.
The specialist pointed to the patient’s head but the latter shook his head. The doctor’s finger pointed to his chest, and then to his tummy, thigh and down to the legs. Each time, Manong Victor shook his head. So where does it hurt? The doctor zeroed in.
The patient pointed to his pant pocket.
Listeners, so intent lest they’d be lost in the guttural way Manong Vic was telling the story, were bursting at the seams. He swore that, like them, the doctor was almost tickled pink but that Manang Francis was hardly amused over her husband’s breach of propriety.
"Pinagungtandakketdinni Francis gaputiinaramidko (Francis scolded mefor what I did)," he admitted and then chuckled. He was gazing fondly at the casket, his eyes welling from the pure pleasure of his firm grasp on humor. "Still, I was trying to show we still can laugh and show (through humor) we're still alive."
That’s what he showed me in January last year, while I was recuperating from a plumbing of my own heart (angioplasty, the doctors called it) at the Notre Dame de Chartres Hospital. Manang Frances and her brother Julius had brought Manong Vic to the facility for his heart check-up when Julius told him he saw my name on the roster of admissions Manong Vic directed him to push the wheelchair straight into my room, with Manang Frances in tow.
"Han ngadayta angioplasty tipagrecuperate-am pards, no hanketdingaangio-pinancial," (It's not angioplasty you'll recuperate from but from angio-financial), he told me and we had a good laugh.
My eyes welled the moment they left the room Time and again, I had planned to visit Manong Vic, something I last did when he was rushed to St. Luke’s Medical Center after the attacks. Time and again, I’d forget. I did knock one week-end on the residence in Betag but never returned after I learned he had been wheeled out for some sunshine. Now he was the one visiting despite his condition, despite my procrastination for years, something Manang Frances gently reminded me when we met while ordering maintenance medicines at Sunshine Supermart's drugstore.
Manang Frances, sober and caring as she always was, gave direction to Manong Vic’s life. She bore him five children. The boys –Clement, Hans and Chadwick - apparently got their dad’s gift of humor, while Judith and Marjorie inherited their mother’s wisdom and patience.
I had the chance to see these five kids grow. The Laoyan home at Betag, La Trinidad, and the teacher’s cottage at Easter School where Manang Frances taught were open to me as if they were my own family's. That was way back in college, when Manong Vic took me in as his assistant when he was student president of the College of Liberal Arts and then of the student government of the University of Baguio. In all those years, I had more lunches cooked and served by Manang Frances than by anybody else.
After finishing her education course at UB, Manang Francis taught at Easter School. Manong Vic followed with a degree in bachelor of arts, after which he got elected as town councilor of La Trinidad. He later became provincial board member and also served as tourism officer of Benguet Province.
A day before my own graduation in summer of 1973, he came looking for me at the UB campus. He asked me to accompany him to the shoe section of the city market, saying he needed to buy himself a pair. There, he picked a size not definitely his and asked me to try it on. I told him he needed a bigger size so he could fit it on himself. He insisted and even poked his finger into my heel area, to be sure it was my size. He then paid the store owner, handed me the carton box and told me to wear the pair on my graduation march.
Times like this season of wakes and funerals, I’m grateful for this column, this space for self-expression. Yet Manong Vic’s story is continuing. His anecdotes and those about him will be shared, told and retold during occasions by people he had met and helped, even when he was already bound to a wheelchair.
Like three Wednesdays back, I met Vic's buddy, Benguet Governor Fongwanwhen he joined the rest of the Baguio-Benguet Community in paying tribute to Dr. Charles Cheng. Dr. Cheng, a Chinese healer who was more Filipino than many of us, was another reason why we’re blessed, having had the honor of having met and even worked with community heroes of his caliber.
From Dr. Cheng's wake, Governor Fongwan said he would drop by Manong Victor’s wake. I asked for a lift to where he was going. It was already past 9 p.m., but His Honor insisted we first have coffee and cup cake at Hotel Supreme along our way. As soon as we were stirring cups, the Governor began filling my cup with his own anecdotal memories about a common friend and brother.
If not for the coronary attacks, Vic, with his personality, intelligence, passion for and dedication to service, could have risen to greater heights, both in La Trinidad and in Benguet, Governor Fongwan told me at the coffee table.
"Wen ngarud, Apo Gob," I replied, trying hard to rein in the urge to share the taught on the probability of Manong Victor being governor today, and Governor Fongwan serving as his aide. (e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org for comments.)
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on October 19, 2013.