The life of
by Maria Irene Ormaechea-Yeats
Maria Carmen was born on 21 December 1889 in the province of Albay, Philippines. In 1889, the Philippines was still a Spanish colony and there existed a large Spanish community on the Islands.
Maria Carmen was born to Jose Florentino Del Castillo and Isidra Roco. She was the seventh child born to Isidra but only the fourth to survive infancy and the first girl child to survive. The details on her life are not too clear, but what we do have are facts related to me by my grandmother, Maria Consuelo Ycsiar, and her daughter, my Aunt Begoñe Ormaechea Lacambra.
It was around 1894 when Maria Carmen was sent to live with her mother's sister, Tia Manuela Roco, and her husband Tio Jose Ycsiar. This couple had no children. Attaching modern expectations/emotions on ancestors that lived in a time where we can presume hardship prevailed would be unfair. At the same time, I can't help but feel this child's anguish when she was separated from her family she had always known. We can assume she saw her parents occasionally - can we however also assume she didn't ask herself, "why me?". She was, after all, only 5 years old. Regardless of age, she still missed her mother.
In 1901, Jose Maria Ycsiar arrived from Spain to live and work with his Uncle Tio Jose. According to my Tia Begoñe, Tia Manuela had arranged the meeting of the young couple.
It was previously believed that the young couple married in April of 1903, but as a result of documents obtained from Jose Manuel Ycsiar, their youngest son, we now know that they married on 29 December 1902. This confirms the family story which tells us of the couple being married during the Christmas holidays by a priest at the Ycsiar home in Ligao. Soon after the wedding, the couple was sent off to Spain for a few years where their first child, Maria Angeles, was born in 1903.
In 1906, a year before my grandmother, Maria Consuelo, was born, Maria Carmen's mother, Isidra Roco Del Castillo, died delivering her 15th child. She was 43 years old. A year later, Maria Carmen's father, Jose Florentino, married Paula Roco, Isidra's sister. Paula raised the younger children that still lived at home. Isidra's youngest child, a girl also called Isidra (Sid), grew up calling Paula, Mama. This I know for a fact because Tita Sid and my grandmother were close in relationship and in age. As an adolescent, I spent many hours asking Tita Sid questions about her childhood and family.
In 1907, my grandmother, Maria Consuelo, was born in Ligao. Two years later, another daughter, Maria Josefa (Pitang), was born.
It is not clear how many years passed before the birth of daughter number 4, Maria Carmen. But it was sometime between 1909 and 1917.
In all the days and nights I spent listening to my grandmother's stories, she never made mention of this one sister. Perhaps she was too young to remember her, but nevertheless the story of which I was just recently told, is tragic.
The circumstances surrounding her death are bit shrouded by time. It involved a parade going by the house, where the servant in charge of the child (at that time Maria Carmen was 6 months old), went to the window to look at its passing. The servant left the child unattended, and she in turn fell off and hit her head on the floor. It was later concluded that the fall caused her to contract meningitis that led to her death.
It would be difficult to pinpoint what time of the year this would have occurred since the Philippines has many days in the year that are cause for celebration, which in turn calls for a parade. It could have been any number of Saints Feast Days which are celebrated with much fanfare.
In 1913, Maria Carmen's father, Jose Florentino Del Castillo, died at the age of 65 years. His youngest child, Isidra, was only 7 years old.
The years 1917, 1922, and 1923 brought on three more daughters for Maria Carmen. In 1925, the long awaited son, Jose Manuel, was born.
Through this time, with the births of her children and the deaths of her parents, Tia Manuela became the grandmother figure of the Ycsiar household. It is not clear if she lived with the family, but we know she was an influencing factor in their lives. In 1920, she died of kidney failure at the age of 66 years. It is presumed she survived her husband.
We should probably assume that Maria Carmen lived a busy life, raising her children and running a home. She was 31, when she had her last child, and there is no record of any more children being born after that. Of Maria Carmen's husband, I know very little, except for what my grandmother told me. I've been told he was a good family man. But he was also a stubborn one. In 1932, he was struck with pain on his right side. Although the family insisted he see a doctor, he refused, calling all doctors thieves. As a result, the pain on his side turned out to be appendicitis, which eventually burst and caused peritonitis. On 11 July 1932, he died in his home in Ligao.
The 2nd World War started in 1939, but it didn't reach the Pacific until 1941. The stories I was told about the war are sketchy. It was a painful time for many families and my grandmother spoke very little of it. The following is what she recalled to me; before the Japanese landed in Legaspi, there was an alarm sent out to the citizens of the town.
It is unclear how they would have known of the invasion, unless it was imminent because of the invasion of Manila. My grandmother, Maria Consuelo, was already married in 1941 with 5 children, with the youngest being less than a year old. Needless to say, the family, which included my grandmother's mother, sisters, and brother, fled to the mountains for safety, taking with them only what they could carry. They lived in the mountains, eventually making their way to Manila, where they had more family, and they heard it was safer. As war would have it, it wasn't safer, and soon the men of the family, except Jose Manuel who was just 16, left to hide in the mountains so as not to be taken prisoners. It is unclear where they lived or how they survived, but when the Americans liberated the Islands in 1945, they were alive.
By 1947, all of Maria Carmen's children had married. The years of peace that followed WW2 found Maria Carmen living with her daughter Maria Manuela (Lally) and her family. I believe she moved from each of her children's homes through the years. She continued to live in Manila after the war, but visited those of her children that continued to live in Legaspi.
Maria Carmen immigrated to Venezuela in 1966 or 1967. Her daughter Lally was already living there with her family. It was November of 1967 when Maria Carmen was diagnosed with lung cancer and was taken to New Orleans, USA, for an operation to remove the cancer. It was there where she died, at the age of 78 years. Her remains were sent to Venezuela for burial at the town of La Guaira.
Maria Carmen's remains are still in La Guaria Cementary, 29 years after her death. Is it a coincidence that she started her early years in life away from her immediate family, and now in death she was once again away from her family? Upon inquiring on moving her remains to San Isidro Church in Manila, where her husband, Jose Maria, is interred, I was told that during the years another person was buried on top of Maria Carmen's grave. If we move her remains, permission must be sought from this person's family.
I fail to understand the logic in this, since this unknown person that is occupying the space above Maria Carmen is but a tenant, for the plot does not rightly belong to him. So there she remains, unattended and alone. It is my hope that one day she may be moved to where she belongs, with her family at San Isidro's Church in Manila.
In summarizing the life of a woman I never knew, I have done my best to be objective in gathering information about her. Unfortunately, I lack the insight on her personality which could only have been obtained from someone who knew her well.
As I watch myh children grow, I wonder if 107 years after my birth, will someone be wondering what made me smile and how much of her is within me, just as I do with Maria Carmen.