Excerpts from the book yet to be published.
Written by Mr. Butch Dalisay
TO BUILD A NEW COUNTRY: THE DICK GORDON STORY
She was one tough lady
Amelia’s grandfather, Juan Juico, had served as a municipal president. But his huge family of ten fell on hard times when Juan died early, and the family struggled to make ends meet. Amelia grew up to be one tough lady who sold native cakes to help put her own children through school. “My mother is one the most hardworking people I’ve ever met,” Dick says. “And I suppose that ethic was passed on to us. She’s the type that won’t sleep. We had five restaurants all around Olongapo. She was the one who manned the cash register, which she later taught me and my sisters to do so we could help. She drove out early in the morning to Pangasinan in a station wagon, carrying a .25 calibre pistol in her bag. We had a slaughterhouse, and when the cows came she would slaughter them, selling some of the meat to the market and using the rest for the restaurant. She was one tough lady, very entrepreneurial, but also very active in church, founding the Catholic Women’s League chapter in the province. She took stray children into our household and family as her wards, and we grew up with them.”
Amelia was a mother not just to Dick and his siblings but to many. “My mother gave birth to five children but reared hundreds more. It was not unusual to find infants at our doorstep or abandoned kids on her lap. One late night, I arrived from Manila from college and to my surprise, I had been evicted from my room by a couple of kids sleeping on my bed .To this day my mother still has infants and toddlers in her household. She has raised and sent to school triplets, thalidomide babies, mixed race children, all of whom at times we felt she loved more than us. In 1966, as more and more kids were being left to my mother’s care, my parents built Boys Town and Girls home. But she also took care of demented people. It was not uncommon to find them in our home which caused me a lot of worries, out of concern for her own safety.” She loved cooking and feeding people, and every visitor got fed. When he was living away, Dick looked forward to coming home not just to see his folks again but to help himself to his mother’s cooking—her cupcakes, bacon, and pork and beans, among others.
Dick’s portrait of his mother is suffused with love but also laced with some perplexion. “She was always tough love. She always took care that we were provided for but she was hardly showy. The first time my Mom told me she loved me was when I was already in my fifties, when I was secretary of Tourism and when I wished her Happy Valentine’s day by overseas call from the Maldives in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I have never had any doubts she loved us all dearly. But super strength, stamina, courage, caring, and compassion she had a lot of for the vulnerable. It perplexed us to no end that she would tell us all the time to be kind and helpful to others but she hardly had time to talk to us. It seemed she never stopped serving, even during our meals she was always in the kitchen bringing out food. No one was ever turned way from our home. Everybody was always welcome. I remember during Christmas, me and my siblings would be busy helping out in our grocery, bake shop and the restaurant, we would be manning the register and wrapping freshly baked, piping hot bread that almost scalded our fingers. We would close shop at around 1:30 a.m. looking forward to our own Noche Buena but Mama would not arrive until around 2:30 as she first spent Christmas eve with her other kids, children abandoned and left to her care. And time, she never ran out of for others in spite of her punishing work schedule. She worked hard and drove everybody ragged in her enterprises and she went on with hardly any sleep. Despite this she always looked beautiful and well-coiffed.”
Amelia was also a staunch member of the Red Cross, whose gray ladies’ uniform—the hallmark of her special volunteer corps—she wore every time a disaster happened. During fires and floods, she was there at the front lines, serving hot soup and crackers. It was an image that would be burned into the mind of young Richard, who himself would join the Red Cross, and lead the organization in some of the country’s most critical disaster operations. Says Dick: “She put up the Red Cross in Olongapo and established the first blood bank in the fifties. She raised money to fund the activities of the Red Cross and went out to look for blood donors at all hours of the day. She took charge during floods, fires, landslides and any calamity natural or manmade, always first and ready to assist with hot food, blood, clothes or medicines. She put up an emergency ambulance service and a mobile clinic. She traced missing relatives and reunited them. We had carpenters who made wooden caskets for the very poor. The joke was when you needed a casket you sent word and specified whether it was large, medium, or small. During Christmas she would send food to those imprisoned as well as for the Aetas and others who came to our home. She also prepared from our bakeshop tasty mocca rolls to all her friends and supporters of her various causes.
“She also founded the Catholic Women’s League of Zambales and Olongapo and helped raised money to build new churches in Olongapo. During Lent my mother had two carrozas (carriages) carrying the Blessed Virgin and Sta. Veronica, which she beautifully decorated with fresh roses and lilies the day before the processions. It upset me very much to see that after all her hard work, devotees after the procession would simply grab and run off with all the flowers.
“My mother has received the Pearl Buck award, all of the highest awards by the Red Cross, and many others, but none more rewarding than a child sheltered and educated, a person comforted and consoled, a patient healed, a hungry person fed. To this day she remains dedicated to a life of service for others.
“This was my mother who taught us to be more attentive and helpful to others more by her actions than her words. My mother was stern, super hardworking perhaps short on being affectionate but had a gigantic heart and stamina for others. When I was young, I always thought my mother did not know how to enjoy life, she never traveled, hardly watched a movie but now that I am older I realized that that was what brought her joy, a life of service to others.”