Tuesday, May 14, 2013

One Creamy Dreamy Day

by Beverly W. Siy

Please come in, said the old woman who opened the gate for me. Oh my. That was the sweetest words I heard that day. After months of searching for UP Professor Emeritus Damiana L. Eugenio, I finally found her!

(Though it wasn’t her who opened the gate for me. It was her maid.)

Mam Demi, as she is fondly called by her colleagues from the UP Department of English and Comparative Literature, is a super accomplished writer, editor and researcher. Since the eighties, she dedicated her time, sweat, blood and brains to compile and edit the Philippine Folk Literature Series of the UP Press. This series is massive. And it was just one of her numerous publications. If all the books she wrote and edited were piled up, they would kiss the skies.

To put it simply, she was an icon.

Though what really brought me there was work, I’ve been a huge fan of hers so it was my dream to meet her, and hug her (if I can). That day, I had with me a copy of one of her books that I own. I WANTED IT SIGNED, of course.

You see, I’ve been reading Mam Demi’s works since I was in college. In most of my subjects that dealt with the history of Philippine literature, I bumped into her works regularly. The myths and legends that she compiled and edited were so easy to understand. She also searched far and wide to document our folk tales, songs, and my personal favourites: proverbs and riddles. These pieces of our oral literature inspired me to write my own creative works, particularly poetry in our national language.

In one of my subjects in the graduate level, I wrote a research about the different versions of the tale of the monkey and the turtle. When I was young, I thought there was just one, the version of our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal. It turned out that most of our ethnic groups had their own versions too. With the help of Mam Demi’s books, I was able to read and analyze sooooo many of them!

I never thought that someday I would meet Damiana Eugenio, the brain behind the books, the name right after the symbol of copyright. I even thought that she had already passed away a long time ago. Her name sounded like she was a batch mate of Maria Clara in the convent, right?

So when my boss asked me to find her, I was shocked to learn that she was still alive. (I’m so rude, I know. I’m sorry. I was worse when I was younger. I always thought all the authors I read were already dead. Not because of their archaic sounding names but because their names appeared in text books, pure and simple.)

Anyway, that clear day of May 2012, I bloated with excitement while I walked into the house and into the dining room of my idol in the field of research.

I turned and suddenly, there was Mam Demi.


Oh, she was creamy.

I meant, her skin was creamy. Like icing on a butter cake. She was wearing a cream colored dress (a daster, actually) with blue prints, and her hair was all creamy and white. Just like my grandmother’s. She told me, halika, halika. Her hand and her voice were shaky. Just like my grandmother’s.

That made me want to hug her more.

But I willed myself to maintain composure. So I calmly went and sat in front of another old lady who introduced herself as one of the grand nieces of Mam Demi.

She later said that, because of her bursting dedication to research work, Mam Demi never married and never had a child of her own. So the grand nieces and nephews are now taking turns in taking care of their Lola Demi, a woman in her nineties.

What? Nineties? Beat that.

I introduced myself as the Executive Officer for Membership of a collecting society for Filipino authors. I told them it was my job to recruit authors and publishers to become our members and to meet with the members from time to time.

I had some good news for her, actually so I happily announced that Mam Demi would receive remuneration for the reproduction of her copyrighted works. I told them that an institution would reproduce some of her works in an enormous scale and the institution was willing to pay not just for the reproduction costs but also for the use of copyrighted works.

It meant Mam Demi would receive an amount of money for this! Yay!

But I saw a sliver of doubt on the face of her grand niece. Scammers are everywhere nowadays so even if I had the most angelic appearance on earth, hey, I could be lying.


Of course, not.

So I further explained that it was one of Mam Demi’s economic rights under copyright. It was her right to earn from the reproduction of her works. Reproduction means making several copies of a copyrighted work. And that included photocopying.

Hey, I said, they didn’t have to shell out anything, no pyramid recruitment requirements, really, no cash out and best of all, it is LEGAL. It’s under our laws, the Copyright law, I added. I was brimming with pride. And with love, at that point.

Mam, I said, our laws are very supportive and protective of copyright holders like you.

Mam Demi beamed at me. Her teeth were pearly white cream. I noticed her eyes. They had the biggest smile. (No, her eyeglasses were not of the color cream. Haha.) I was so lucky I had a job that delivers good news to authors like Mam Demi.

We chatted some more. She still went to church every Sunday. She also complained that it took so much time to take a bath now that she’s “a little old.” She still read newspapers. She talked about her grand, grand nieces and nephews whose pictures were arranged neatly under the clear glass table top. She showed me her senior citizens’ ID. Guess what? She looked creamy in the photo!

Then, I requested for her signature on my book. She said she hoped to have a complete set of her own series. Some of her copies were borrowed by… who knew? She already forgot the names of the borrowers. She shook her head and waived her hand as if some names were flying like mosquitoes over her hair.

While she was busy autographing my book, I told her that I also wrote literary pieces. Her face suddenly lit up. With the energy of a young professor, she spoke:

“Maganda ‘yan. Ipagpatuloy n’yo iyan. The young ones should always write about our culture, about ourselves. Ipagpatuloy n’yo lang ‘yan.”

I was more than passionate to say, “OPO!”

A few days later, I saw a friend of mine who worked at the UP Press. I told him about my dream that came true. He congratulated me and told me that Mam Demi was indeed a big name, she was actually one of their best sellers. They regularly sent her royalties for the sales of books which were her copyrighted works with them.

That was awesome to hear.

Mam Demi could not work anymore due to her age.

But she continued to earn from her copyrighted works, or to put it simply, from her copyright.

Through royalties, she was able to pay for her medicine and visits to the doctor. She was able to pay for newspapers. She was able to pay for the things she needed. Besides, even if she was a superb writer, editor and researcher, she was still an ordinary senior citizen with ordinary needs. Just like my grandmother. An ordinary granny.

That night, I read a few pages of Mam Demi’s book. Then I scanned the list of copyright holders that I still needed to meet. I knew some of them personally while some were complete strangers. Some were famous. Some were unknown. Some were young. Some were old. Some were beginners and some were already established in their writing career. Some were financially challenged. Some were rich. Some were alive and kicking. Some were already dead, and that meant I needed to meet their heirs.

A gigantic smile formed on my face. This one was a really long list.

Of adventures. Woho!

Copyright of the photos: Bebang Siy and Ronald Verzo.


I. Venus said...

So glad to read your blog entry today ma'am. I am a newly hired teacher and will be teaching Grade 7 English tomorrow about Damiana L. Eugenio (Valuing Our Elder's Wisdom). Thank you for sharing your story about your meeting with the iconic Ma'am Damiana L. Eugenio. I am truly moved.

babe ang said...

Hello, Venus, thank you so much. mam demi will always be cherished. she passed away a few years ago po :( i went to her wake held at the claret church, quezon city. i felt sad that the event was not a national one. i wished the government did something in a national scale to acknowledge mam demi's contribution to our literature, history, culture, country.

more power to you, teacher venus!