A fortuitous meeting.
It was our second at Southmall, Las Pinas City.
Our first was just fleeting. I think it was a week after New Year six years ago. I ecstatically greeted him even though I was sure he had no recall of who I was. I had to do a rush introduction and surprisingly, he remembered me because of a college classmate-cum-ex-beau who taught in the university where we graduated from and became affiliated with the English Department which he headed. Cringeworthy but funny reminiscence!😌😁Then, I bid him goodbye since he was with someone.
January 24, 2017 encounter turned out to be slightly different because I got to carry a longer conversation with him plus a photo op.
Immediately recognizing him with that all white hair inside Yoshinoya, a Japanese diner, I approached him and resorted to my usual introduction which I now referred to as my “spiel”. Again, his face bore no recognition of who I was. I did not feel offended. I understood him very well. More than four decades in the academe had him handling a great number of students. A former teacher’s correct recall of one’s name would already be a miracle.
For this man, I was “Miss L.A.” in his Creative Writing and Afro-Asian Literature classes. “L.A.” stands for Legazpi, Albay where I am a native of. He would also address me in my maiden surname, but my ears had become attuned to the moniker he had given me. I bet, this piece of information had already been forgotten too. But not me.
Every detail about Dr. Venancio Lazaro Mendiola has been etched in my heart. His admirable dedication, professionalism, and humility were values which I had to develop in me when I began teaching in 1991. I dare say, his reiteration of the great importance of time had earned me the “Never Late Award” during my first Teachers’ Day in San Beda College Alabang (see post at https://wanderingjouster.com/2012/10/02/salvo/). While writing this article, I could not recall any session when he reported to our class late. A seasoned teacher, nobody could challenge his knowledge and expertise about what he was teaching. A female classmate once dared him so she could save face from coming to his class unprepared, but she received the intellectual browbeating she so deserved. The Doctor, as my college best buddies and I endearingly called him, could quickly detect when one was bluffing. This is the reason why I would never face him without my ammos in the two classes where he was my professor. Consequently, he made me fall in love with Afro-Asian Literature. Known to be “stingy” with verbal compliments, Dr. Mendiola would pay you one because you’ve met his standards.
Several of my college classmates may not share the same comments and sentiments which I have toward this man, but it won’t stop me from seeing him as an embodiment of a true educator. His strictness is blended with a unique sense of humor which had become addictive. Up to now, I could mimic him every time he would suddenly get out of our room to scold noisy students along the corridor. And boy, you would love his facial expression when you would give him an out-of-this-world response! Hahahaha…😜😂🤣
“Where’s the yellow-shoed creature?” “Yes, scholarly-looking students?” “From what planet did you get your answer?” These were his trademark dialogs. To the onion-skinned, his tone and remarks would sow fear. But to the thick-skinned, they would sow courage.
I was one of his students whose first opinion about him was negative. But, it did not take me long to change that. Many might see him as a terror teacher; however, my friends Soc, Beth, Luz, Francis and I see him otherwise. He was one of the most loving, simple and low-key professors we had encountered in our college life. His door in his office didn’t have his nameplate because he didn’t like it to be posted there with the “Dr.”. He is not title-conscious. Topping this list of marked impressions was his influencing us to shelve a plan of having a college ring after graduation. He made us realize that buying one is impractical and having to wear our educational symbol in our finger is not enough to convince people how educated we are.
I could go on sharing with you my beautiful memories about this man, but I might forget telling you about a surprise sweet gesture he extended to me two weeks after our second meeting.
He sent me his autographed book! “Dew-World”, his collection of originally-composed haikus, was a lovely post-Valentine souvenir. My eldest son witnessed my amazement and happiness upon the discovery of my mysterious sender. Arthur accompanied me to the city post office after finding a notification in our mail box that I had a package for claiming since there was no one to receive it in our residence thrice. So, this was the reason why Sir Mendiola got my home address. A very private person, he didn’t give me any contact information other than PNU (Philippine Normal University) which happens to be my alma mater.
The thank-you card I sent him is my simplest way of acknowledging his thoughtful deed, but I am wishing that I could do something special for him one of these days.
For now, I am at peace that I grabbed that second accidental meeting to personally express my gratitude for his profound impact on my life which had brought me to the zenith of my teaching career. And from someone I hold in high regard and adulate, his gift and everything he had instilled in me are precious jewels worth treasuring just like him.