Dulce Ruelos was raised among her extended family after her mother passed away at a young age. One aunt in particular influenced the lives of many in Dulce’s community in the Philippines. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns My maternal grandparents had five daughters, including my mother. They only had one son. Among my mother’s sisters, the one I was closest to was my Aunt Milagros. She was younger than my mother, and her name means “miracle.” She never married so she did not have a family of her own.
I grew up with my grandparents because my mother passed away, and my aunt was part of the extended family. My other aunts all got married and raised families of their own.
After high school graduation, my aunt left our province on the big island of Luzon and went to Manila to study. She lived with relatives and helped with household chores so that she could stay. She decided to take a short course so that she could earn a livelihood early.
Aunt Milagros enrolled at a fashion school where she learned to be a dressmaker. As a fast and earnest learner, it didn’t take too long for her to become a good dressmaker. She started to take in orders to sew dresses, blouses, skirts, etc. As she became more skilled, she could even sew gowns, formal wear, and wedding gowns.
Without a thought of going back to the province, she made up her mind to stay in Manila. She rented an apartment close to colleges and universities in an area commonly referred to as the “university belt.” Her apartment’s proximity to schools made her place ideal for a boarding house.
College-bound students from our province stayed with her as boarders. Aunt Milagros provided food and lodging. Parents wanted their children to stay with her because they knew her and trusted her. Also, she had a reputation for being strict in supervising their students’ school attendance, study habits, and even their boy-girl relationships. She only accepted male boarders because she thought she would have less worry with boys.
After several years, she changed her mind about being a landlady. She gave up her apartment and moved back to the province. At this time, I was in middle school and high school. She sewed dresses for me and my cousins and other customers. She would even cut our hair.
During the summer and Christmas vacations and the numerous fiestas and parties, she was a constant presence as the chaperone. I clearly remember during dances that she would whisper to us and warn us not to dance too closely or tightly with boys. My cousins and I would jokingly call her “Commander Mila.”
She became very active in our town and was involved in various church and civic groups. She was asked and stood as a sponsor in so many baptisms and weddings that sometimes she could not remember them all, especially those coming from the villages. She was sometimes asked to sew wedding dresses, which she did without getting paid. This proved to be a valuable asset later on.
She was very easy to talk to and people felt comfortable enough to confide in her, even their problems. At least she offered advice and a sympathetic ear.
Her popularity increased and this paid off when she was drafted to run for political office. She ran and won handily as a member of the municipal council and was addressed as “Consejala” (Councilor). She was reelected to several terms and eventually decided to retire. She lived to be over eighty years old and had a quiet and simple life until her passing.
Published: Oct. 16, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 27