Mom put a gun in my hand and told me to ‘shoot’

Gloria de la Rosa assisting son Rene at Holy Communion

By Rene Pastor

She had a gamin face in a lithe body that moved with the grace of a cat. She loved to dress up in slinky boots that emphasized her curves. My mom is, as my wife would quip, “hot.” She knew she was sexy and would flaunt it. This would infuriate my dad’s relatives.

Her name is Gloria de la Rosa. She was born in San Jose, Nueva Ecija. We were, by her account, distantly related to the wealthy De la Rosas of Pampanga, specifically the actor and ambassador Rogelio. I don’t know if that’s true.

When I was 5, she placed something on my palm that seemed to gleam in the moonlight. She gestured at a nearby rock and told me to shoot. I could not press the trigger so she got the gun back. I thought it was a .22 caliber pistol. She put her cigarette away and told me to go back inside the house.

Why did she have a gun? She said she was a CIS agent on a mission. Again, it’s something I was never sure about.

She gave me my earliest lesson on saving money. She had this Buddha figurine that had a slot at the top of its head. She said that when I fill it up with coins, we would put them all in a bank. When we cracked open the Buddha’s head, it added up to 200 pesos — not bad in 1966.

I normally slept in the same room as my mom. She had this really long bed and mine was a cot beside it. Every night, she would tell me to pray and warned I would be haunted by a ‘multo’ (ghost) if I did not. Well, one night, I forgot to pray, and when I opened my eyes, I thought I saw this specter hovering over my mom’s bed. I shut my eyes in fright and kept them closed the rest of the night. Did I imagine the whole thing? I really don’t know.

My mom had a fierce temper, which kept me, my older brother and my younger sister in line. One time, my brother filched 20 pesos from her wallet. When she found out, she grabbed my brother, stuffed him a rice sack, hung him in the garage and paddled him with a piece of wood. This went on for about 10 minutes. No one stole from her after that.

Gloria holding Rene's half brother.

One day in October 1971, I came home from FEMA, a military-style reformatory school, and she was gone. She and my dad broke up bitterly, putting an end to a relationship that had grown acrimonious and frosty. The ugliness of that separation would scar me emotionally as a child. It’s like I grew up in a hurry. To get over the loneliness, I would stay in the den in my dad’s house, just lying there and not bothering to turn on the lights, hoping to tempt the ghosts to keep me company. I conquered my fear of ghosts.

I did not see my mom until after I graduated from college in 1982 and began living on my own. There was a certain distance in the way I reacted to my parents. I felt getting close to both of them meant getting hurt. It was safer emotionally that way.

I kept in touch with mom over the years and called her every week when I began working outside the Philippines. I would order chocolates for her because she loved foreign chocolates. Those chocolate bars would be hoarded like gold bars, and no one in her household could touch them. What I remember from those calls was the persistent coughing. She said she never stopped smoking.

The last time I saw her was in 2004, my first visit home after being abroad for a long time. She looked worn down, her hair longer and abaca-white, the years forming uneven creases around her face. She was no longer the svelte woman who in her prime had a passing resemblance to the actress Tita Duran. I treated her to lunch at Kamayan and went with her to do some shopping. At the parking lot as we were about to part, I gave her a tight hug. The light was gone from her eyes and I could sense I may not see her again.

“Ingat kayo, ma,” I said.

Two years later, she had her first stroke, which paralyzed half her body. Her speech slurred, but it did not seem to bother her as we spoke on the phone.

She passed away the evening of Feb. 24 in 2008. I was on a layover in Singapore, I couldn’t get on a plane, and missed her burial. Me and my sister visited her grave in Pampanga after I arrived in Manila. On my birth certificate, she put her age as 22, which means she should be 68 at the time she died. But her death certificate said she was only 67. To the very end, she was tough to figure out.

Rene Pastor is a financial journalist working in Manhattan.


  1. Bing Lutero-Gomez wrote:

    Rene that was a very beautiful and touching piece you wrote.

  2. Miles Zarate-Pimentel wrote:

    Rene, I didn’t know you are such sensitive person

  3. tess wrote:

    Rene, I am glad you wrote this very candid piece.

  4. Pearl Aurice Litan wrote:

    Rene my friend. Thank you so much for sharing that part of your past. Take care and warm regards to your family.

  5. Girlie Bernardo-Sagadal wrote:

    Rene — being a mother myself and an imperfect one, I sometimes shudder to think of the hurt or psychological scars I may have inflicted on my kids because of a careless remark,stinging rebuke or physical punishment I dealt them. As we age and become parents ourselves we begin to forgive and understand the weaknesses and foibles of our parents.

    Our relationship with our mothers however are really special and for guys like you, they presage the kind and quality of relations with your wives & significant others as well as your darling daughters. let us look back with kindness on our mothers’ shortcomings….you turned out fine, by the way.

  6. Joey dV wrote:

    I was very moved by this last exchange. This is why I look forward to
    checking my email, and sifting through all the junk.

    Rene, thank you for your honesty, and thank you for being brave, courageous
    enough to put yourself out there on a limb, and for sharing your gift of
    writing. Happy Mothers’ day to everyone (belated). A mother’s love, however
    flawed, is precious to each one.

    Peace to you, and thank you for being candid.

    BTW Rene, The family/ father of Ernest Bohol owned and ran FEMA. I think
    they sold it after Ernest’s father passed away. Small world isn’t it.

  7. Yiying wrote:

    Rene, how very generous of you to share this part of your life with us. . Thank you very much. Yes, indeed, we all have mothers and if I may, none of them is perfect – after all, tao rin lang sila. But come what may, we love our mother if only because they are who they are to us – our mother. Thank you for a very inspiring story.

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