Wednesday, February 28, 2007

19. A Printer’s Devil

After a year in college my father thought that I was not really getting anywhere and suggested that I work as a printer’s devil in a small printing shop that he had a minor investment in. After being confronted by some of my inadequacies I just had to scale down my aspirations and flopped back to earth shelving the dream to be a media celebrity like my older siblings.

The prospect of having spending money was an attractive one and so I agreed with my father to work in Guaranty Press which was located in Buendia a few meters away from Taft Avenue. I half realized that most of the things I will be doing in a small printing press were menial ones. Cutting huge stacks of paper in a manual cutter, cleaning the printing presses, preparing the stencils and working as part of the crew delivering the printed products to clients’ offices were among the items in the job description. The only cerebral endeavor in the place was proofreading the types set in the stripping department.

It was too late to back out. The job was okay and bearable except for the dirtied hands and ink indelibly lodged in the fingernails that could not be removed no matter how long you scrubbed. It was only then that I understood the frustration behind Lady Macbeth’s pining “out damned spot! out I say!”. I didn’t shake hands with new acquaintances for as long as I was with the printing press. On the positive side I always had money. I rode in my Dad’s car to work and brought packed lunch that my mom prepared. The only expense I had was jeepney fare from work to school. When I didn’t have packed lunch for some reason I would go with the rest of the workers and have lunch with them in the roadside carinderia.

One experience that cured me from squeamishness was when I was having lunch and the soup that was served had this big greenish fly doing a backstroke in it. I complained about it and without any hesitation the carinderia lady scooped the fly off with a ladle and admonished me for not doing it myself. I was also introduced to the exquisiteness of canine cuisine when I shared lunch with my coworkers.

Friday was payday and it was also “happy” time. After having worked five days like a devil, a printer’s devil that is, it was a day of reward. I would skip school and join my coworkers to sample the delights of the Santa Ana Cabaret. The Santa Ana Cabaret was at that time Asia’s largest dance hall. It had two bandstands each with a big band blaring incessantly at each other. I think it was Toots Dila’s band on one end and Anastacio Mamaril’s band on the other, blaring a reply to whatever Toots dished out.

It seemed like there were thousands of “ballerinas” or penny dancers all eager to take on anyone, that is, anyone who had tickets. The tickets were being sold at twenty centavos each and you surrender it to your partner at the end of each dance number. If a girl catches your fancy you can give her an extra ticket that would guarantee you a closer body contact and be allowed other uncivil liberties during the next dance. A neat trick that the boys at work taught me was to buy a long link of tickets and wear them like a garland to make me look every bit the big spender. This was a surefire attraction to the ladies who would come and surround you allowing you a chance to have the best pick.

I think my father soon realized that my stint in the printing press was a cruel banishment. Besides he didn’t look kindly at my making Santa Ana Cabaret an established haunt. By that time I was developing a blackhand complex (I just gave it a name…case histories of these are unknown). Keeping my hands always in my pant pockets manifested my paranoia. I had to hide my hands when in front of the girls not only in school but also from the Maryknollers and the Assumptionistas in our Loyola Heights neighborhood. How can one explain such disgustingly black stained hands? Had I hidden my hands in the fold of my shirt across my chest my dementia could have been mistaken for a Napoleonic complex. After a year of this I was paroled from my exile and was reinstated the status of full time student. I bade my friends in the printing press goodbye a little heavy of heart for I knew that I would not be seeing them again. I have grown older. From then on simple but earnest friends like Pepe, Pol, and Tony would be hard to come by. I likened my stay with them as an opportune meandering that left me with lessons, important lessons on relationships; respect for people from all stations in life and it made meaningful the cliché on the dignity of labor.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

18. My brothers …My Idols

My high school days in FEU proved uneventful. There were neither momentous awakenings nor life changing episodes. I didn’t join clubs and never participated in extracurricular activities. Although I have established friendships with quite a few classmates which has endured to this day, High school was one long dragging experience just like a lackluster day repeating itself a thousand times over.

My having good communication skills would hold me in good stead all through my schooling days. In college, where I pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in literature, I became the darling of some of my professors in English. This sort of spoiled me. I could get by without having to attend all my English classes in full. Humanities had a strong appeal to me and because of the strong interest I had in the arts it would prove to be an area of competence. This could have been the result of my voracious and rather indiscriminate reading habit and the exposure to my father who was a classical music buff who gave us more than a fair share of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven et al. He was also an excellent amateur art photographer winning awards for some of his masterfully rendered black and white compositions. I still have some of his fine photographic compositions adorning my work area in the house.

My two older brothers also went to Far Eastern University after Ateneo. Just like me they had language skills that served them well. My brother Pete carried this further when he took up Speech and Drama as a course. My other brother, Dado, enrolled in a business course but was a full time hanger on in the Drama Guild and later on switched to Speech and Drama. I myself gravitated towards this but after some forgettable stage portrayals I realized that this was not exactly an area that I could develop any real ability in. My brothers were very good at this and this helped them succeed in their careers in broadcast media. Dado became a very popular disc jockey at the time when radio was king. Pete being true to form could not be kept away from mischief and could not be kept in the confines of classrooms. He ran out of subjects and teachers in FEU and had to transfer to a more lenient educational institution.. He finally ended up in National Teachers College in Quiapo. My father was hopeful that Pete may be able to complete his studies here after all he was a co-founder of the school. National Teachers College had an impact on Pete's broadcast skills development.The school had a radio station, DZTC, where he honed his technical savvy in radio work as well as gaining confidence in going on air in programs as host and disc jockey. Pete made a strong and lasting impression in this school when he delivered a drunken rendition of Hamlet’s soliloquy from the school’s tower which was right beside the Tanduay Fire Station. To this very day the older members of the school board still talk about this elevated and inebriated performance.

Pete found a more discerning and appreciative mass audience than the Tanduay firemen when he became the host of one of the first dance programs during the developing years of television in the country. Both of my brothers had experienced early successes and were enjoying the rewards that came with being media celebrities. Dado was a natural for radio. His voice had a nasal quality that sounded vaguely American but distinctively hip young Pinoy. “Big Soul Daddy” Dado Roa had a very good grasp of the beat generation jargon that made him all the more appealing to the teenagers of that era. Pete seemed tailored fit for the TV medium. He had boyish charms, excellent dancing skills and his speech could be considered cultivated and educated as opposed to Dado’s contemporary tone. I found myself several rungs below my brothers who by then had grown in fame and fortune. Media, even then, amply rewarded the deserving. Seeing their successes encouraged me to try my hand at radio announcing. The renown of my brothers earned me easy access to auditions but after several rejections I knew that I was meant for more than just these silly tiresomenesses (sigh).

Monday, February 26, 2007

17. Loyola Heights

 Our family transferred to a newly built house in Loyola Heights towards the end of the fifties. This was the time when Elvis ruled, and the Everly Brothers and the Lettermen were the darlings of the teen set and Flash Elorde was the reigning world-boxing champion of the world in the lightweight class.

My father had planned to have us move to a place were my brothers and I together with my sisters, would be walking distance from school. The irony of it all is that by the time the house was built not a single one of us were in the Ateneo and only our youngest, Angge, was in Maryknoll, the older sisters having graduated earlier.

At that time Katipunan Avenue was nothing but a long and wide gravel road stretching from Aurora Boulevard up to the site were the della Strada Church is now, Then it narrowed into a two way asphalt road passing by the UP Integrated High School. A few yards farther was the Balara Filters whose gate was right across the entry leading to the main UP campus. There were just a few scattered houses along Katipunan. What we could consider a land-mark was the “pink house” of the Usons, a popular haunt of Ateneo students who played billiards in between classes, lunchtime or when cutting classes. There were billiard tables in the Ateneo gym but the “pink house” was the more patronized because a place outside the school grounds somehow felt more adventurous, some sort of a free zone where the school did not have any sovereignty, besides, Mr. Uson had a pretty daughter named Ching who now and then could be seen playing billiards and was a joy to watch.
 A little farther from across the gym would be a small cluster of commercial establishments. There were sari-sari stores, diners and other stores selling school items. The popular variety store was the one owned by the Rentosas. At that time there wasn’t an ordinance that prohibited the serving of beer near the premises of a school and so the place became one of our favorite hangouts on Friday and Saturday nights. The diner at the corner of Katipunan and the street leading to Xavierville was called the Eagle’s Nest. The Pavon family operated this. The Pavons were from Lucena. They were a rather large family but I still remember some of them, the eldest and the tallest brother, Caloy I think his name was, together with Leo, Roger and the sisters Baby and Mila. Baby, the youngest, was to my mind, the prettiest girl in the whole of Loyola although there were some other beauties like Baki Pamintuan, Connie and Margot Varona, the Tanseco sisters Baby and Celia; Lita Zulueta, Ching Uson, Marilou Crisol, Marivic Ciocon and others whose names I can no longer recall. Baki Pamintuan was quite popular then and was a shoo-in during the election for the first president of the Loyola Youth Association.

Loyola Heights was a far cry from the Maria Cristina neighborhood we had in Sampaloc. We had a brand new house in the elevated portion of Esteban Abada. The place was always breezy because the few houses that were there were set far apart from each other. Our nearest neighbor was four lots away and the second nearest would be more than twenty lots away. This would change quite rapidly. There was what seemed like a building boom at that time and in less than five years we had more neighbors than what we would have liked.

A welcome change was the strong water pressure brought about by the place’s proximity to the Balara filtration plant. If you live in Sampaloc during those times you will understand the elation of one experiencing an abundant water supply. In Sampaloc, many a times you would be tapping the “tabo” on the faucet or screaming “tubig” to tell the guy downstairs to turn off the faucet so that the water can reach the second floor to enable you to rinse off the suds that got into your eyes or to avoid catching a cold because of the long exposure in the wet to finish your bath.

My parents joined the neighborhood association. They had regular meetings and social activities that sometimes included the village youth. This allowed us to meet the kids in the neighborhood for the first time. Soon enough we developed friendships and hanged out regularly with a group of guys whose houses were near ours.

During a basketball tournament, the village was divided according to geographical location and our part was referred to as the Northwest area. Our basketball team was comprised of the de Santos brothers, Chid, Tito and Junie, Junie was my classmate in FEU High School; Jun Batenga; the Julian brothers, Tony, Joe, Bong, Eddie and Enteng; the Lising brothers Andy and Eddie; Peter Sabido and Rudolph de la Rosa who were scions of political families. We decided to bring in Max, our family driver, to add heft to the team. My brothers Pete and Dado were not regulars in the team. Pete was preoccupied with the less athletic aspects of village life and was making progress as a “sociologist” developing a more intimate and in depth knowledge of the social habits of early female Loyolans. Dado was already a popular DJ and hardly spent time in Loyola Heights. We did not emerge as champions in the tournament but we did not do badly either as we came in second in the competition (or was it third?).

A social highlight was the block rosary. The statue of Our Lady of Fatima was enthroned in a house for a week and then was transferred to another until all designated houses in the village had their turn in playing host. We were not so prayerful at that time but we almost had perfect attendance especially during the summer months. The block rosary allowed us to meet with the rest of the village youth. Light refreshments were served and we had about an hour of fellowship and even longer depending on whose house it was at. This was an activity that our parents readily approved our attendance of and at times we used it as an excuse for going somewhere else.

There were a lot musically inclined kids in the village. The association elders thought it a good idea to provide the youth with musical instruments. Primarily, they thought that this was a good vent for the creative musical energies of kids and secondly, this will provide them with things to do and keep them out of mischief. Happily, their investments paid off and as a bonus the association now had a band that played for them during village events and association parties.

The instruments that were donated were those for a Latin conjunto. There were timbales complete with cowbells, a “bajo de arco”(bass), snare drums, conga and bonggo drums, wooden ticktocks, tambourine, notched gourd and a pair of maracas. The main performer was Joe Julian, a gifted pianist who would turn professional in later years. Cary Kintanar was on bass, Bong Julian on drums and timbales, Rudolph de la Rosa did the conga and the bonggo drums while a few of us less gifted ones would go from tambourine to ticktock to gourd to maracas. My brother Pete who did a creditable Sinatralike croon was our vocalist. I was among those who provided vocal backups and sometimes for the lack of others, do a solo. Through frequent practice we were able to ape Cal Tjader, George Shearing, Enoch Light near enough or so we thought. The highlight of the playing days of the combo was a television appearance in an obscure program in a dog time slot.

Rudolph de la Rosa played a mean conga drum. He spent long hours practicing with Tito Puente, Enoch Light records and other good Latin percussionists. His conga playing was good enough to have the regular combo at the Embers nightclub invite him to do impromptu jamming with them whenever we were in the club.

Rudolph was little bit off track and had a rebellious streak. He was the one who led us to a caper of cutting down all the street signs and stealing portable traffic and pedestrian signs in the village to keep as souvenirs. It became a big concern among the village elders. They mounted an investigation that came up fruitless for a time. It was only by accident that my mom rummaged our garage to look for some old furniture that she saw the stockpile of street signs, my share of the loot. Very much embarrassed my mom surrendered the clandestine trove to the association with profuse apologies. As expected by my gang mates I observed “omerta” in order not to implicate the other evildoers of this dastardly deed, thus the association recovered only less than a fourth of the stolen street signs.

During summer we would organize jam sessions in our turf, the northwest sector of the village. The boys would be in charge of designing the invitations and distributing them by bicycle route. The girls would take charge of the food which most of the time would consist of wienies, cheese pimiento sandwiches, spaghetti and Coke. Funding would come from various sources. The association elders are sometimes tapped, individual contributions and on occasion a birthday celebrant would foot most of the bill with us augmenting it with volunteered extra food or refreshments. A jam session was the occasion to meet or know better the girls from the village. We would have our crushes and we saw to it that the boys who were competing for the attention of our special ladies were excluded in the invitation list.

Danny Alibudbud and Eddie Farrrales who belonged to the Central sector of the village were almost always excluded because of their interest in the Varona sisters. Chito Puno was excluded because he was good looking and would easily distract the attention of our special girls. We would have excluded the Pavon brothers for the same reason we excluded Chito, but, if we did, the Pavon sisters will surely not come.

As it was the custom at that time all the girls were lined up on one side of the sala while the boys milled around on the opposite side waiting for the music to start. The boys did not cluster to form fences around choice dance partners. It was our rule that before you can zero in on girls that are of interest, you must have danced at least once with all the girls to ensure that there will be no wallflowers. The girls had a grand time in our jam sessions. The party was mostly for the kids in the village who knew each other very well so that “bakuran” was considered bad form.

The Loyola of that time could be said to be upper middle class and the families residing there were conservative and conventional. Even if our group tended to be a bit raucous our activities limited itself to the confines of our houses. Combo practice was quite frequent and these, more often than not, end up as drinking binges.

The village girls on dates would invariably be chaperoned by elderly maids in white uniforms. While this chaperoning thing was de rigueur it seemed that every time you go out on a chaperoned date you felt that you were the only one with this dreaded affliction. One time Rudolph and I went to a concert. Our dates were sisters from the village and so we thought it will not be necessary for them to have a chaperone since there were two of them. Not so. When we fetched them in their house the mother came out and said if we would not mind if her daughters took a maid with them in our date. What else can you say but “sure ma’am, no problem” The first problem was the seating arrangement in the car. The maid was very well instructed. I opened the rear door of the car for my date and as quickly as I opened it the maid adroitly slithered in and took center position in the back seat making sure that she would be between whoever two sat at the back. Not relishing the idea of being seated next to the chaperone I ended up sitting beside Rudolph who was driving. At the concert venue we encountered another problem. The gatekeeper insisted that we had to buy a ticket for the maid because she was going to occupy a seat inside. I saved enough allowance money for this date but just enough. There was also the prospect of spending more than what I budgeted for the dinner after the show. I took Rudolph aside and told him about my concern. He told me not to worry for he had more than enough and we could settle up when we got home. Thank god for rich friends. The date was not a complete disaster. We all enjoyed the music of the Loony Larks, the featured singing group in the concert. It was a good dinner and the conversation was pleasant but it was too expensive for me. My allowance for the next two weeks was already taken to repay the overspending in our date.
Days of our youth in Loyola had its moments despite the staidness that often characterize middle class communities of that era. It did seem somewhat like a movie version of a wholesome suburban place in the US of the late fifties.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

16. A Change of Scene

 After Ateneo I enrolled in Far Eastern University. Loyola to Morayta was quite a big change of scene. Where there was a lush expanse of greenery dotted by a few school buildings and a scattering of young trees there was now a pervasiveness of gray concrete. There were car paths and scraggly hedgerows and aging buildings crammed side-by-side forming a wrap that defined the territory of the school. There was a bit of space in the middle of the grounds that was big enough to accommodate a football field and an open basketball court.

In the Boys High School students were required to wear khaki pants and white toppers as uniform. This semblance of order and neatness was not enough to hide the fact that the studentry was mostly from the working class. The aura around them was different from what most Ateneo boys exuded in their natty and branded expensive attires. While in the Ateneo my clothes were below par from most of my classmates but did not mind it nor was I aware of this discriminating nuance. In this new milieu I seemed to have developed a consciousness for it.

Most of my new classmates came from poor families. They could have been the sons of the drivers or menial workers of the families of my classmates in Ateneo. Their interests and manners were somewhat different but I found them familiar and somewhat like the kids from our Sampaloc neighborhood and these settled quite comfortably with me. We were not well off. Even if my father had good jobs as an assistant actuary at that time and a night job as a college professor his earnings were not sufficient to provide more than the basic needs of a rather large family. There were eight children in the family and my mom had always insisted that we go to good schools no matter the expense. She was willing to make all the sacrifices that unfortunately most of her sons failed to appreciate.

*There was never enough of anything in the house except for reading materials. My dad had bought piles and piles of GI paperbacks and old issues of National Geographic from the homebound American armed forces after the war. The GI paperbacks were printed manuscripts folded in the middle and stapled at the midrib like comic books only thicker. As a young boy I marveled at the cowboy stories of Zane Grey, the realism of the characters in Steinbeck’s dustbowl novels. I wondered at the gods and goddesses of Edith Hamilton’s mythology and enjoyed the writing style of the early migrant Bulosan as he wrote about his native Philippines in America. I traveled the world of natural wonders as presented in words and pictures in the stacks of back issues of the National Geographic and Life magazine. I would spend hours on end browsing the five-tiered bookshelves from top to bottom.

At the age of ten I had already read but completely misunderstood a book on Eugenics and the first issue of the Kinsey Report published sometime in the early fifties (may have been an early portent for my ending up in a career in research). Alongside this reading fare I read the fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, all the nursery rhymes of Mother Goose and the fables of Aesop. I remember in Maria Cristina I was called “tanda” (old man) by the older guys because I seemed to have a bit of knowledge of anything that was being talked about. I was a walking encyclopedia of useless information.

I was quick to notice that in school I was among a few who could speak and write well in English. I hardly felt this while in the Ateneo because, there, you took it for granted that everyone spoke and wrote the way they did…the way I did. Also, my spoken English did not sound funny like most of the other kids in my class. I guess I should be thankful for the speech drills that were pounded on us by our speech teacher, Robert Wilson. I never felt that I had excellent writing skills. It was just that I really looked good in contrast to the atrocious English of my new classmates. In this school never had the King’s English been more subjected to such mindless brutality and mayhem. Bert Ampil, now Father Bert did well in inculcating good basic spoken and written English to us in Ateneo.

All through high school I did not flaunt this advantage because I did not want to be conspicuously different. Most of my classmates were sensitive to this weakness. This may have caused them to be ridiculed on some past occasions. Filipinos in general have the penchant to laugh at actors, celebrities and others who make malapropisms and mispronunciations in the English language. As a result of being critical of others they have become extremely self conscious and timid to express themselves in English lest they be laughed at.

Friday, February 23, 2007

14. Ateneo Grade School - Padre Faura 15. On A Hot Gravelly Road, Sadly

Black Hawks
I hardly remember anything about school in Juan Luna Elementary, which I attended from grade one to grade three. Much of the memories of that time were of the things I did after school. I had zero recall of the classroom, my classmates and teachers. It was as if the memory of it was skipped over and that in my mind life resumed in grade four at the Ateneo de Manila Grade School in Padre Faura, Manila.

On the day that I took the entrance exams at the Ateneo de Manila the school grounds took on a festive atmosphere despite the niggardly look of patched up schoolrooms amidst the ruins and quonset huts left by the US army after the liberation of Manila. Mothers with small boys in tow were milling around the grounds perhaps looking for acquaintances, relatives or anybody to chat with or who might be able to influence the entry of their sons into this institution of highly coveted and expensive Jesuit education. The canteen which was beside the ruins of what was once the Jesuit owned Manila Observatory was doing brisk business selling soft drinks, sandwiches and providing the early comers with tables to hang onto the whole while.
Mothers were doing quick reviews of materials of weeks of preparations with their little aspirants. I was the last of the three brothers whom my mother accompanied for the entrance qualifiers. The year before, at about the same week, my two older brothers were admitted to the school. Having two older brothers at the time that I was in grade school was useful. I would make this known ostensibly to all as an insurance against bullying from bigger classmates. About ninety percent of the class was bigger than I was. I never had the occasion to use this advantage so I wouldn’t know whether my brothers would have come to my succor. I suppose it worked as a deterrent and should really credit my brothers for it.

*I remember a time when one of the bigger boys in class, Sinto Genuino, a regular playmate of mine, and I were comparing the size of the rubber balls that we had rolled up layer by layer from the sap of the giant old rubber tree beside the basketball court. Finding my ball definitely bigger than his infuriated him. Actually, it was my incessant taunting of him having a smaller ball that irritated him. He grabbed mine and threw it to the other side of basketball court where it did a magnificent bounce, hurtled in the air and landed on the head of one of the upper grade boys playing basketball. Angered by this, the boy gave the ball a swift goal-kicklike boot that sent it flying to the football field towards the Assumption Convent side of the campus. That ball took three and a half months of painstaking sap bleeding and layering from the barks of the rubber tree to reach the size of a golf ball and in an instant it was gone. That classmate of mine was really big, much bigger than any of my brothers. Although I felt that my brothers would come to help if I asked I had doubts about their being able to beat my bully classmate. So, prudence told me to just imagine my kicking him in the butt and making him swallow his little ball. I just vowed that I will get even one day and my mind raced to find ways of getting back at him stealthily. I was obsessed with the thought of a furtive retaliation and dreamed of schemes and plots to get even but soon got tired of it. After three days we were back to playing marbles and I started to roll up another rubber ball that was already the size of a raisin by then.

I thought my Mom was remarkable with her cool mien and aplomb. While gaggles of mothers flitted about in frenzy-like haze my Mom just stood there with me in hand just waiting for a cue from one of the registrar employees. I guess the experience with her first two boys the year before somewhat jaded her attitude about these things. I would like to think that her cool stemmed from her confidence that her kid is special and would just get through it no sweat. No, really, my Mom has always been the cool one, a veteran of raising eight children, five boys and three girls. The two oldest brothers, Cocoy and Tito were in the state university where my parents, themselves, studied and the three girls; Nita, Patty and Angge were in Maryknoll.

*Apart from the pleasant memories that the Observatory ruins evoked there were some unpleasant ones like the secluded nooks in the ruins of the bombed out administration building which was used as a place of reckoning to avenge a wrong done by one classmate over another. “Ruins!” would be challenge word. Disputes were settled honorably through a “square fight” between two classmates. Having two older brothers was of no help in those situations. I could not ask my brothers to proxy for me in a fight of honor. I could not back out of fights like these even if I ended up having a shiner every time. I recall a classmate, Victor Reyes, to whom I would have several rounds with in the ruins. I always ended up at the short end. It was no fun losing fights even if it was with honor always. I just had to learn how to get out of scrapes like those without looking cowardly. I learned the virtue of pacifism, a pacifist being someone who had the ability to get out of scrapes and coming up with acceptable though plausible reasons why he should not fight.

Just like my two other brothers who were older than me. I, too, was admitted to the hallowed grounds of this pantheon of knowledge, the Ateneo de Manila. And with that, my Mom’s entreaty, which has been said to my older brothers, had a reprise with me. “We are not rich and are making all the sacrifices to provide you with the best education to make you better set for life. Your father and I expect you to do your part by taking your studies seriously.” At that time I cared little about this and could not be expected to understand and take to heart the gist of this plea. The words just jingled in my mind like the lyrics of tired Christmas carol, nice and familiar and yet vaguely meaningful.

15. On A Hot Gravelly Road Sadly

Later on, after having been kicked out from high school, a strong feeling of guilt and remorse descended on me. My parents had sacrificed a lot when they enroled me in the Ateneo. It finally dawned on me that I have thrown out the opportunity that my parents provided when they put me in this exclusive institution. Their disappointment was evident on their faces and in the way they regarded me after I told them of my expulsion. Being sorry for what I have wrought was not enough to assuage the pain I have inflicted on them and on myself.
In the Ateneo, one day that had remained in my mind and was to augur future events was my first day in history class.

*The teacher, Mr. Opinion, also called “bungo” affectionately by some, was calling out the names of the students as he went through each class card. Suddenly he stopped and took a longer glance at one. “Roa…Roa how are you related to the last two Roas I’ve had in my class?” he asked. “They probably were my two older brothers”, I said. He made a mock gesture of tearing his sparse hairline and in an exaggerated expression of anguish moaned “Oh no not again!”

I beg the forgiveness of my cousins and nephews who likewise bore the family name Roa who might have suffered a similar comic but humiliating experience. By the time my son was in high school at the Ateneo it seemed that the family name no longer had that stigma. It would have been a cruel jest if the same teacher would ask my son “how are you related to Roa…Roa…Eduardo?”

I felt for my mother who had to forgo a lot of simple comforts just so she could provide us quality education. I was the last one to be expelled and with this her fervent hopes for seeing a son graduate from the Ateneo had dissipated to a wispy sigh. ‘Oh how we have wronged our mothers!’

*I remember my brother Dado, telling me of how relieved he was upon his expulsion from school because he could now go through the day without having to put up with the taunts from his much more privileged classmates. From then on he didn’t have to put on his toughness stance or his having to be superior in ways most rich kids could not be… things that invariably got him into trouble with the teachers. He has the distinction of having bullied Joseph Ejercito during their grade school days in the Ateneo of Padre Faura days. Later on during one of the parties he attended with my other brother, Pete, who became "kumpadre" of Erap, he met Erap who told him jokingly that he could no longer bully him because he was now the Vice President of the Republic.

With the three of us behaving disgracefully in the Ateneo, our parents have been summoned either by the dean of discipline or the dean of studies countless times. Invariably it was mother who attended to this since father was kept from going because of his work. One time Dado was asked by Father Lochboeler, the dean of studies to bring father to talk to him. He insisted on seeing father since the earlier meetings with mother did not seem to have any effect on the chronic recalcitrant that he was. Knowing that father will not come to these meetings, and that just by merely asking him would be a suicidal attempt, he had to search deep into his ingenuity for a solution to the problem. He did come up with one which involved a bit of drama and acting by his barber. He was able to coax his barber to play the role of father in the meeting with the good priest. It was an expensive enterprise which caused him to buy the barber a new polo barong to make him look presentable and in addition he had to fork out twenty pesos as talent fee for the performance. This was a windfall considering the cost of a haircut was twenty five centavos in Sampaloc at that time. The barber was instructed to respond only by nods and occasional yeses to whatever the dean had to say. He was not to contribute at all to whatever course the discussion took. It was a certainty that barbering and the sartorial arts will not be covered in the course of the session. It must have been a successful ruse for we never heard about the outcome. Dado seemed pretty pleased with himself but kept mum about the incident.

My other brother, Pete, was well known for his shenanigans in school. He seemed to have had a misdirected entrepreneurial bent in him that always ended up with regrettable results. One of his more famous or infamous business ventures was in the selling of garlic cloves with a margin of profit that could make Donald Trump salivate. The demand and likewise the price of garlic cloves soared up for a discovered alternative use in a niche market, not for cooking but for running up a fever which the school clinics’ thermometers can affirm. I don’t know where and how he found out that by sticking a clove of garlic in one’s anus it could raise the body temperature to fever level. At the height of this enterprise the clinic might have looked like a disaster center with sick boys on long queues.

My brothers were really terrible. I could never use incorrigibility as a reason for my failure in school. I was a child who did not mature early enough to endure the rigors of the disciplined Jesuit scholastic way. I was a child who was easily distracted by quick gratifications and prone to seek thrills no matter how senseless they were. I had the incessant curiosity and the volatile attention span of a Labrador puppy. It must have been a learning disorder of sorts.

On the day I was expelled a clerk from the administration office fetched me from the classroom. I thank the clerk for his discreet conduct of the summons but I knew that everybody in the class was on to the situation. I was not the first in our class to be summoned in that school term. They were unusually quiet for a class that had the reputation of being the worst section. My classmates were just staring at their empty desktops as I gathered my things and left. Walking the last mile in the corridor of death row with fellow convicts in commiseration, making ritual passage as it were. I was conducted to the office of Father Gough, the dean of studies. He sat there seemingly perturbed and peeved by the presence of a small boy peering in dismay through the half-opened door. It must have been a trying morning for him. He must have exceeded his quota of throwing out small boys that day and just couldn’t muster enough energy to hurl out another. I was matter-of-factly told of my expulsion. No admonitions, no wise advice and no good wishes for the future. I guess he was saying… “you are no longer ours. Begone”!

It was a long walk from the high school building to the bus shed in Aurora Boulevard. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought fleetingly, that I won’t be writing jugs for the dreaded “Garaver” (Mr. Vergara of the Registrar”s office) or doing duck walks around the quadrangle at Saturday post. No more whacks from Father Galdon’s “yantok” duster on my bare buttocks and that I never would have to undergo Mr. Dimasangal’s cruel and inhuman invention of doing computations on an uncut manila paper of a three digit number multiplied to the tenth degree. I cringed at the thought of Father Mores' sawed-off bat dropping at a measured distance to my noggin. Somehow I felt even more depressed realizing that I won’t be doing these things anymore. Teary eyed and scared of the reception at home I had fervently wished that the trek was a mile longer or that the clerk from the dean’s office would come running and say that it was Roca and not Roa. “A mistake…just a big mistake.” No miracles happened on that desolate and mournful road. Every sharp edge of gravel stabbed my burning sole and stubbed my throbbing toes. The gravelly dirt road of an early Katipunan Avenue was my “via dolorosa”. Don’t expect to have a band of angels to rescue you when you cross the Jesuits.

My childhood ended in a dusty waiting shed waiting for a rickety bus to usher me into a world that is spent of wonders and a world that is unforgiving to “ne’er do wells

Thursday, February 22, 2007

13.The Joys of Summer

Every summer, when the school term was through, my older brothers Pete and Dado and I packed our bags and went off to Plaza Lawton to catch a Saulog bus to the town of Rosario in Cavite. It was a day we had long awaited. The anticipation of spending summer vacation in my grandmother’s house in Wawa was one of the pleasures that made the last week of school seem to drag.

Mother used to give us just enough money for transportation fare. The jeepney fare to Plaza Lawton was ten centavos. The longest part of the journey was from there to the town of Rosario. It took more than an hour and the fare was thirty centavos.
The bus ride itself was a treat. Once you get past the city of Pasay the countryside begins to unfold. One of the memorable scenes was that of the “salambao”, a big widely spread net attached to long bamboo poles fitted to a bamboo raft. The big net was dipped into the water in the river delta and lifted once enough fish were held in. A good view of this may be had upon crossing the Las Pinas Bridge. Also within the town of Las Pinas you will pass through the historic church were the famous bamboo organ is housed.

About halfway to Rosario the grand mansion of General Emilio Aguinaldo, the revolutionary hero and first president of the republic, rears its imposing presence as you cross the Kawit Bridge. The prominent feature of the mansion was the balcony that rested on a statue of a half bodied carabao somewhat looking like Atlas bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. On the balcony were two brass cannons that did not look menacing enough to inspire confidence in thwarting would be invaders. The cannons were flanked by two old revolutionary standards one in red with the “KKK” lettering and the other, faded and tired looking but more contemporary.

Aguinaldo Mansion in Kawit

A bit farther you can see a series of long wash lines with white clothes and khaki pants waving as they lined up the highway from Kawit to Noveleta. The area was named “labanderos” because the dirty clothes from the US Navy in Sangley Point were being washed there.

Delfin, Jimmy, Pete, Dado & Ed
We didn’t worry about not getting enough spending money from mother. There were lots of opportunities to earn once we got to our grandmother’s place. She had a big property and fruit trees abound in it. Summer was the time when most of the fruits were in season and we earned a few pesos delivering the orchard’s produce to the barrio stores. In our barrio almost everyone could trace some familial connections with each other. Either an aunt or a cousin owned the stores and because we were the children of city relatives we always got preferential rates as it were.

From the “bayan” or the town of Salinas we had to take another ride to get us to barrio Wawa. The last leg of the journey was in a rickety “karetela”; a horse drawn carriage that had a box-like open frame that could sit six people.

It took about fifteen to twenty minutes to get to my Lola’s place depending on the disposition of the nag pulling it. The fare was five centavos per person and if we were lucky enough to hail one that was owned by one of our grandfather’s grandsons the ride was for free. Grandfather was once the town mayor and as was the custom he was often asked to be the godfather to the newborn of his political leaders and there have been quite a few.

It was only when I was seated in the “karetela” that I began to feel that summer vacation had finally come. Once out of the steamy hot bus ride and into the breezy “karetela” ride, I began to soak up the rural ambience. The rhythmic clopping of hooves on the asphalt agreed well with the sight of carabaos, nipa huts and stacks of harvested palay stalks. It was like a cross-media artwork rendered in defined and brilliant acrylic with hoof falls as leitmotif. The aroma of freshly cut rice stalks and the mingled smell of local delicacies as they simmered in pots and pans in the open kitchens on the roadside wafted in the air.

*“Eyo, do you think the “bukayo” would be ready by now?” I asked.
Eyo, who preferred to be called Roger was the adopted son of our neighbor Kaka Unti, the maker of “bukayo” and peanut brittle. One of my favorite sweets is the local confection of young coconut meat in hardened white caramel molded as lumps patted on round newspaper cutouts. What distinguished it from the usual “bukayo” were the whiteness of the gelled caramel and the softness of the coconut meat. “Bukayos” are usually dark brown in color and had a tough chewy texture.
“It has been at least two hours since my Nana started to boil the caramel. She should be forming them now on the newspaper cutouts. Let’s go and see.”
We would race across a worn trail through the trees that led to their house. When we got there the “taliase”, the big vat used in boiling the caramel was already cooled down with water and the dogs were lapping at the hardened caramel leftovers at the rim of the vat. Freshly cooked white "bukayo" had no rival in delicacy and exquisiteness in taste.

That was last year. Just remembering it made me impatient with the labored pace of the old horse pulling the “karetela”.

We would pass through the school building that was deserted except for a bent old woman who was sweeping fallen leaves at the base of the flagpole.
The barrio children would all be on vacation just like us and there weren’t too many of them playing in the street. I imagined that they would be in the “pulo”, a sandbar formed by siltation at the river mouth. In the early afternoon the islet’s surface goes above water and the children living along the shore or “aplaya” would swim through a short crossing and play there until the rising waters reclaim the sandy playground by late afternoon. It was in that short crossing that I learned to swim the summer before.

My cousin Jimmy and the other children were already on the “pulo” and they were all shouting for me to cross and join them. Kids can be cruel with their taunts. They called me names that would, in the local jargon, mean a cowardly uncircumcised boy from the city. Stung by the jeers I jumped into the water and started flailing my arms almost in panic towards the direction of the islet. It was just a mere five-meter swim but it seemed like the Pasig River. Reaching the other side was a relief, a grand feat, and an immediate acceptance by the boys in the barrio. Going back to the shore was easy. I was still flailing my arms but then no longer in panic.

Halfway to grandmother’s house we would pass by a road bend. There was a store by the wayside, a typical rural store that sold soft drinks, candies, a variety of packaged merchandise as well as fruits and vegetables. There was an old woman who would be seated or sometimes be lying down on a bamboo platform that served as a table to put the vegetables and fruits for sale on display. The wonder of it was that she would be there every time we passed the bend. Mother never failed to shout a greeting every time she passed by. We thought that this was the thing to do in these parts. We did the same and after seemingly recognizing us she shouted back an acknowledgement.

“Lola Talia….how are you!” and she would, look intently towards our direction and with a bit of time lag, shout back “hoy!”.

Perhaps she really recognized us but, then again, perhaps not. In this barrio everyone, even an eighty-year-old, dutifully observed the obligatory response to a greeting.

After the bend the karetela we would pass by Tia Luming “Dilat’s” store. Tia Luming Dilat was one of my favorite aunts in the barrio. It was her store where we brought the “kaings” of fruits that we picked from Lola’s trees for sale. Last year we did well with the “duhat” deal.

“Jimmy, stop moving so much. You’re rousing the “hantik” nest”.
Hantik” are red ants with a fiery sting. One red ant had already crept up my pants and I was having a hard time rubbing it off and keeping a hold on a thick branch of the old “duhat” tree. They were beginning to stream out of a conical nest made up of pasted and patched leaves and were moving towards where we were perched. Earlier we got ashes from our Lola’s open stove or “pugon” and placed them in paper bags. We both had two bags each that we placed in the side pockets of our shirt pants. The ashes were used to repel a “hantik” swarm. Ashes were dabbed on the branch to make the ants lose their foothold on the branch as they pass through the loose ashes on the surface of the branch. Despite the ashes we did not escape unscathed. The ants did a suicidal wave-by-wave attack through the ash-field reminiscent of the charge of the light brigade and we did not have enough ashes to stop their determined march. We could only hold them off for a while. I could remember about half a dozen stings and the most painful one was from the one who got under my pants.
We were tossing down bunches of ripe “duhat” on a net that we had propped up above ground to keep the fruit from being squashed by the fall. When we had a “kaing” filled we brought this to Tia Luming Dilat’s store. The “duhat” that we brought down was of the large variety and was very sweet. We were delighted to get three pesos and fifty centavos for the “kaing”. I got two pesos and Jimmy got a peso and fifty, after all I was a visiting relative. The money was good enough to get me through six weeks vacation in Wawa.

The added appellation “Dilat” was given to differentiate Tia Luming from another Tia Luming who also had a store similar to hers. In the barrio they would normally add to a name an apt description of the person. In most cases it was not so much to differentiate the person from another similarly named but more of a fun thing. Name-calling was never meant to be derogatory. It was accepted as innocent and good fun even by the named herself. This was typical Caviteno harmless ribbing or “buscahan”. In the case of Tia Luming Dilat it was her big round eyes that made her earn her name.

In front of her store is the barrio barbershop owned by Banong Kuba, so named because of his hunched back. A few more yards and we would be at the entrance to my Lola’s place, which was in front of Lolo Onsoy “Bungot” a close kin so called because of his crabby temperament and Hitler-like moustache.

We excitedly got off the karetela and paid our fare to the rig driver. We half expected for him to say that the ride was free after all he was godson of our Lolo. He accepted our fare and I guessed that times were not so good and he might have thought that he needed the fifteen centavos more than the sons of city folks did. Incidentally his name was Emong Kabayo or Emong the Horse. So, there...
From the gate we shouted “Lola…Lola we are here” and she would peer and wave her hand from the “banggera”, an antiquated architectural feature that protruded from the house with a sink and a counter made of wooden slats and stakes where washed dishes and glasses where placed to dry. The “banggera” is an adjunct to the kitchen but in my Lola’s house this was in an adjacent room that jutted out beside the azotea. I remember that there was another “banggera” which was curiously situated in the dining room area. The fancy plates, tureens, pitchers, stemmed glasses and other ornate serving dishes and bowls were in this “banggera” The other “banggera” that was nearer the kitchen was the working one, the other for show.

As soon as we alighted from the “karetela” we would run towards the house and scamper up the azotea stairs into the kitchen where a sumptuous merienda was already laid out in the large molave table.

She knew beforehand of our coming and had prepared our favorite rice cakes and native sweets. There would be bottles of “Bayani” a cheap local brand of fruity soft drinks and “kinaskas” or shaved ice in the drinking glasses to make the soft drink cold and refreshing, something that we needed to slake our thirst after the long hot journey. A cousin, Delfin, who grew up with Lola from the time he was a toddler was there and joined us in the table. He was the eldest son of my mother’s younger sister who lived in barrio Julugan, Tanza, the next town from Rosario. From my Lola’s house you could go to their barrio through the “bangkerohan”, the boat crossing near the river mouth that connects Wawa and Julugan.

Jimmy, the younger brother of Delfin suddenly appeared by the doorway.

“I had to wait a long time for a boat ride…the banca sprung a leak and had to be replaced…when the new banca came we had to allow some of the old folks to ride first…did you just get in?”

All these were said in one breath. He always sounded excited. It was as if everything that he had to say was a news scoop.

*All through summer last year we swam in the “pulo”. I became a good swimmer and on a dare by Jimmy we both swam across from the bank on the Julugan side to the Wawa side of the river. Although it was quite a fulfilling feat the swim was not at all pleasant. The mouth of the river was some sort of a collection point of the debris and all sorts of floating garbage of the towns that the river passed through. I itched all day after that swim. That was the last time I swam across the “bangkerohan”. Never again even if it meant not having to pay boat ride fare.
Delfin was of the same age group as my older brothers. They would have other interests that would take them to the “bayan” some evenings while I stayed behind. Jimmy was more my age. We shared the same interests, which ranged from looking for spiders to hunting birds with slingshots. His mother did not allow him to stay overnight in Wawa so everyday he had to make a round trip in the “bankerohan”.

That evening my brothers went off to the “bayan” with cousin Delfin. Jaunts like this always excluded me. I wasn’t old enough. Jimmy had already left for Julugan. I was left with my Lola the whole evening. This meant having to say the rosary and respond to litanies with Lola doing the lead role. After the prayers she would prepare supper. We would partake of a simple meal of “pinangat”, a steamed fish dish garnished with steamed whole tomatoes, onions, parsley and unripe tamarind wrapped in banana leaves. Nothing tasted better than “pinangat” dipped in fish sauce, the “Cavite espeso” type, eaten by hand with gobs of hot steamed rice from a clay pot.

A meal practice that I found quaint was “pamutat” or eating fruit or sometimes sweets in the middle of the meal, unlike dessert, which is taken at the end of meals, but as some form of mid-meal appetizer. That night the “pamutat” of choice was mango. She had lots of mango for it was in season.

*There were several mango trees in the property and the trees that had the sweetest fruit were reserved for family use. The other trees’ crops were sold to fruit merchants in a system called “pakyaw” wherein whole trees are contracted even as early as at flowering stage.
Last year Lola had three big mango trees on contract. The yield of each tree was estimated by a “tasador”, an expert in projecting the yield of fruit trees. Lola’s mango trees averaged five hundred pesos for each tree. In addition she had three santol trees contracted by the fruit merchant. Santol yield had an average of two hundred fifty pesos each. Usually out of courtesy they reserve a dozen of the finest yield of each contracted tree and gave these to the owner. It helped ensure that they would be allowed to make a bid in the next harvest.

Gilingang bato
Lola’s house was a scary place at night. Outside you could hear all sorts of nocturnal sounds coming from insects, birds at roost and leaves rustling stirred by the night breeze. Just to make sure that I stayed by her side I would ask her to tell me stories while she finished up with the dishes and other preparations for the following day. Whenever we were around she would prepare rice-based cakes “puto”and “kuchinta”, “tamales” and other sweets that she knew would be a treat for us. The preparation of the rice cakes involved the grinding of glutinous rice into a slurry. Most of the time it was cousin Delfin who worked the stone grinder.
Grinding was hard work. The stone grinder was heavy and it took a bit of effort to continuously turn the top-stone to crush the soaked rice grains. Just so I could be by her side I volunteered to do the grinding chores. I would do anything to avoid having to go to the bedroom by myself at that hour.
Her stories would be from Filipino classic literature such as Don Juan Tinoso, Ibong Adarna and from Florante at Laura. At times she would pick up stories from current radio serials like Prinsipe Amante and from movies like Siete Infantes de Lara. I have heard them before even as long two summers ago but I desperately needed to be by her side. I could not imagine having to go to the bedroom alone and lie down on the mat on the floor with the “perok-perok”, the vigil light, flickering in the altar casting all sorts of shadowy demons and other creatures of the dark-side chasing each other on the bedroom walls.
The musty smell of dank soil emanating from the “silong”, the storage basement area that was enclosed by ancient stonewalls smelled like a freshly dug grave. The macabre smell seeped through the gaps of the wooden floor planks in a draft. When it conspired with the illusions in the room it could send one to near panic.

When finally done with her chores she would fill a water basin and tell me to wash up. We would both proceed to the bedroom and I would lie down on the spread mat on the floor wrapping myself securely with the bed sheet and holding on tightly to large pillows for comfort and assurance. My Lola would kneel in front of the altar and do her final prayers for the day. Unlike the early evening prayers we were not obliged to join her in the prayers to end the day.

By about twelve o’clock midnight, amidst the rousing barks of “Tigre” one of two dogs that Lola kept, I could hear cousin Delfin’s tapping on the window and his calling out for Lola to open the door. The house could not be locked from the outside. The doors were secured from the inside by wooden bars and bolts. There was no keyhole to open the doors from the outside. Then Lola would call out “sino ka?” or who goes there? As if on cue with the call you would hear the growl of Lola’s second dog. “Sino Ka” was the name of the other dog. The dog was so named so that he would be summoned when the shout of ‘who goes there’ is made. “Tigre” was the barker while “Sino Ka” was the growler and biter, a formidable duo patrolling the house perimeter.

I could hear the animated voices of my cousin and brothers at the door. Their voices fell to a hush when Lola slid the wooden bar that barricaded the kitchen door. It was a relief to know that they were finally home. I was kept awake all the while by wild imaginings…cold fingers creeping out of the wooden slats stroking my back, bats whirring above me and the feeling of a presence by my side tugging at the bed sheet. In an instant all the ghastly creatures crept back to where they came from…disappearing in the gaps on the wooden floor, the cracks in the walls and the back of the old “aparador”. I didn’t want them to know that I was still awake. In a few minutes the sleep that eluded me for hours crept in like a veil and gently brushed my eyes to a close.

Delfin, Jimmy, Ed & Pete

Fiesta was still a week away. Mother usually sent me and my two older brothers ahead of them to help Lola in the house cleaning as well as assist in the numerous little chores and errands entailed in preparing the dishes and the native delicacies. We have done all these before in previous summers and didn’t need to be told what to do. The first thing that we attended to was the cleaning up of the yard. We raked dried leaves and cut the unsightly outgrowth of weeds and other unwanted plants within a thirty-meter radius of the house. After having burned the collection of dried leaves, twigs and other litter we would check on the “pala-pala”. The “pala-pala” is an open bamboo structure with coconut leaves as roofing, much like an oversized gazebo that provided seats and shade for guests. It had a big table at the center, also made of bamboo, which served as the buffet table. The “pala-pala” was already two years old at that time. It was first put up for the golden wedding anniversary of our Lolo and Lola. Each year after that it served as a place for entertaining guests during Fiesta time. Just a few repairs were needed to make ready the “pala-pala” for the Fiesta.

What took long was the house cleaning and in particular the cleaning of the wooden parts of the house that needed to be scraped using the raspy leaves of the “Isis” tree. The leaves of this tree were like sandpaper. We soaked this in soapy water and scrubbed on the wooden surfaces to scrape out the year’s accumulated caked dirt and bring out the natural grain, or with some wood, whiten the surface. This was done for all the molave tables in the kitchen and the dining area, all the wooden benches, some of the “tablas” or floor planks and all “pasimanos” or the wooden ledges of windows. This usually took the longest to finish because we came up with all sorts of excuses to avoid this hateful chore.

At that time a full wet market was not always available in the town. The “baraka”, or the market day was set up only during weekends and days before Fiestas, times that they can be assured of good sales. My Lola together with cousin Delfin were the ones who would go to the “bayan” and buy the necessary ingredients and other merchandise for the preparation of the dishes, pastries and other confections for the fiesta table.

They would come back with several kilos of beef and pork for the entrees. There would be “kundol” a blimp shaped gourd the rind of which was made into a crunchy sweet, “rimas” or breadfruit, made into another kind of candy, “kaong” a palm fruit soaked in syrup, “nata de coco”, gelled mold from fermented coconut water, “macapuno”, mushy coconut meat and other indigenous ingredients for native confections. These were all fascinating to me since they were not readily found in the city at that time and I could have a taste of them only then. Now, all these are available in plastic, glass and tin containers in supermarkets and groceries.

I was expecting my cousin Boy “Pikong”to arrive anytime that day. He was the son of my mother’s only brother, Tio Pikong, who was staying in Pasay then. Boy arrived at the eve of the Fiesta. He would usually join us late because his father, who was a stern disciplinarian, would not allow him to have prolonged vacations. Fine time to come when all the chores have been done. The house was spic and span with all the window ledges scrubbed white and the perimeter of the house without a wayward weed and neatly raked of dry leaves. Nevertheless, I was glad he came. My older brothers and cousin Delfin were going out almost every night and most of the time I was excluded from these trips to the bayan. On the night Boy “Pikong”arrived I was able to go with cousin Delfin and my brothers because I vehemently insisted on tagging along. He was not able to join us because we were already in the “bayan” when he arrived. I was at about my wits end with the thought of going through another evening alone with Lola. The stories of Lola were now mostly reruns and the evenings alone in the room were becoming scarier from night to night.

The night I went with them to the “bayan” lights were all aglow over the six-hectare expanse of the town plaza. The dazzling array of interspersed red and white lights was strung along the “feria” or fairgrounds. This formed a perimeter enclosing the rides, the freak shows, “Carrera ng daga”, the shooting galleries, and the booths with the ring toss and the baseball pitch to topple pins placed on top of each other. Nearer the church was the tall and imposing Ferris wheel with its gaudy lights dominating the scene. At ground level were the carousel, the caterpillar and the high swing all moving in a circular motion that added to the headiness of the “feria” atmosphere. “Wow!” This was what I have been missing all the nights before. I was completely spellbound. The atmosphere had my head swimming and I had to shake my head to get my bearings back. I realized that my companions have walked farther away from where I paused from the impact of the scene.

I caught up with them in the shooting gallery. Cousin Delfin was quite good at hunting birds and he quickly adjusted to the old BB rifle in the shooting booth and started hitting the targets one after another. He won a glazed plaster piggy bank after hitting a number of those leaden bird figures arrayed on a ledge about three meters from the counter. I was interested in going to the freak shows. I felt the contents of my pocket to find out if I can afford to pay the twenty-five centavo entrance charge. I had two pesos and eighty-five centavos, hard earned from the “kaing” of bananas that Jimmy and I brought to Tia Luming Dilat earlier in the week. My brothers and cousin were enjoying themselves at the shooting gallery. They were flirting with the lady attendant and cousin Delfin was showing off his marksmanship and was on his way to winning a second glazed plaster piggy bank. I told them that I would take a walk by the freak shows to see if there was anything worth seeing.

The freak shows were held in an enclosure that used an assortment of tarps, cloth materials, sewed patches of jute sack materials wrapped around to screen the place from the outside crowd. It was sordid looking, much like squatter shanties with all sorts of materials patched up to form the sideshow stall. The crowd drawer consisted of a big billboard that had a glamorized illustration of the freak star of the show, similar to cinema billboards, and a barker who continuously did his spiel while a blaring background music emanating from a scratchy record garbled the sound of whatever he was saying. From what I could understand of his spiel the show was a one of a kind in the Philippines and the barker kept on saying that they are about to start while eyeing how many have lined for tickets much like a barker in a jeepney terminal herding up passengers.

All the freak shows were lined up facing the old Rosario parish church. They were spaced about ten meters away from each other. There was the jungle man who ate live chickens and ground glass, a mermaid, an acrobatic show and the Siamese twins. The one that caught my fancy was the mermaid. I dug into my pocket and fished out twenty-five centavos. As if he was just waiting for me, the barker said that they will now start the show as I paid for my ticket in front of the entrance. At least a dozen spectators were lured into the show and since I was the last to come in I had to jostle to get a good view of the mermaid. The mermaid was in a small tub filled with water looking surly and was almost sneering at the hooting customers who were disappointed to see a woman whose lower body was submerged in a tub of murky water. She had a rather stiff dirtied white bra that probably hasn’t been laundered since the start of their barnstorming. Through the dirty water one could make out sewn scallops on the lower torso to pass for scales and a tail that every now and then wagged. Some of the spectators were shouting that they were hoodwinked. One could plainly see, despite the cloudiness of the water, that the fish half of the body was covered by a clothing material with patched scallops and the tail revealed seams that were ready to burst apart. Another shouted that he was expecting to see the breasts of the mermaid as depicted in the billboard outside. I, myself, had the same wishful thought. There was much grumbling going on inside the enclosure that I thought it best to leave before any real trouble started.

I didn’t feel good about losing my twenty-five centavos for a fully clothed fake mermaid. My brothers were still at the shooting gallery when I got back to them. Cousin Delfin kept on earning points to impress the lady attendant and was on to win his third glazed plaster figurine when a commotion on the other shooting gallery occurred. A customer was complaining that the rifle’s sight was tampered with and that the BB gun’s air blast was not strong enough to shoot straight. Apparently the man proved his point by shooting at the arm of the lady attendant who broke up in tears as this happened. The companions of the irate customer dragged him out of the place before the arrival of a group of mean looking burly men who were summoned by the lady attendant’s companion when the trouble started. They asked the crying attendant where the men went. After being pointed the direction where the offenders have gone the men left in hurried pursuit.

I tried my hand at the shooting gallery. Despite Cousin Delfin’s coaching I couldn’t hit any of the lead pigeons on the shelves. I adjusted my aim gave a little allowance for the weakness of the blast. As I was about to squeeze the trigger gunshots rang from the not too distant rear. I did a double take and took a second look at the rifle when my brother Dado pulled me down on the grass. Then we hastily crept and run towards the “sanga” or dry ditch that girded the town plaza. It didn’t take very long before I found myself face down on the slightly wet patch of the “sanga” together with several people who also found themselves in the ditch after the loud gunfire. You could hear running footfalls and gunshots but nobody dared look above the ditch to see what was happening on the plaza.

After five minutes of silence a few brave souls emerged from the ditch to survey the area and emerged to resume their interrupted good time. Cousin Delfin cautioned us to wait another ten minutes to be doubly sure that it was safe to come out in the open. We all agreed that it was time to go home. I speculated that the burly men were able to catch up with the group who shot at the lady attendant with the BB rifle and settled scores in the typical Caviteno way. The crowd reemerged from the length of the ditch and from the town’s side streets and soon the revelry resumed as if there was no disturbance only just a few minutes ago. We have had enough excitement for the night and took the earliest available karetela to get home.

The next morning I woke up with the sound of distant fireworks and musicians tuning up their instruments prior to taking to the streets for the morning parade to warm up the barrio for events to come later in the day. The sound of cooking preparations also filled the early morning. There were shrill and frantic sounds of pigs squealing and chicken clucking before being butchered. The staccato sound of chop boards, the hiss of simmering pots and the rhythmic sloshing of long ladles stirring “menudos” cooking in large “taliases” sounded like a Spike Jones arrangement. These together with the excited laughter of small children milling around the pots and pans waiting to sample their mothers’ cooking told you that this day was special. It was the day of the fiesta.

I was eager to tell Boy “Pikong”, who was not with us last night, of the incident at the plaza. He was still asleep. He must have had a terrible night at the grindstone while Lola kept him awake with her stories and he probably went through the imagined eerie encounters in the bedroom that I had experienced for a whole week up until last night. He must have had a rougher time than what we had encountered last night.

My parents together with two of our older brothers, the eldest and the second to the eldest and my three sisters arrived early. They had to leave Manila before sun up to avoid the start of the parade or the “caracol”, otherwise the car would be blocked from entering the barrio. There was only one road leading to the inner barrio and it was a narrow one. They would have had to leave the car in the “bayan” and walk all the way to Wawa if they were late. The driver parked the car at the curb right beside the gate. They were now walking on the trail towards the azotea with my eldest and second to the eldest brothers leading the way followed by my mother with my sisters in tow chattering excitedly on the way in. My father who lagged behind was telling the driver what to bring down from the car. He caught up with the group at the foot of the azotea. My Lola had prepared breakfast that the new arrivals wolfed down quite quickly. They left Manila without breakfast to make it before the “caracol” started and by the time they reached Wawa they were famished.

Tio Pikong and Tia Pepit with their three daughters Josie, Maureen and Grace arrived almost an hour later.

Mother asked Lola if we have behaved well and have not caused any trouble at all. Lola said that we have been very helpful in the preparations for the fiesta. Lola was a gem. No mention of my brothers’ almost nightly escapades was made. She, also, did not make any mention of the fact that most of the time we were out of sight. Jimmy and I were in the “aplaya” or playing in the sand bar, or out swimming to were the “basnigs” were moored, almost a kilometer from shore. On land, invariably, I would be in the interior of the estate looking for spiders, ripe fruits and searching for forked guava branches to make into “mangos” used as “balatik” frames.

My mother would have been incensed had she found out what I have been up to. She probably would have banned me from ever going to Wawa again if she found out that we have been swimming out into the “basnig” moorings.

After breakfast, we could now hear the marching bands playing their pieces. Bands have always been a part of grand events in Wawa. Fiesta committees would always have at least three bands playing in the “caracol” to ensure a lively and festive procession. A funeral was another event in Wawa that bands play an important part in. Every self respecting dead person must have a band in his funeral wake to regale those who will pay their last respects with a soulful rendition of the “Poet and Peasant” and a solemn “Ave Maria”. The band makes sure that everybody in town knew of one’s passing as the funeral procession wends its way from the dead man’s house to the cemetery. The family of the deceased will not be forgiven if they were remiss on providing this last request from the departed.

We all hurried towards the gate to view the procession. We could tell by the sound of the band that the procession’s lead group is near. The front of Lola’s gate was the point were the procession will make a turn and proceed to the “aplaya” where a designated “basnig” was waiting for the statue of the Virgin Mary to board and to be lashed at the head of the boat where she could be seen by all.

The lead group of the procession would have the lead band in front of them. This would be composed of the church ladies and the “manangs”. In most part of the procession these ladies would be in multilingual prayer sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in Latin and in the vernacular. This was interspersed by the loud rendition of a march by the band. Every time the band strikes up a tune those in the procession, the ladies included, would begin to begin to sway with the band’s rhythm. At the back of the church ladies group would be the “carosa” the cart bearing the Virgin Mary. The second group in the procession that was also lead by a band is composed of ordinary people. These are fisher folks and their families, US Navy families, farmers, the young people in the barrio and fiesta visitors. They are there mostly for the fun of participation. At that time it was not yet the practice to have groups in costumes either in colorful ethnic attire or as blackened “aetas” participating in the procession. Bringing up the rear is the riff-raff. This group is comprised of the town fools, the drunks, robbers, thieves, thugs and anybody who had some heinous and atrocious crime to atone for or things to be ashamed of. They all congregate here to dance away a year’s accumulation of sins.

The band leading this group is second rate . They don’t even have a majorette for fear of harassment by the unruly mob in this leg of the procession. The music they provide would be the basic “taradyin potpot” lilt, mostly percussive. Almost all of the participants are inebriated and are dancing in uninhibited fashion in beat with the band or in their own drunken rhythm or the absence of it. There were men dancing with a bottle of gin in each hand and as they swayed from left to right would take a swig at the bottle with each sway. Now and then some get literally left by the wayside as they fell stoned from too much drink. Others fall out of the procession not because of drunkenness but by a bullet or by a well-placed stab in the heart. This is a yearly occurrence. A tradition you might say. It was an occasion where retribution was made easy. Someone explained that the reason they keep on participating in these annual festivity despite the risks is that there is a feeling that at the time of the procession their sins have already been forgiven which puts them at peace with their maker. What better time to die. For those who exacted revenge on that day felt that they were being humane because their victim was in a state of grace and would surely go past heaven’s gate. Fuzzy logic, anyone? Caviteno barrio folks have their ways.
All along the road, from the bayan to the front gate of our Lola’s house would be food stalls providing free refreshments to anybody who would care to partake of the free offerings of native cakes, assorted confections and cold beverages. These food stalls were called “caridades”. Those who have volunteered this service have done it from a vow they have made to the Virgin Mary as in a “panata” for providential favors given or for favors still being asked for.

My father owned a “basnig”, a large fishing boat with outriggers. The boat was named Laura a name to match Florante, a “talakop”, a big wide-bodied boat without outriggers owned by Tio Jaime, the husband of Tia Naty, Delfin and Jimmy’s mother. The names were taken from Francisco Baltazar’s famous allegory “Florante at Laura”. Father made arrangements for the boat to be at the “aplaya” for the use of the family and some relatives for the “ligid”. “Ligid” is a fluvial celebration practiced in most fishing towns in the Philippines where fishing boats encircle the boat carrying the Virgin Mary. They went round and round the Blessed Mother’s boat amidst fireworks and band music to show fealty to the Blessed Mother for a bountiful sea-harvest and to keep the fishermen from harm all year round.

After the “ligid” the young boys in the boats would jump into the water to cap the celebration. Instinctively, I joined in. My mother thought I fell from the boat and was frantically shouting for someone to save me. Mother was not aware that I could swim. She pulled at my father’s sleeves begging him to do something. After observing me enjoying the water with the other boys he told mother to stop her hysterics. “Your son knows how to swim, it’s ok…let him swim with the other kids” he said. “Oh no…you’re not staying there a minute longer, get back into the boat this instant…we’re in deep waters…there could be sharks". I was pulled out of the water by Cocoy, my eldest brother. I could see the other boys, my friends in the “pulo” snickering, some of them were pointing in my direction and breaking into laughter. All the respect I have earned from the boys in the “pulo” now vanished for this one ignominious scene. “He’s just another Mama’s boy from Manila” they seemed to be saying as they swam towards the shore.

When we got back to the house I took a shower and dried up with a towel in the “silid”. I was taking my time for I knew that Mother would still have things to say about the morning’s “shocker”. What I didn’t want to happen was for mother to tell me to pack my bags and go home with them in the afternoon. I was looking forward to having an even more enjoyable time now that Boy “Pikong” was already here.

From the “silid” I could hear my Lola calling everyone to the dining table. It was past lunchtime. The “ligid” took longer than usual and everyone seemed tired and hungry. They didn’t need a second call to the table. I bided my time. I wanted them to get settled for lunch so that I can slide in inconspicuously in one of the long benches. “Ah, there you are. What you did this morning almost gave me a heart attack”, Mother stabbed a chicken leg for emphasis as she said this. “I thought you knew, Ma” I said sheepishly after having failed to make an unnoticed entrance. “I have been swimming since last year…in Balara…with my classmates…also during camping in the Boy Scouts…I thought you knew”. “I hope you have not been doing that here, she said. It’s different in a swimming pool…you could easily get saved…but out there in the sea or even in the river nobody could help you once you get into trouble…or get the cramps…and sharks…why, only last year the son of your Tia Siling in Sapa got maimed by a shark when he and the boatman strayed too far from the shoreline and their banca caught fire. You’ll never know when these things happen…I have a mind to have you cut short your vacation and come home with us today.” She would have gone on and on until, “I don’t think that’s possible, Ma” said Cocoy, my eldest brother. “We are already overloaded in the car…no more space, Ma”. “Alright, Kuya to the rescue… really love that guy” I thought to myself. How could you argue against a clean and succinct point like that.

The family left late that afternoon. My brothers and I stayed on for another week. Thanks to Boy “Pikong”, the rest of the summer vacation even went better than I expected. With Boy and Jim I was able to extend further my explorations of the woodlands beyond Lola’s estate.

We smoked Fighter or Gold Coin cigarettes that sold for a centavo per stick. When we ran out of our regular brands we smoked Bataan Matamis, black cigarettes stolen from Lola. We smoked while perched on a high branch of the Indian Mango tree by the cane field. I feasted on Kaka Unti’s white bukayo to my heart’s content, earned some more money selling santol and bananas to Tia Luming Dilat and gathered enough spiders to fill two matchboxes. I continued to play in the “pulo” with the barrio boys all through summer even if they seemed to regard me differently after the “ligid” incident. The taunting continued, but, no matter, I knew that I was different from them after all I was just there for the summer and they will always be in the “pulo”, their tiny strip of sand.