LETTY Calleja’s life may seem humdrum in this world turned upside down by recent natural and human challenges. The Alexandria, Virginia, retiree starts her day at holy Mass a short bus ride away from her residence in the high-rise complex allegedly owned by the late Reza Pahlavi, otherwise known as the Shah of Iran before he fled his kingdom in the 1979 revolt spurred by religious clerics.
The former administrative staff of the National Education Association returns noonish to her nest on the 20-something floor, typically toting goodies from the 7-11 at the ground floor of the building across hers. This convenience store offers requisite hot brews and warm bites, cool tall ones for the parched, sweet and tasty treats for the insomniac, the partner who forgot to pick up the milk and the mom who promised a prize for her kid’s latest A.
Or, like Calleja, for the single who delights in the humblest things, be it the fragrance of roasted coffee beans or the cashier’s smile. There’s more than tchotchkes to take home from a visit here in “DMV” – District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, as many locals refer to the Metropolitan Area of Washington, DC. There’s a good supply of fresh injera or Ethiopian sour bread, empanadas alongside pan de sal, reflecting the diversity this side of the Potomac, another source of Calleja’s fascination.
At home she pores over her mail. She logs on to her computer for updates on global and family matters. Predictably she was riveted to her devices for hours August 31 taking calls from loved ones all over the world who wished her a happy big birthday, before heading for a friend’s milestone treat at the Ritz Carlton.
Not everyone earns a cake with the candles 8 and 9. This celebrant has outlived her mother Conchita Paulino by three years, her own husband Reynaldo Calleja Sr. maybe twice so, even more her youngest son Reynaldo “Jojo” Calleja Jr., who was snatched by aneurysm at 50.
Neither is everyone gifted with fierce independence and faith to overcome adversity, in her appreciation of life as a most precious gift to share: That is the open secret of Letty Calleja’s inspiring longevity.
Since her husband passed away four years ago, the former Letty Paulino has lived alone in the apartment she and Rey made their home from the late 1980s, when she opted to accept her privilege as dedicated worker at USAID in Manila to start over in the US capital. Ex-PR ace Rey joined the Red Cross, bonded with co-workers who enjoyed his political punditry. They retired in the new century to travel, showering relatives as far as Italy with affection and wisdom. Until Rey’s heart shut down.
The circle of love built around the couple tightened in Letty’s widowhood and her decision to remain solo in Virginia, with her four surviving children settled in Alberta, Ottawa, Illinois and Manila. She chose health accessibility and therefore self-sufficiency.
Intimates marvel at her pluck and positivity that emerge in her emails to family. “Hi folks,” she greets, before detailing how she had tripped on the carpet, fell on her face that doubled in size due to the impact, and chipped a tooth, but not to worry – all is OK. Always OK.
Some would call her lucky. She would admit she is blessed and grateful, eager to embrace what her ninth decade brings.
Cherie M. Querol Moreno is Executive Editor of Philippine News Today.