(There are stories that need to be told and retold, if only for the virtues they inspire. Over the years I’ve worked as a newsman, one love story stands out, as if drawn from the paperback novels. It comes to mind as again – and needs to be told again – as Valentine’s Day approaches, hence this revisit - RD.)

In her teens, Maria Paz “Datsu” Infante, a scion of the sugar magnates of Bacolod and La Carlota in Negros, gave up a life of ease to follow her heart. At the risk of being disinherited and disowned by relatives, she married Mike Molintas, a pony boy and descendant of the old, once-landed Ibaloy clan of Gibraltar Barangay here.

Mike was one of the most accomplished pony tenders ever at the Wright Park bridle path. He taught Datsu how to handle horses, first as a customer on her summer vacation, later as a partner in life.

Like in the movies, Datsu was swept off her feet by a cowboy on a galloping steed. Yet she handled with admirable grace her transition to a world so different from the one she grew up in. The Spanish mestiza, used to being served by servants, learned to cut “sacate” and to raise cactus she sold to horseback-riding customers. She became the toast as one of the boys when she would rent out horses whenever Mike was saddled with orders for bridles, saddles and stirrups in his small leather shop.

They were blessed with four boys – Mike Jr., Mark, Jules Byron, and Nino Joshua. They lost Charity Faith, their girl, just after birth.

Nino, christened for his striking resemblance to the Infant Jesus, was born with a life-threatening heart defect, a cleft palate and weak lungs. As he grew, scoliosis developed. Once he was confined for a kidney operation at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute. When doctors conducted a pre-surgery test to validate the finding, they found, to Datsu’s pleasant surprise, that opening him up was no longer be necessary, that medication was all her boy needed.

In summer, 2008, the boy, then 20, was again in crisis due to unexpected complications during a simple surgery for hernia.

“It can’t be; my son is a fighter,” Datsu yelled inside a hospital here where Nino had gone under the knife. She went down on her knees when she learned Nino’s condition had turned into an emergency after the operation.

Datsu recalled how, at those critical moments, he would raise his thumb up each time his mother would yell at him to hang on. At the intensive care unit, he pulled off his respirator tube to prove he was alright.

Asked what he needed, he asked for a bottle of cola. “Ayos na ako sa coke, ma,” he tried to say, again flashing his thumb up.

The gesture was pure relief, almost funny, a soothing counterpoint to repeated reminders from hospital staff on Datsu’s need to pay bills jacked up by the unforeseen complications. Still, as folksinger Billy Dean noted – when it comes to a mother’s love, you don’t count the costs.

“You’re right; your son’s a fighter,” a doctor told Datsu during a check-up days after Nino recovered.

It was the latest in a series of trials befalling a family since Nino was born with a weak heart. Still, the seemingly unending ordeals and suffering somehow served to steal the family’s resolve to live up to a pact Datsu made with her four sons after Mike’s funeral: the mother and her boys will never give up on each other.

Nino has been in and out of hospitals since he was born. The couple was told then that medical technology could not yet cope with his heart ailment, and that corrective surgery would have to wait until he had grown older. Chances, the doctors said, were that he would just succumb to the cardiac defect.

Datsu remembers how they eventually parted with their few horses to meet the baby’s medical needs. She recalls that time Mike came home without his prized cowboy boots. He had sold them, so he could buy Nino’s maintenance dose.

Mike worked well into the night in his makeshift leather shop, especially when Datsu herself was diagnosed for heart ailment. He would hum and whisper country music, now and then belting out Hank Williams’ ballads with which he regaled the younger boys during gin-laced bonfires beside the bridle path.

He and Datsu never knew he, too, had a heart condition. A sudden attack in July, 2004, proved fatal.

After the burial at the Molintas ancestral land, Datsu gathered their four boys for a joint decision. She asked them where they would like to grow up in – Baguio or Bacolod where she grew up. The boys decided to stay put, in their shanty near the bridle path. They wanted to be where their father raised and trained horses.

A few years after Mike passed on, a film producer offered to bring to the screen the Spanish mestiza’s unusual love story with the gentle Ibaloi pony boy. She refused. She said all she wanted was to see his sons grow, and to see Nino’s medical deliverance from the life-threatening heart defect and weak lungs, and to eventually undergo cleft palate surgery to improve his speech. (To be continued)