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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

entry arrow12:18 AM | A Fond Farewell for Mrs. Donut

In this University Town where people come and go like the swiftly changing tides from Tañon Strait, goodbyes are constant we’ve learned to live with hearts perpetually broken.

Dumaguete is a city of beautiful transients. There are all these wonderful people from far-flung places with airy names—Dipolog, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Marawi, Cebu, Tacloban, Davao, Dap-dap, Malaybalay, Coron, Quezon City, Los Angeles, New York, Madrid. People come, most of them to study; people gradually find themselves falling in love with the acacia trees and the sunrise off the Boulevard; people stay, for years even; and then, because the city is a cocoon, people go.

Growing up here, that endless cycle of farewells used to bother me acutely, and there came a time when—exhausted from having to say goodbye year in and year out—I simply closed shop, padlocked my heart, and regarded each new wave of people with cautious reach, if I could be bothered at all. But life does not work like that. One meets wonderful people still, and it is a kind of crime not to become part of their lives, and them in yours.

One such is the essence of bubbliness herself. Her name is May Justine Gata-Colburn, and for a better part of the past few years, she was one of “my girls”—that select group of women, all of them fabulous, who have custody of my heart. There is a reason for that.

What I know of her story is this: once upon a time, many years ago, she came from wintry Milwaukee on the way to Siquijor for some break. She passed by Dumaguete, of course, and took what must have been a very long pause—because she went back to the United States, quit her job, packed all her belongings, and took her husband Jonathan and her two children to live here. Why? I asked her once. “It felt like the right thing to do,” she said with that familiar, infectious laugh—a tinkling that borders on some form of flightiness.

They bought a Mister Donut franchise and brought it to Dumaguete. The first time I met her, it was for an article I had to write for MetroPost. We met in what was then a Mister Donut outpost in what used to be Sted’s fronting Silliman University’s Katipunan Hall. It was for an interview. She fed me sandwiches, and we were both playing out our professional roles: she as savvy entrepreneur, me as food writer. That we began like that seems so funny now, a few years and a thousand round of wine-flavored laughter later. God knows how long ago that was—but I’d seen her even before that first encounter. We were both regulars at Chantilly’s then. I would occupy one table to do my academic drudgery, and she would occupy another table interviewing an endless string of people. I remember asking myself, What is that woman doing? Later on, I would learn she was interviewing people for staff positions in her doughnut kingdom.

I don’t recall exactly how we became fast friends. Great friendships are like that. The origins are always hazy. You only know the intricate chemistry involved—but I bet that around that time, we had shed off those initial roles we played for each other and began discovering that we were both capable of the craziest things.

If I try to recall in concentrated form my best memories of Justine, they will almost always involve food. Because we loved to eat—Jonathan is one of the best gourmets this city has seen—and we loved to have elaborately prepared dinners together, always in the company of Arlene Delloso-Uypitching, Wing del Prado, Moses Joshua Atega, Patrick Chua, Antonio Quiogue, and Jeremy Schmoll (sometimes with Edo and Annabelle Lee-Adriano, and when they are in Dumaguete, the visual artists Paul Pfeiffer and Razceljan Salvarita). There are also these: her discovery of a royal bloodline to the Kiram sultanate of Sulu, her devotion to People magazine, our beer-stained gossip sessions in Boston Café and Gabby’s Bistro, lazy stargazing in Mampas, and back rubs. May Justine Gata-Colburn gives the best back rubs this side of the universe. And finally this: she has one of the biggest hearts I know, it fills a room.

For Arlene, her best memory to top all best memories would be that time she asked Justine to find a missing passport. She was already in Manila, the passport was in Dumaguete, and the discovery took place only a few hours before her international flight. “We were relaxing in our hotel in Manila,” she said, “when Don casually went through our travel documents and noticed my mother-in-law’s passport was missing among the lot. I could only think of one person who would not think twice about zooming to our house and combing our files to look for it. And zoom she did. I called Justine who was in the middle of a massage. She immediately got up, pulled over a malong, and with nothing under, flew to the house, grabbed all the passports she could find, zoomed to the airport and fought with the cargo personnel who refused to take the package since the receiving counter was already closed for the last flight of the day to Manila. Still, she had her way. The whole experience sealed my utmost trust and confidence in her. She’s more than family to me.”

The rest of us will remember most her laughter. “I chuckle when I think of Justine,” says Razceljan Salvarita, and lawyer Myrish Cadapan-Antonio says: “What I remember most of her is her infectious laugh and very amiable personality. In any conversation, Justine does not fail to make me smile. She is such a kindred spirit and will surely be missed!”

Antulang Beach Resort’s Annabelle Lee-Adriano remembers this: “At the height of her birthday party, which she had at Antulang, she started talking to me about leaving her two dogs behind—and how that’s going to be one of the hardest things about leaving Dumaguete. Birthday girl was about to cry, and me with her.”

Restaurateur Gabby del Prado says: “Tita Justine is one cool tita! She’s like your best buddy, and there never is a dull moment when you’re around her. One time, she and Tita Arlene were spying on [this famous actor when he was staying in Florentina Homes]. I helped them all the way for them to meet their idol! There were a lot of fun times we’ve had together at the Bistro with her family as well, and I’m surely going to miss the bonding we’ve had.” His mom, Wing, on the other hand, says: “I will remember most her bling-bling sandals and her girlie bags! She’s our chatterbox saling-pusa when Arlene and I paint the walls over at the Bistro!”

KRI’s Ritchie Armogenia says: “Justine has always been one of our favorite customers. The Colburns are. They usually let us know when they come in and we really appreciate that. One favorite memory would have to be that time they went to KRI and started ordering a few items on the menu, and then they ended up ordering almost everything—a chef’s delight!”

We all have these memories because Justine and her family are leaving Dumaguete and going back to the U.S. Why? I asked her not too long ago. “It’s time,” she said—this time a little sad.

We are all a little sad, too. And it’s true what I said once before: What’s my favorite thing about Mr. Donut? It’s the Mrs.

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