Growing up, whenever I would complain about the difficulties of life, Mother would trot out The Stories. You know, the ones that make you roll your eyes (because they are so overly dramatic), but also put your actions into perspective (because they are so overly dramatic). I mean, how could I whine about the many things I had to do when there was a long ago ancestor who walked across a hacienda to get to school or another that sold flowers while hanging from the side of a bus? I couldn't then and still shouldn’t now—because Mother will not miss the opportunity to bless me with these monologues once again.
“It came from actual work.”
It didn’t grow on trees. The Truly Rich Fortune was once a measly amount that someone, from three, four, or five generations ago, parlayed into a good sum, which was then multiplied by more people until it turned into a great portfolio of assets. Depending on what day it is, the Coo fortune, says Mother, was built on making buttons or repurposing buttons or sewing on buttons—by hand. It was, and I quote her from last Sunday, “built on the knuckle-scraping physical
“We never complain—ever.”
This is Mother’s go-to story: When Great-Grandmother Magdalena or Magda was a young girl, she moved to her aunt’s house (because her mother remarried). To earn her keep, Magda was forced—I mean, tasked—to scrape the grime off the marble steps of her new home’s Gone With the Wind-style staircase. With a painted smile and busy hands, Magda did the job, while her cousins lounged in wicker chairs drinking the
“Tired? Have you ever walked across a hacienda?”
More on Magda: A big part of her myth was her daily walk to her grade school. According to Mother, the historian, Magda
“All things are possible if you wake up early.”
Take it from Great-Grandfather Peter or Big Nose Pete. He lost everything, including his father, during the war. As the eldest son, he took it upon himself to take care of the family. He would, says Mother, “get up before the crow of the rooster and head for the river,” where he would harvest the wild flowers growing on its banks. Then, he’d make his way back to the city, where he would latch onto buses or jeepneys to foist the moist flowers on unsuspecting commuters. And with that, he was able to feed his siblings—and also start our minor business of foraging for wild ingredients.
“We have a sense of purpose.”
When you are rolling in millions of buttons, it’s easy to forget the big picture. It has been Mother’s job to keep us on the straight and narrow. That means all the Truly Rich basics: being well-mannered, avoiding great shows of wealth, and applying a solid work ethic to everything we do, from taking care of employees to helping them find purpose in what they do. This code, says Mother, is what made it possible for what was once a minor branch of the family to become prosperous. Wealth is an underlying goal, but family is the purpose, and everyone has the responsibility to contribute to its protection and enrichment. We are all but stewards of such wealth, its growth proportional to the jobs we help create, the lives we try to make better. That’s why we work.
“Waste not, want not.”