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.

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