We had been planning on doing a “last hurrah” party for our house in Loyola Heights but was not able to push through with it because it had taken a backseat to other occasions and in some days we had to postpone it in deference to my brother Pete’s delicate health condition which had made a turn for the worst in the last month.
The house in “bundok” as we all fondly refer to it was built in October of 1958, almost half a century ago. It was named “bundok” by Rico, the oldest grandson of Lolo Micoy and Lola Andeng, as it was almost at the top of a rise in the Varsity Hills subdivision. It really gave one the impression that it was perched on a hill because the surrounding lots were still vacant and it seemed to dominate the whole length of Esteban Abada Street. From the elevated lawn by the driveway you could see the lower part of the subdivision where a sparse gathering of newly built homes were sprawled. At the far distance, the dome of the Araneta Coliseum was visible from the front door of the house. Over to the left side of the panoramic view the Blue Eagle on the façade of the Ateneo gym was clearly seen.
My father had planned on building the house in a place that would be near the schools that his children attended. At that time four boys were studying at the Ateneo de Manila, our second to the eldest was in the University of the Philippines and all of our three sisters were in Maryknoll.
He had planned on this over a long time and was saving towards the building of the house. It really took long before he could finally have his dream house. The irony of it all was that when we transferred to the new house all four boys were no longer in the Ateneo, my other brother was no longer in UP and all but one of my sisters were in Maryknoll the older two having graduated a few years before.
It was during the christening of Audrey, the daughter of Lilet, the daughter of Tito, the second eldest in the family that we finally agreed on a date to hold the farewell party for the house. Lilet married a Dutchman whom she met in Singapore when she was working with some multinational companies there. The conversation at our table took the usual random course touching on almost everything and one of the things that were talked about was the completion of the sale of the Loyola Heights house by our two sisters Angge and Patty. The Loyola Heights house was their share of the properties that our parents left us. We have been planning on doing a farewell get-together but were not able to find the right timing. Things that were planned never seemed to get done. With the signing of the sale contract, there now was pressure to get the house despedida organized because the new owners would takeover as soon as all the documentations to consummate the sale were done.
The decision to have the “last hurrah” party for the house was spontaneously done during the baptism reception lunch and we agreed to do it the following day. The following day was a Saturday and so it was an auspicious time to have the party. Fortunately most of the family were free, or perhaps some had something scheduled but postponed them for this occasion.
Since there wasn’t time to prepare food the planners opted for bought food instead of home prepared dishes. After having agreed on food assignments some were tasked to bring paper plates, plastic drinking glasses and plastic utensils. We also rented chairs and tables. This was the practical thing to do since the house has been stripped of its furnishings and dining utensils some weeks ago.
What we were going to relive was the weekend reunions we had when both our parents were still alive. Sunday then, would be potluck day and a chance for the in-laws to bond while a regular mahjong quorum was started as was the order of the day every Sunday. During our younger days the post lunch activity was to drink our selves silly while the wives would exchange notes on the dishes they prepared and brought over to lunch for all to marvel at or as often is the case to do a post mortem on why the soufflé collapsed, why the fruit salad became fruit soup and why the cookies became mosaic tesserae. During these drinking sessions all sorts of harebrained business ideas would be bruited about. I remember recognizing one or two ideas that were worth pursuing but the fate of all these brilliancies was to go down the drain and be quickly forgotten as fast as we could get rid of the two bottles of scotch whiskey that were downed by four of the five brothers. Dado was the critic and not a single business idea would pass him unchallenged with matching profanities that he peppered his abrupt sentences with. Kuya was the encouraging one. I guess he was the one who kept the exchanges running. He would ride on all ideas proffered and suggest enhancements on the ideas and would come up with a plan, no matter how sketchy, to make them work. He must have attended professional brainstorming sessions where all ideas are encouraged to be expressed and built on. Pete was more introspective and deliberate. He doggedly pursued his ideas and carefully organized his arguments and was earnest in trying to convince everyone of the goodness of his idea. Tito would every now and then put in his two cents worth but on the whole would be reticent. I didn’t care too much about winning arguments but would look for opportunities to make light the seriousness of the exchanges. I recognized that these were all futile mental and vocal exercises and was no more than childish badinage.
One of the more cherished memories I have of Sundays in bundok was Kuya’s cooking. The “kare-kare” was his magnum opus. I still have to experience a “kare-kare” that could match his preparation. He makes the most exquisite “fabada” and the most mouth watering “callos”. His spaghetti did not use processed tomatoes, He painstakingly prepared fresh tomatoes mashed and thickened to perfection. This was one bundok experience which obviously cannot be relived; besides, we decided to have bought food for the occasion.
On the day of the farewell to bundok we had a good attendance. Grandchildren, nephews and nieces, sons and daughters of seven of the original eight were present with very few no-shows. Patty and her family being in Canada had no representation. The rented tables and chairs were draped with chair covers and table spreads decorated for a wedding reception. It did look a bit incongruous with casually attired people sitting on the formal setting in their shorts and tees and children running around in between and underneath the tables.
The mahjong table was quickly set up upon the arrival of Pete. We half expected Pete to come because of his failing health. There’s no stopping Pete once he had set his mind on doing something. Joey, his son was saying that his Dad was looking forward to this last mahjong session in “bundok” and was enthusiastic despite his discomfort. It was a wonder how he managed to play for more than four hours. Playing mahjong for the last time in “bundok” was something that we felt obliged to do. Pete, even in extreme difficulty had a pleased mien after having fulfilled an obligation, a homage to what was once the highland aerie of the Roas in Loyola Heights.
We had a rather simple lunch of KFC fried chicken, fresh lumpia, pork barbecue and some noodle dishes. It was an enjoyable lunch although quite far from the standard of past “bundok” lunches that featured Kuya’s offerings, occasional successful dishes of the wives and the “walang kamatayang” cake that Boots always contributed.
All through the afternoon our wives, nieces and nephews were exchanging Lolo Micoy and Lola Andeng stories while others were singing karaoke numbers and were amused with the kind of scores their singing merited. The grandchildren were exploring every nook and cranny of the house and looking for keepsakes that they can take home. There were medallions, old pictures, caricatures of Lolo and odds and ends that fascinated the boys to no end. Dustin and David were able to get some commemorative medallions of Lolo, Dustin fancied the ancient attaché case of Lolo which he asked Pedrita to dust and clean so that he could take it home. He would probably use it to store his Pokemon cards. Toby and Mark, the grandsons of Nita from the States were exploring the dark and musty rooms together with Dustin and David. David would swear that he felt something eerie when they entered the dark clothes closet at the extreme end of the house. They were getting a bit scared and excited as they tiptoed around the rooms with hands held up feeling for emanations that may cross their path. This was one great adventure which would remain memorable especially for Toby and Mark. They would be bringing back with them some shadowy memories of the old house of the great grandparents that they have never seen.
We had to finish the mahjong session earlier than usual because Pete who sat through a long four hour session was visibly tired and needed rest. This was also the cue for the party to end. As in all Filipino goodbyes everyone tarried for another two hours before the first car drove off the driveway.