‘He had a way with words and plants’

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The title of this piece is the epitaph of my father, Federico Mangahas (1904-1979). While he made his living with his words, he made his life with his plants, at our home on the UP Diliman campus. There he put a sign, Sunrise Cottage, for the sake of the post office, there being neither a street name nor a house number.

Fred Mangahas, in today’s lingo, would be called a garden freak. When the house was built in 1952—during a brief window when faculty members were allowed to build their own houses on campus, and about a dozen did so—the lots assigned to us and five others on the gravel street were in cogon grass. It was my mother, Ruby, who was the faculty member—at the Conservatory (now College) of Music.

My father’s garden comes to mind now, not only because All Saints’ Day is near, but also because of SWS’ dire hunger figures for the National Capital Region. By having plants, animals, and fish, our family would have checked all boxes in an SWS survey for food grown or raised at home.

Fred Mangahas started by planting coconuts. Within a few years, he had added balimbing, bamboo, banana, cassava, chico, dayap, guava, kamias, limonsito, mango, marang, papaya, pineapple, pomegranate, pomelo, rambutan, santol, tiesa, and tomatoes. I’m only listing things we ate. There was also honey from a bee hive in one of the trees.

Because the topsoil was only a foot deep, with pure adobe underneath, huge holes had to be dug, mainly by crowbar, and then filled with garden soil before planting the trees. Our lot got studded with virtual fox-holes ideal for war games. Every month or so, a truckload of garden soil arrived and was dumped on the lot, becoming another playground.

There were ducks, pigeons, quails, and turkeys, though not all at the same time. We fed earthworms to the ducks. There was a tilapia pond and a compost pit. There was regular smudging and spraying with pesticides (sorry, but that was the norm). Fred did grafting and marcotting, boasting he’d make money by selling plants; but he mostly gave them away and enjoyed it.

Fred Mangahas cofounded the UP Garden Club, together with botany professor Gregorio Velasquez (1901-1989, a National Scientist), whose family lived at the end of our road now named Velasquez Street.

Of course, there were many ornamentals, too. The garden club held several shows at Sunrise Cottage. I cut my proofreading teeth on galleys of garden magazines.

The book “Maybe: Incidentally” (UP Press, 1998) is a collection of the satire of Federico Mangahas, by Ruby Kelley Mangahas. Samples of his regard for columnists (“Fellow columnists and other fools,” 1/22/22):

He looks at the world with as much candor and does not think himself beneath his senator in realizing that certain things may be absurd, including his senator.

The columnist is sincere, even in his insincerities. … Irresponsible in many ways, he stands responsible for his irresponsibility.

Can a columnist be a good citizen? How should I know? Perhaps, in a way, he can be and is. Let this be our illusion. A columnist cannot be questioned very strictly about his uses. As well as ask a flower to give an appropriate apology for its existence.

It was through my mother Ruby (1916-2006) that we came to live on the UP Diliman campus. She joined the faculty circa 1949 with a degree in piano, got a bachelor’s (psychology) at UP in 1952, master’s (library science) at the University of Michigan in 1959, and doctorate (Indian music) at the University of London in 1966. She headed first the UP music library and then the UP Library itself; she was dean of the UP College of Music on retirement in 1981.

It was Ruby Mangahas who thought of Fred Mangahas’ epitaph, as well as her own:

“And she with music.”The epitaphs of Fred and Ruby are together on their joint tomb at the Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina.

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Contact: [email protected]

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