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.


George Aquino said...

Dear Mr. Roa,

I found your blog when I was searching for information about the "pink house" in Loyola for my travel blog, Just like yourself, I'm an Atenean and a Loyola Heights kid. I left Manila in 1980 for the States. One of my biggest regrets in life is not graduating with my HS batchmates. It's hard to explain unless you're an Atenean (since Prep) and have also gone through the experience of leaving early - as you have - switching to FEU. I want to thank you for your entries for they have brought me back to my childhood days in the Philippines. I've been meaning to start another blog about growing up and your blog could be the fuel to get me going. Maraming salamat, po. Animo Ateneo! George Aquino

wayfarer said...

Dear George,
Thanks for visiting my blogspot. I'm glad my post about Loyola Heights brought back fond childhood memories.
Writing about one's youth is always an enjoyable experience.