Crisostomo in Love: Remembering the Life of a Half-naked Poet

Shall I compare you to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate…

William Shakespeare

One of Crisostomo Palma Senior’s defining traits was his love for the works of Shakespeare. Do you know that “Crisostomo” means “golden mouth”? True to his name, Crisostomo was a remarkable orator, sitting half-naked on the couch and effortlessly reciting sonnets to his wife, children, and grandchildren. In retrospect, his life was like a free-verse poem, a perfect balance of structure and spontaneity.

His beautiful and meticulous wife, Juliet, has fond stories of how Cris relocated his big family several times on a whim. Cris was so carefree that he even named his first child Melanie after the heroine of Gone with the Wind. Now that he is with his Maker, Cris is surely more carefree than ever, with no more reason to say his signature expression of frustration: “Pambihira!” 

Indeed, the dead no longer care for the living. But those left behind deeply care for the memory and legacy of the departed. By reflecting on their loved ones’ past and the Lord’s great faithfulness over the years, believers in grief can overcome their painful present and look forward to a brighter future. How did Cris become the ever-amiable, knowledgeable, and lovable person that he was? History, though fallible, can spill the tea.

Born in Legarda, Manila, on March 4, 1939, to Melecio Palma and Pelagia Palmejar, Cris had a happy childhood with his seven siblings: Buddy, Rod, Nene, Perry, June, Eddie, and Edna. Cris was quite mischievous as a young student at Arellano University (1952). For example, he and his group of male friends would make dramatic entrances in class, disturbing everyone in the room. One time, Cris’s teacher was so frustrated that she told him to just go outside and plant kamote

Essentially, teenage Cris was like the handsome bad boys on today’s rom-coms. However, the process of growing up made him serious about his education. In 1956, he took a pre-law, bachelor-of-arts course at Lyceum of the Philippines University. But because of financial constraints, Cris was unable to finish his senior year there. One day, Cris would realize that his lack of a diploma was insignificant in light of everything the Lord had given him: a loving wife, charming children, a stable roof over his head, and good food on the table every day. 

Looking back, Cris’s spiritual growth can also be related to his meet-cute with Juliet many years ago. In 1948 (three years after World War II), the Palma matriarch and most of the children joined Bible Baptist Church, which was pastored by Rev. Frank Hooge. Supposedly, Cris wasn’t a regular attendee at first. He only became active in church when he laid eyes on Julieta Catalina Herrera in 1964, a singer for his big sister’s wedding. Cris was also part of the entourage, and he was clever enough to teach the groomsmen and bridesmaids how to gracefully march to the beat of Richard Wagner’s Bridal Chorus

This event marked the beginning of Cris’s very own Shakespearean, star-crossed love story. He was now Romeo, helplessly in love with his real-life Juliet. Interestingly, it seemed that the Lord Himself was the director of this play because the mothers of the two lovebirds were actually prayer partners. Little did they know that the Herrera matriarch, Leopolda, would soon seek a different small group. In spite of this funny gesture of disapproval, Cris wooed Juliet and eventually won her hand (and her protective big brothers’ favor) in less than a year! They got married on October 31, 1964.

One year later, Cris and Juliet had their first child, Melanie, who would grow up to be one of the most God-fearing women in the family. Crisostomo Junior soon followed, then Karina, Bayani, Andy, and Romel. Apparently, having many children was very much a thing during the 20th century.  Throughout their years of parenting, Cris and Juliet moved from here to there, including Cebu, San Juan, Kainta, Taytay, Antipolo, and Quezon City. Their children can wistfully recall having family devotions, going on enlightening road trips, and dining in authentic, Chinese restaurants. Because of the Lord’s help and Cris and Juliet’s partnership, the Palma heirs couldn’t have asked for more.

Both Juliet and Melanie claimed that the adventurous Cris was the one who taught them how to be open to new experiences and live life to the fullest. For example, Cris helped Juliet appreciate weird vegetables like alugbati. Moreover, he passed on his love for books and music to his children. Cris’s passion for life also manifested in the form of a green thumb. Juliet always marveled at how Cris managed to grow any tree, shrub, or plant. Papaya, avocado, mango, and jackfruit trees flourished wherever Cris raised them. And although Cris hadn’t enjoyed doing chores when he was a child, he became an eager practitioner of DIY (do-it-yourself) home improvement, building furniture from scratch and performing various repairs without professional help.

Cris particularly excelled at sales, maximizing his skills in renowned companies such as Mead Johnson (1968), Tiongson Industries (1981), and Macondray Plastics (1997). In spite of his hectic schedule, Cris strove for self-improvement and completed short courses at UP Diliman. All his learnings enabled him to work better and establish himself further in the industry. In totality, you could call Cris a jack-of-all-trades.

Almost a decade after the birth of Maui, their very first grandchild, Cris and Juliet joined the congregation of Capitol City Baptist Church in 1997. Pastor Phillip Taroja played a major role in their spiritual growth as new members. He was also the officiating minister for the weddings of Crisostomo Junior, Karina, and Bayani. CCBC became the Palmas’ second home in Quezon City, the place where many would see Cris and Juliet as their tatay and nanay.

The Palma clan became bigger than ever as more grandchildren were born. One granddaughter changed the lives of the senior couple significantly: Yda Maxine. Before urgent circumstances called them to Cavite (2001), Cris served the church as an elder for around four years. Thankfully, Cris found another ministry opportunity at Greenhills Christian Fellowship South Metro, wherein he also served as a board member. In 2011, Cris and Juliet moved back to Quezon City and CCBC. 

A few years later, three of their grandsons (Maui, James, and Joshua) moved in and hoarded their attention. Joshua specifically enjoyed hearing Cris and Juliet’s arguments about American politics. Cris supported Obama, while Juliet defended Trump. Passersby would often hear reports from FOX News and CNN since the house’s main door was left ajar in the morning. In a way, this new Palma-Lontoc household had its very own debate club.

Cris’s twilight years were full of joyful experiences with his family and friends. Family reunions were held every Christmas, and Cris would bask in the company of his young apos, who would ask him many weird questions. He also owned an Internet tablet, so he didn’t hesitate to call his loved ones on Facebook Messenger whenever he felt bored or lonely. One of his favorite salutations was, “O, may kinakain pa ba kayo diyan? Bumisita naman kayo dito.” Cris knew that his Martha-like wife could cook delicious dishes at any time. He had always been a family man, and nothing made him happier than spending quality time with his relatives. Ironically, when his eldest apo did call, Cris was often out of reach.

Physical ailments threatened to reduce Cris’s vigor. In 2015, he underwent surgery for prostate cancer. His vision, particularly his right eye, began to deteriorate. Sleeping and urinating became daily struggles, resulting in more undue stress. He would often tell his grandchildren that he was ready for God to call him home. Still, the Lord sustained Cris and gave him more time with his family. In 2018, Cris’s faith was tested once more. Juliet’s heart was malfunctioning, so she now needed a pacemaker. After her successful procedure, the couple moved back to Cavite for the entire clan’s peace of mind. That would be Cris’s last relocation ever.

In 2021 (almost two years into the coronavirus), Cris requested prayers for his mental health. The pandemic was taking its toll on him, and Cris was having difficulty staying positive amidst all the quarantine regulations and vaccination drama. His restless spirit encouraged him to go outside, but he couldn’t do anything but remain at home, watching action movies and attending to his thriving garden. 

Maui’s upcoming wedding on October 27 became Cris’s new source of excitement. He resumed reciting his favorite sonnets on the phone and began memorizing 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. Like a celebrity reporter on The Buzz and Chika Minute, Cris had always been invested in the love lives of his grandsons. In his final conversation with Joshua, he said that he would teach James how to properly court a girl. He declared that he had the right to do so because Juliet had fallen for him so easily. Beside him, his wife just laughed and didn’t make any objection. A day before the wedding, Cris had a stroke. Then almost a month later, he finally entered the pearly gates of Heaven at the age of 82.

Overall, we celebrate the legacy of Crisostomo Palma Senior, a man who had a full life and loved his wife as Christ loved the church. Cris’s love for Juliet was so deep that “Take care of your mama” was his constant plea to his children, regardless of his failing body. Praise be to the Lord, for not everyone is fortunate enough to witness or experience that kind of love. Romeo might be gone, but in this version of the tragedy, his Juliet is still here. Rest assured that Cris’s last wish will be granted. Until we meet him again in Paradise, memories of him will warm our hearts. In the meantime, it’s okay to cry and seek the Lord’s comfort. As Cris’s favorite hymn goes,

We shall sing on that beautiful shore

The melodious songs of the blessed;

And our spirits shall sorrow no more,

Not a sigh for the blessing of rest

Soli Deo gloria