“Sumarampitingka met ngamin.”
It’s an Ilocano phrase I would often hear from National Artist F. Sionil Jose whenever he would ask me if I’m already married and I would answer not yet. I would just laugh with him whenever he’d say that phrase, which roughly translates to “Lumandi ka rin kasi.”
I would jokingly reply to him, “Awwan met ngarud iti masayyet (Wala nga pong malandi eh).”
I first met Manong Frankie, as he was fondly called by his friends, when I joined an outreach program organized by the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Rosales, Pangasinan. That was in 2011, way back when I was still a newbie reporter covering the art and culture beat.
Back then, I was already familiar with his name, having taken Philippine literature classes in college, where his works were required reading. But that was the first time I met him in person.
The event was the staging of Pragres, a musical based on the late National Artist’s short stories inspired by his experiences while working as a consultant in a government office. Tanghalang Pilipino restaged and performed it at SM Rosales.
After the show, I interviewed him for the article I would be writing, and we talked about corruption in the Philippines and the Philippine literary scene. He would ask about me, and he was delighted to find out that I was from San Quintin, a neighboring town of Rosales.
He then invited me and Raul Asis to join him on a tour around Rosales, his hometown. While driving around, he would point to an old structure or an old street and tell us they were the inspirations for his Rosales Saga novels. He even talked about how he wooed his wife, Manang Tessie, with bukayo.
That time, I thought it would be just a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was just a newbie writer who has yet to make a name for herself. How could a National Artist even remember me?
But I was wrong. A year later, I met Manong Frankie again in an event. He saw me and motioned for me to come near him. He asked how I was, and told me that a young girl from San Quintin interviewed him a few weeks ago. She looked like you, he said. I told him it was actually my sister. She did interview Manong Frankie for her school project.
Months passed by. Life as a reporter went on. There was one time when I covered a fashion event by Freeway, where they highlighted fashion pieces inspired by NA F. Sionil’s works. I wrote the article and didn’t think much about it until I received a package weeks after the Freeway story was published. The package contained a book, The Feet of Juan Bacnang (with dedication), and a letter chastising me for not telling him about the article I wrote (“I would not know about it if not for one of my readers sending me a copy”) and inviting me to a trip to Binalonan that weekend.
And yes, I did go on that trip. How could I say no to a great opportunity?
A day before the trip, I stayed at Manong Frankie’s house. During dinner, he shared stories about the Japanese Occupation, his experiences as a writer, and his hopes for young writers like me. He gave me pieces of advice on the importance of learning and understanding history (“Young people should read their history.”), on writing (“You should try writing fiction. They are food for the soul.”), on career (“Don’t stay longer than necessary on a job. You need to constantly move so you won’t get stagnant.”) Those pieces of wisdom remain with me.
Another year had passed. I left my previous newspaper job and ventured out to other endeavors. Lots of things have happened.
At times, I would bump into Manong Frankie, and he would kindly ask how I was doing and remind me to keep in touch and visit his bookstore, Solidaridad, in Ermita (“but you should call first,” he’d say).
A certain sadness enveloped me upon hearing that he passed on. I regretted that I didn’t visit him as often as I would like. I would treasure those inspiring interactions and Ilocano conversations we had (even though my Ilocano is a little bit rusty).
Manong Frankie, you will be missed.