Friday, November 25, 2011

Grupo58 through the years

This article was written for the Golden Jubilee of Ateneo School Class 58 Yearbook in 2008 by Lamberto Tajonera. For some reason the Yearbook was not completed and this writeup of the bygone days of youth covering this class' years at the Ateneo de Manila never saw publication. It is a very well written chronicle of the the batch's odyssey from the grade school years in Padre Faura amidst the ruins of old Ateneo, through to the high school years in the newly built school buildings in Loyola Heights in the latter part of the fifties then on to collegiate days at the turn of the decade.
After more than half a century the bonds of friendship have endured the test of time and the members have kept in touch with the regular First Friday masses at the St Thomas More chapel in the Ateneo Rockwell. After mass the group would have  fellowship lunches in one of the restaurants at the Power Plant Mall. What keeps the interaction alive is the Group e-mail which serves as a medium for announcements of vital news, significant events of members, jokes and of topics ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. 
A lot us got to know of this masterfully written piece only recently when one member requested the author to post it. I am reprinting it here because it is a pity that such a well written chronicle of our salad days which is precious to its members may just fade away unshared.


By Lamberto J.V. Tajonera, G.S. 54, H.S. 58, A.B. 62

On December 6, 2008, 100 senior Ateneo alumni went up the stage during the Homecoming and became teen-agers one last time as they sang “Those were the days” with the voice and confidence of youth. Behold, the Golden Boys of 2008.

Our story started sixty years ago, in 1948, when we were the angelic first-graders at the Ateneo Padre Faura campus playing our games amid the ruins haphazardly created by General Macarthur’s erratic young pilots in World War II.

Our story is also the story of the Ateneo Blue Eagles basketball team which reigned supreme in 1953-54, 1957-58, 1962-63 and 2008. They were champions in other years too, but let us just focus on our four milestone years: our graduation from grade school, high school, college, and last December 2008, our golden jubilee year. In those 4 basketball seasons, Grupo58 willed the Eagles to the NCAA and UAAP championships. We were the team’s inspiration. We were the school’s lucky charm. Sin duda.

In those years, Grupo58 went through four stages which we were blissfully unaware of. For sure, there were awakenings and discoveries which happened to us as individuals, as a class and as a generation. We never found the need to articulate those discoveries for the world to know.

We were enjoying our youth too much to bother with posterity. We were young, right? Leave history to the eggheads of the academic world. Living was for the young, the vibrant, the ambitious, the invincibles, the dreamers, the renaissance men, the visionaries, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

The Four Ages of Grupo58

1948-1954: The Age of Innocence: “We stand on the hill…

We started our Ateneo education in 1948 as Grade One pupils corralled into two sections, section A under Mr. Florendo Garcia and section B under Mr. Jesus Villanueva.

For the next six years of our lives we would wear khaki pants, white shirts with the “Lux in Domino” patch sewn on our left breast pockets. In our hip pockets were two important items: our rosary beads and 25 centavos which took care of our hot dog sandwich and Coke, or Clicquot Club during recess time. In October, our school uniform included the compulsory October medal.

In our innocence, we believed the Padre Faura ruins were the coolest playground for our fantasies. We fought with John Wayne in Iwo Jima before he was shot and killed. We were cowboys chasing and being chased by Cochise and a horde of Apaches. We helped Errol Flynn rout Blackbeard and his pirates. It wasn’t the ruins. It was our imagination.

We believed that Acme Supermarket was created for our comic-reading pleasure and bubble gum-chewing delight, for free. We would dash to Acme during recess, speed-read the latest Captain Marvel and Superman comics, pocket a Tootsie Roll or Double Bubble gum when the salesclerk wasn’t looking and then dash back to school and brag about our loot. Some would swap a Tootsie Roll for 5 sigays and 10 teks and 5 balimbing marbles. Some would simply sell a Roll for 5 centavos.

We believed that our schoolmates who felt Father Maximo David’s “yantok Mindoro” on their butts were the real tough guys in the Ateneo. As a badge of honor, these “toughies” would walk around massaging their butts even long after the pain had gone.

We believed that Luis “Moro” Lorenzo was the best basketball player in the world as we watched him take practice shots in the sawali-walled gym. We would look in awe as Poch Estella, Oli Orbeta, Rusty Cacho and Chole Gaston scrimmaged.

We believed everything taught us in religion class and pitied our Chinese classmates who would never go to heaven because we thought they were not Catholic.

In those days, life was simple. We saw life as either black or white, mortal sin or sanctifying grace, good or bad, angel or devil. Our eyesight was a perfect 20/20, and sharp. We believed our eyesight would never dim with age because we would be forever young.

We were also sure that the 1953-54 Blue Eagles of Tiny Literal, Bay Ballesteros and Frankie Rabat would win the NCAA championship and beat the San Beda Red Lions of Caloy Loyzaga and Loreto Carbonnel. And our guys won - because our nightly prayers and weekly masses did it. Our basic belief: Ateneo had to win or God did not love us.

Black and white. We never saw the other tones, the subtle shades of gray. After all, we were young, and young meant pure of heart. We were uncompromising. We were resolute. And by golly, we were more zealous than Saul of Tarsus. We were virtuous and innocent, euphemisms for naïve and inexperienced. So what. That was our right.

We possessed a moral certainty and smugness still unblemished, untouched and untried by the sorrows and ugliness of the real world. We were above it all. We were standing on the hill. We were the last grade school graduating class in the Padre Faura campus in 1954, and we were ready to go down, nay, to gallop and romp down the hill like Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger to combat the challenges and unknowns of our high school years. And we did.

1954-1958: The Age of Discovery: “…between the earth and sky…”

1958. It was the year we graduated from high school. That made us the last high school graduates of the Ateneo’s first century. Those four years of our lives opened our eyes to God’s most exquisitely inspired creation, girls our age. Our eyes opened wider in wonderment when we were told by our Student Counselors that we were going through a phase called puberty.

We were like Adam and Eve when they discovered --- first the apple, then each other, then the pleasurable knowledge of each other and finally, the necessity for the fig leaves. Like Adam and Eve, we never knew what puberty was. We just felt it. And many of us acted on it with alacrity and pleasure.

Our first two years in high school were spent in today’s College campus where we had a clear view of Katipunan Avenue, the Pink House, Eagle’s Nest and St. Joseph’s Hall. No buildings obstructed our view then. In our junior year, we transferred to the high school campus overlooking Marikina Valley and the rooftops of bawdy houses in Calumpang.

In our first and second years, we learned our Latin declensions and conjugations as we chanted the mantra of “a ae ae am a, ae arum is as is” and then struggled through Caesar’s Gallic battles. In junior and senior years, we went on to Cicero and even now, we still remember “Quo usque tandem abutere Catilina patientia nostra…” The more advanced guys in honors class were into Virgil’s “Arma virumque cano Trojae  We hated this dead language then, but Latin in later years helped us in logical thinking and expanded our English vocabulary.

As a part of our memory trove of those days, this is what our parents spent for our 4th year in high school (1958):
Annual tuition – P 300.00
Laboratory Fees – 40.00
Diploma Fee – 10.00
Textbook Rental – 25.00
Activities Fee – 40.00
Blue Book – 15.00
Locker Fee – 5.00
Total expenses for the year – P 435.00

Our children will be crying over their latte when they compare 435-pesos with 100,000 pesos for our grandchildren’s high school education, with no Latin.

We were between two worlds – the world of grade school child-like innocence where swiping a wad of bubble gum from Acme Supermarket was the acme of adventure, and the world of high school “sophistication” and experimentation - girls, smoking, drinking, first dance, first kiss, fake sideburns, low-waist pants, blue movies, live shows.

For teachers and mentors, we had Mr. Dimasangal and his memorable “Que mas, balasubas?” and laughed at Mr. Alinea’s Tampolano stories, and oohed at Mr. Pagsanghan’s dramatic reading of Father de la Costa’s “Jewels of the Pauper” which everybody had to memorize.

Mr. Ocampo, a.k.a. GRO, implanted in our brains his own jewels of knowledge which many of us still remember, Alzheimer’s or old age notwithstanding. We still remember GRO jewels like: easy to remember memory aid on the 11 phyla in Biology class – PP-CC-PN-AAMEC,  and M VEM J SUN P for the planets of our solar system in correct sequence, and his classic Tagalog pronunciation of the alphabet as in the rhythmic “Ka In Na, Ta In Na, Kintin,” and “Ba O, Ta E – bote.”    

We were James Dean and Sal Mineo, rebels without a cause, but rebels anyway. For that, many had to have red jackets and started to smoke. Beer was not the drink of choice. Rum-Coke was.

We felt pious and sinful at the same time. We always had an unexplained tingle in our bodies whenever we saw photos of Rita Hayworth, Kim Novak and Marilyn Monroe showing more skin than clothes. We’d go ape over Rhonda Fleming’s exposed thighs.

At night we entertained dozens of excitingly impure thoughts until our Catholic conscience made us feel guilty. We knew confession was the only way to avoid hell. So with the exception of Grupo58’s sodalists and acolytes, 95% of us confessed to either Father Eliazo or Father Pollock, and these two Jesuits, in their wisdom, always saved us from hell with a penance of three Hail Marys, no matter how often we disobeyed the sixth commandment.

The bargain-priced penance would never be enjoyed by non-Ateneans of our days, making Grupo58 a lucky bunch of habitual sinners indeed. This would go on week after week, a spiritual cycle of Passion, Death and Resurrection, sin and forgiveness, hell and heaven, impure thoughts and confession, the two beloved Jesuits and their penance of three Hail Marys and voila, salvation. Alleluia.

In the athletic world, the 1957-58 Blue Eagles, led by Bobby Littaua, Jimmy Pestano and Ed Ocampo, steamrolled all the NCAA teams and made mincemeat of the Mapua Cardinals in the final game to nail that year’s NCAA championship. We even believed that our graduation years were Ateneo’s lucky years in basketball. First it was 1954, now 1958. Our college graduation year in 1962 was sure to bring us the championship. That, we firmly believed. So, it shall be done.

If researchers were to poll Grupo58 on our happiest years, 1954 to 1958 will be it. Those were the years of firsts: our first visit to a girl’s house, our first dance with a girl who is not our sister or cousin, our first kiss, our first Saturday night outing to Marina’s and Emong’s, our first beach night party at El Faro, our first weekly Saturday afternoon visit to our favorite therapists in Misericordia and Tetuan, our first cigarette, our first bottle of beer. And yes, Rum-Coke.

Those were also the years of many lasts: the last grade school class in Padre Faura before the transfer to Loyola, the last grade school class without a grade seven, the last high school graduating class of Ateneo’s first 100 years, and the last golden jubilee class of the Ateneo’s first 150 years.

If it is true that good guys always finish last, it is also true that life always serves the best for last. Take a bow, Grupo58, because the world has not heard the last of our braggadocio.

In those happy-go-lucky high school years, we were caught between the eternal struggle of the sixth commandment against our raging hormones, between boyhood and manhood, between the sublime and the ridiculous, between Don Quixote’s mud below and the unreachable star up above. We stood tall, between the earth and sky.

1958-1962: The Age of Exploration: “…cast your shadow below, swoop down on the foe, and sweep up the field away…”

Our college years separated the men from the boys, the jokers from the scholars, the jocks from the geeks, the lover boys from the altar boys.

But all were one in this goal: finish college, please our parents and start our real lives. Patience was not a desirable virtue. We were in a hurry to challenge the world on its terms. We were getting ready for that battle. Matira ang matibay.

Like business institutions and icons, Grupo58 was always on the verge of many things. We were on the threshold of manhood. Our voices were now deeper. We were getting more confident. We were feeling wiser and smarter.

With a lot of philosophy theorems, knowledge of many stuff and plain ingenuity, we were testing our powers, with mixed results.

Our college years were the best years for experimentation. And we had the cojones to just do it.

Thus the audacious final exam leakage project in 1962 was conceived and implemented successfully. The guys who got the leaked tests aced their written exams and had all the time to prepare for their more difficult Philosophy orals.

Thus our logic and eloquence would almost seduce a handful of the pretty but pleasantly naive colegialas, but only for bragging rights.

Thus the 1961-62 Blue Eagles, led by our classmates Dodo Martelino and Boogie Pamintuan brought home the NCAA championship. We expected the championship that year. We clearly saw it in the stars. We never doubted that. We inspired the Blue Eagles to the heights of college basketball. We felt we were ready for the world. We were unafraid. We were invincible. Yes?

1962 Onwards: The Age of Contentment: “…our course is run, and the setting sun ends Ateneo’s day…”

“Down from the hill, down to the world go I…”  And so in 1962 we bade each other adieu and went our separate ways, following our own drummer and seeking our fortune. We would be lawyers, doctors, actors, advertising people, business executives, government officials, soap and drug salesmen, teachers and professors, hacienderos, politicians, bankers and for the most part, lovers, husbands and fathers.

Raising a family and building a career in those post-1962 years ate up a lot of our time and energy. Both demanded more from us. It was growth in a human sense. We juggled the demands of both, hoping we would achieve an optimal balance between home and the office. Success or failure would be felt later, in our twilight years when we look back at years past, either fondly or sadly.

Many will recognize and accept their levels of contentment in their twilight years. Some would still search for something better, and sadly, would settle for less in the end. Such is life. Such is the world. Ayun yon e.

 “…remembering still how the bright blue eagles fly…” The values and principles deeply breathed into our souls would be our constant guide as we went through life.

We would often reach a point when we had to choose between the honorable and the gross. Sometimes we chose right. Sometimes we rationalized. For sure, we know that the bright blue eagles of our values and principles will always be up there somewhere, reminding us, reminding us, reminding us.

“…win or lose, it’s the school we choose, this is the place where we belong.” No matter what choices we made, how life turned out for us, we knew we would have no regrets. When family is gone, leaving an empty nest, and when the business is now in the hands of someone else, we know we still have one place of refuge - our alma mater.

Our memories of classmates are embedded in our school’s walls and corridors.

Last December 6, 2008, with the pleasant memory of the Blue Eagles thrashing La Salle in the 2008 UAAP finals, we returned to the place where we belong and hungrily sought the company of school chums to laugh, chat and shamelessly embellish stories about those carefree days. Reminiscing is simply priceless. Those moments will always be our golden memories. And on that Jubilee Night, before the other alumni, Grupo58 lustily sang: Those were the days, my friend, we thought would never end…”

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