Dona Paz was the matriarch of the Dominguez family. She lived in a compound with four of her sons who built houses within a large enough lot to accommodate all of them. “Lola Booger” was what one of her grandsons called her. Perhaps Binggoy, the grandson had little love for his grandmother because she was always at his back, watching his every move and was quick to chastise him for the many awful things that a boy of seven was wont to do. “Binggoy!!! Come up here immediately. How many times do I have to tell you that touching canal water will make you sick!” Binggoy did not pay heed to the shrill admonition that reverberated in the narrow eskinita that was heard from the sari-sari store of Mrs. Godines near the dead end of the street up to the Chinaman’s store at the corner of Espana. He just kept on scrounging with his fingers the bottom of the small canal which served as the conduit of the effluent coming from the septic tanks of the houses that flowed towards the estero, the main sewerage artery, at the end of the street. He would often grope for coins, playing marbles and other small items of little value whose owners did not care to retrieve once dirtied by canal water. Despite the infrastructure improvements done in the city in the last half century, to this day there are parts of the city that still have these open canals as a part of the sewerage system. When his Lola threatened to come down and wring his ears he would just stand up and walk toward the next lot where his uncle lived and disappear closing the gate behind him.
Binggoy is the fourth among a brood of six of Benito and Pilaring Dominguez. Both of them worked and most of the time the kids were left by themselves and watched over by an ineffectual Lola who could only shout from her perch by the window in front of an old guava tree. There were times when the kids will be left as wards of Benito’s distant cousin, Teresa, a woman in her mid thirties, whom he hired to stay in the house until he or his wife came home from work.
Benito Dominguez was a contractor who did construction jobs for government agencies while Pilaring worked in the commissary of the US military’s supply depot, a remnant of the large agency before the war that serviced the needs of the US military bases in the entire Philippines. After the war, with liberation forces have all but left, this has been reduced to just a small warehouse near the port area of the city of Manila servicing the few US military personnel who were left behind.
A hyperactive kid, Binggoy would get himself into the most ridiculous of situations. One time he inserted his head in the square of a wooden lattice that served as the protective grill in the front window of their house. It took more than two hours before he could be extricated from this wooden vise. For a while it was a bit touchy because he was getting tired and if he relaxed the full weight of his body could bear down on his neck and possibly break it. An uncle who was home from work early that day came to his succor and sawed off the wooden grill to free his sore and bruised neck. What happened to him in the construction site of the expansion of his uncle Berting’s house was almost tragic. He got hold of one of the carpenter’s chisel and was smoothening a block of wood which was held in between his legs. As was bound to happen the chisel blade slipped and nicked the top part of his pecker. It needed stitching and so he was brought to the hospital for the emergency restoration. It didn’t heal well and it left him with a slightly crooked tip. The young boys in the neighborhood teased him for being “sungaw”, a term for a slight deformity resulting from a bad circumcision job.
Alonzo or Alon as we called him was the eldest child in the family. Aon, being the most senior was the undisputed arbiter in squabbles between siblings and exercised judgment that was not always fair and just for he occasionally would rule in favor of the prettiest of the sisters, Bunting. He actually didn’t feel obligated to be fair. Often times he would rule out of self interest and would not brook any opposition to his despotic behavior. He was a pompous and flamboyant lad who ruled over not only his siblings but also the many cousins in their compound. This was to the consternation of Buchoy, the second to the eldest who felt that it was his duty to defend the other siblings from the tyranny of their eldest brother. Buchoy was the serious one, sometimes be a bit self righteous but this was alright because he acted as a counterbalance to the excesses of Alon.
Benito’s success was at a hold. He had just completed a government project but collecting from the government was a tricky one. Even immediately after the war the corrupt institutions in the government agencies were already operating with rapacious efficiency. He stood to collect close to twenty million pesos as payment for the restoration of the water system in the city which was left in ruins by the fire bombing of Manila. What would be coming to him would be less than ten million pesos after paying off the personalities at almost all levels of the bureaucracy. A big part of the grease money was to be paid to a senator and three congressmen. Still, ten million at that time was a fabulous fortune and once collected he need not work for the rest of his natural life. He had to have a sustained effort at pressing for payments. This he did by being present at all times in the office of the waterworks authority and taking to lunch all the influential persons almost everyday and occasionally some nights out to make these bureau satraps attend to the processing of the payments. All of his brothers knew of his impending coming into money and treated him and his family with special care bordering on solicitousness.
Pilaring on the other hand was the one responsible for bringing food to the table while the waiting game was on. Her job at the commissary did not pay well but it had some advantages which chiefly had to do with being able to bring home goodies from the commissary. She was able to buy at special prices stateside goods such as Hormel ham, Spam, Hershey bars, powdered milk, K-rations (a complete soldiers meal packed in fatigue green plastic) and other items made available through the US government’s largesse.
The Dominguez’ house was just in front of ours. The narrow street made conversation between us, from our balcony to their front window at the second floor, seem like a face to face chat. All the Dominguez boys attended San Beda College while me and my brothers were in the Ateneo de Manila. The rivalry of the two schools was at its height that time. In the collegiate basketball league, the NCAA, Ateneo and San Beda were alternatingly champions in the senior division for more than six years. Their heroes were Caloy Loyzaga, the Big Difference, Loreto Carbonell, whom we swore was the dirtiest player that ever played ball. The Ateneo cage idols then were “Moro” Lorenzo in the seniors and “Chole” Gaston in the juniors league. After a ballgame between the two schools there would be jeering and taunting from our vantage perches until one party succeeded in exasperating the other, ending the ruckus by them slamming their window, or in our case, retreating into the house.
There were other Dominguez families that one could write about but the family of Benito and Pilaring stood out as one that provided more worthwhile memories because the couple typified the struggle of families during the early fifties and the picaresque nature of their sons could inspire development of interesting fictional characters.