The woman seated to my immediate left in her impeccable Yves Saint Laurent glasses is my maternal grandfather's second oldest sister, Isabel A. Santos aka Lola Bills aka Tita Bills. Our far left is Lola Bills' sister-in-law and Mom's aunt, my Lola Remy. Lola Bills' passing last night marks an important milestone for my mom, her siblings, and their cousins. Lola Bills was the last living child of my great grandparents, Major General Paulino Santos and Elisa Angeles Santos. Now they are all gone. I have not yet had the opportunity to speak to Mom about this, but I am sure in the coming days they will all have the opportunity to reflect on what this all means.
To me, this reflection is a testament to Lola Bills legacy. She was not only a "tita" (auntie) to my mom and siblings. She was a symbol of all the things that made them proud to be Santoses. In her lifetime, Lola Bills survived World War II, was a Fulbright Scholar, and lead costume designer/tour director for the Bayanihan National Dance Company. Through Bayanihan, she traveled the world and is "Tita Bills" to several generations of dancers. Growing up during visits to the Philippines, we always made sure to stop at FilAm Homes in Quezon City to visit with family and see her at her studio. From elaborate costume sketches to sculpting, jewelry-making, and painting - she was ALWAYS creating and ALWAYS fashionable from her glasses to her clothes. My early childhood memories of her and Mom's stories of her are one of the many reasons I developed an interest in fine arts.
In 2013, she'd been in the hospital for quite sometime and we were not sure if she would make it. She bounced back and since I was visiting the Philippines from Uzbekistan I decided to buy her a handmade suzani. When I came into her room I quickly asked her, "Kilala mo parin ba po ako?/Do you still know who I am?" Her eyes lit up and she said, "Panganay ni Soling/Soling's oldest." I presented her with the suzani and she touched the weaving delicately, impressed by the colors and the handiwork. Here are my Tita Marissa and Lola Remy posing with the suzani in Lola Bills' nursing home room.
Not long after that visit, my aunts and uncles arranged for her to be transferred from Manila to Davao - not far from General Santos City, the city my great-grandfather, her father, founded. The last time I saw her was Christmas Day 2014. There was no pictures taken that day. Mostly because we were there for just a short while and I wanted to remember her differently. The image in my head that I keep of her is one I believe she will be most proud of - the creative dynamo talking about her travels and latest creations in her Yves Saint Laurent glasses.