Family Ties, Filipino Style (August 28, 1994, Manila Bulletin)
 by Diana S. Uichanco
    "Nobody's gonna remember that name, you can't even pronounce it," was Daddy Benny's amused response to his children's proposal for a name for the family's new store.

8-28-94.jpg (3376 bytes)    Indeed, "Papemelroti" doesn't exactly roll smoothly down one's tongue, and though quite catchy, belongs to the same league as "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" when it comes to name recall.

    But siblings Patsy, Peggy, Meldy, Robert, and Tina insisted on the name.  After all their parents, Corit and Benny, already had a place that bears an acronym of their names: "Korben".

    And so, in the summer of '76, the first Papemelroti store was born.

    Since it was during summer vacation that this store in Ali Mall saw its opening, the children manned it themselves - the entire family, in fact, was there all the time.

    "We were the salesgirls - me, my sister Meldy, Peggy, Tina," Patsy, the eldest among the brood, relates.  "Tina was very young," she fondly recalls, "but she'd help out like the rest of us.  The customers would look at her in disbelief and say, 'She's going to wrap our gifts?!'  Tina couldn't even reach the counter, so she'd do it on the floor!"

    Later on, the children would be asked to sell even during the regular school year.  "Then when we got into figurines and other stuff," shares Patsy, "we would paint.   But we would be paid for our work, say 10 centavos for every figurine."

    The Alejandro brood had a childhood quite different from the typical "no-cares, all-play" pastime of other kids.  It was nothing like doing hard labor in a concentration camp, but they all playfully referred to it as such.

    "Siberia was how we called it, when we were 'forced' to work," Patsy recalls with a grin.

    After browsing through the store, one is amazed by the variety of items - from candle holders to wall decors, baskets to birdhouses, paper roses and all sorts of boxes.  Where does all this come from?

    According to Patsy, mother Corit has always enjoyed making "things".  She used to make cute clothes and toys for her children until the wee hours of the morning, putting together scrap materials like leftover fabrics and used bottles.  Daddy Benny was likewise in the arts, having studied ceramics.

    Besides taking after their parents' artistry, the five children developed their creative talent in an atmosphere of constant affection, encouragement and discipline.  Even before the family opened its first store in 1968, the Alejandros were already a close-knit family, doing things together.

    "Mommy always talks to us," shares Patsy.  "If there's a problem, she's like a leech - she won't let go until we both understand each other.  So we understood ever since we were small, that she wasn't just laying down rules for us.  We're really friends..."

    Encouragement and discipline, which were likewise provided in the Alejandro household, took on unconventional forms - like the kind of playthings they grew up with.       

    "Maybe it's also because we didn't have many toys," muses Patsy.  "I remember when we were young, what we played with were those catalogues that Daddy would give us.  We would cut up clocks, plates and things, then fix up milk cartons to make a house.  That's it, just using our imagination..."

   "Having someplace to go is home.  Having someone to love is a family.   Having both is a blessing," reads a simple hand-painted plaque posted on one of the Korben walls.

    Any of the Alejandros can very well be uttering a prayer of thanks each time he glances at those words.  This thankful disposition is reflected in other striking quotes scattered around the store - quotes stated so simply that they just cannot miss hitting the mark.

    There are contemplative words ("If you judge people, you have no time to love them").   Some passages have a practical and encouraging note ("Do not grow weary of doing good", "Instead of money, give cookies to the streetchildren").

    Then there are words that reflect the trust that this family of artists puts in the Greatest Artist of all ("Hands to work, hearts to God").

    With new outlets mushrooming around the city, and products now being exported, there is a lot to be done.  Everybody in the family goes about doing his job - be it talking to people, supervising production, accomplishing paperwork, or sketching a new character.   Although they don't all stay under one roof anymore, they know there's the Great Artist to keep them together - because it's all in the family.

 

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