The songs of Lola Josefina
RIZAL, Philippines – They call her "Paper Roses" – yes, the hit 60s song – because it’s her favorite, one of many songs she still knows by heart at 76 years old.
But unlike the sad tone of the love song, Josefina Fernandez is all smiles and blooming. She’s in love with a man she only refers to as "Kulas" – a fellow resident of Haven for the Elderly in Tanay, Rizal.
"Kunin ni'yo na ang lahat sa akin, huwag lang si Kulas ko (You can take anything from me, except for my Kulas)," she sings, tweaking the popular Filipino song.
They both entered the government-run facility in 2009, when it was still located in Quezon City and formerly known as Golden Acres.
The first time they met was far from romantic: Kulas asked Josefina for a sachet of coffee and some biscuits. Coincidentally, these are two of her favorite things, so of course she had some to share.
But how did she fall in love with him? Josefina said Kulas sang the 50s hit "From The Candystore on the Corner to the Chapel on the Hill," and the rest is history.
"Minsan nagpupunta 'yun [dito], baka daw ako nagtataksil. Hindi naman, jeep lang (Sometimes he checks on me, just in case I'm betraying him. I answer: No, I just ride a jeep)," the cheerful Josefina jokes, playing on puns.
The Filipino word taksil or betray sounds like taxi. A jeep is a type of public transportation in the Philippines.
Life on the streets
Like many of the 259 residents in Haven for the Elderly, Kulas and Josefina were both picked up from the streets. Josefina survived one year in the streets of Padilla by picking up newspapers and bottles, and selling them to buy food.
"May yero ako doon, tatlo – baka binenta na nila – [yun] ang pinakabahay ko doon, tapos yung sako ang pintuan. May alaga akong Chuchu, aso. Sana huwag nilang katayin, mabait yun. May baso ako, may kawali, nagsasaing ako [para] sa sarili ko. Ganun lang ang buhay ng lola mo," she recalls her life on the streets.
(I have 3 galvanized iron sheets – maybe they sold those already – that served as my house, and my door was a sack. I had a pet dog named Chuchu. I hope they don't slaughter him, he's a good dog. I had a drinking glass, a frying pan. I cooked rice for myself. That's how simple my life was.)
Before that, she had a family too. She married at 20, and the couple adopted a daughter. When her husband died, her daughter took her in for a while, but she later left on her own.
"E nagsusugal; baka ako isugal. Ako umalis, naglayas ako (She gambles, she might use me to gamble. I left, I ran away from home)," Josefina shares.
She’s happy she found a new, "first-class" home in Haven for the Elderly. There, she no longer worries about where to get her next meal, and she’s away from all the pollution of Metro Manila.
There, too, she found Kulas.
But Josefina admits it also gets lonely staying in a seniors' facility like Haven for the Elderly. The memories of the life she went through and her parents who left her too early in life make it worse. (READ: In life's U-turn)
When she gets too sad, she sings.
"Dinadaan ko na lang sa kanta yung lungkot. Kaya nga sabi ni Kulas madami daw akong alam na kanta, kasi kesa makipag-away ka, e di umawit ka na lang o 'di kaya kausapin mo si Lord," she said, referring to her fellow residents who often picked fights.
(I just sing when I'm sad. That's why Kulas said I know a lot of songs. Instead of fighting with the others, just sing, or talk to the Lord.)
She wants to be at peace with everybody in the facility, but others attempt to rile her up by calling her lalakero (playgirl). (READ: For the elderly, the best gift we can give is time)
To that, she would just jokingly answer back: "Hindi ako lalakero, babaero ako (I'm not a playgirl, I'm a playboy)!"
"Kasi 'pag pinatulan mo 'yun, away lang. Di ba may kanta? 'Nosi, nosi balasi. Sino? Sino ba sila?'"
(Because if you answer back, it would just end up in a fight. Isn't there's a song? 'Who are they anyway?') – Rappler.com