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Archive for January, 2018

The Family Home

For twenty-five years or so, it was what I called “home” – the place where I grew up with my siblings, the place I returned to after college and dormitory life in UP Los Banos. It holds bittersweet memories of the past. And perhaps, as anyone talking about her ancestral house or hometown can get, I get a bit nostalgic writing about my childhood home. Maybe partly because of the controversy and family quarrels that were connected with the property that I rarely speak about it now. Still, many of my memories took place in that residence located at the dead end of a main road.

 

The Yard and Driveway

 

A good 400 square meters, it was a considerably large piece of real estate. There was an open frontage and a covered garage which could accommodate several cars of guests and relatives whenever we have a party. Remnants of an old basketball goal still hung on one fence-wall, reminiscent of a time when my uncles and cousins would even play basketball in the front lawn. Later on, in the early eighties, the yard became quite a storage area for my architect brother’s Vigan tiles business.

 

Given the large space, my Mom even had the luxury of a small garden once – complete with Bermuda grass, a few ornamentals like daisies, santan and sampaguita plants plus a small pine tree. But it was difficult to have decent landscaping though, with dogs and children always running around. There was a time when kalamansi and tomato plants were also cultivated in the garden. But these suffered the same fate as the flowers, since we kids always ended up picking at the fruits long before they were ever ripe enough.

 

I was told that in the late 60s, when my parents and older siblings first moved in, the front was merely dirt so that everytime it rained hard and it would flood, it got pretty muddy. Having too much dirt around also made it too dusty in the summer and was hell for our pet dogs whose ticks and fleas seemed to thrive in the dirt. After my Mom’s initial fascination with gardening, my Dad had the area cemented and it was by far the best decision they made. Besides making for better parking, my cousins and I could now ride our bikes, rollerskates and skateboards on the extended driveway. We got to play badminton, dodgeball and volleyball because the frontage was big enough to serve as a mini-court. Occasionally, we played piko, agawan-base, patintero (or its variation “running-on-the-line”) along the segmented lines which were actually mini-canals for rainwater run-offs. And no, taguan was not played much because the wide, open playing ground did not have proper hiding places for us except when there were parked cars.

 

The Main House

 

We actually lived in a “family compound” and my cousins and I grew up much like the Kennedys at Hyannis Port. My family and I lived in the main house at the front, while my other relatives occupied the three apartment doors and the expanded driver’s quarters at the rear. There were seven kids in my family and when an uncle moved out of one of the apartments, my two older brothers moved into it. My parents extended the house to get a bigger master’s bedroom with the adjoining room serving as a nursery for us three youngest kids. My two older sisters stayed in the other bedroom right above the living room, while the maids got the one with a dressing room opening to the upstairs bathroom. I believe this large room was originally intended as the master’s bedroom by my engineer uncle who designed the house. Since he and his wife only had one child, they probably never had a need for extensions of other rooms.

 

Another reason for the constant renovations was because my Dad really needed a workspace. He established an airconditioned law office beside our library cum study area. For a while, this served as a dress shop when my Mom had a small tailoring business. Eventually, that downstairs room had more use for our numerous books. Wall-to-wall bookshelves contained my father’s law books and legal journals, four sets of encyclopedia – two for general knowledge, one on basic science, and an actual medical encyclopedia. Schoolbooks ranging from high school biology, literature, and algebra to college textbooks on accounting, engineering, and nursing abound. There were also books on Gregg’s stenography, Spanish language books, and the Life and Works of Jose Rizal, as well as other Filipiniana materials. For leisure reading, there were classic hardbound books for the youth, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, “Robinson Crusoe”, “Swiss Family Robinson”, several Nancy Drew and Bobsie Twins volumes, the original “Little Black Sambo”, an O’Henry short story collection, as well as an anthology on Greek Mythology. One summer, after my younger sister and I finished running through all the John and Mary, and Ramon and Nena elementary reading textbooks, I started flipping through the encyclopedia. That earned me advance study points when regular classes started since I was already familiar with world history, geography and English literature.

 

Since Dad’s office was the only room with an airconditioner, it was also the place they held mini-movie showings for the adults during parties. This was way before the era of Betamax or VHS. An uncle with an 8mm film projector would play scenes of Vivian Velez dancing seductively for a veteran politician from the North. How do I know this? It was because my cousins would carry me on their shoulders so that I could peep over the windows and tell them what the oldies were watching. Many a time were we caught and I was left dangling on the window sill as my cousins all scampered away, leaving me to my doom.

 

Meanwhile, the centerpiece of our living room area was the original German-made Weinstein piano where almost all of us kids “served time” at some point or another. Not even the boys were spared, since my brothers were also forced to take piano lessons in their younger years. However, it was somehow expected that the females would continue taking lessons and playing until way into their high school days. Like all kids, I detested these compulsory practice sessions and weekly lessons with grumpy piano teachers. Only later would I appreciate the advantage of knowing how to play at least one musical instrument in my lifetime.

 

Fishpond

 

Another feature of our home I fondly remember was our fishpond. It was quite special for having been both an outdoor and an indoor facet. It can be seen from our garage, but is part of our living room design as well. It had a connecting tunnel and pipes which my Dad would open so that the flowing waters would make for a miniature waterfall every time we had parties.

 

This was before kois and carps became the trend in pet-keeping, so my Mom kept some catfish in the pond instead. In my tender age, I considered these catfish as pets and even got mad at Manong Butch’s Beta Kappa frat brothers for puking into the pond when they got very drunk, thus killing all the poor catfish by alcoholic muck. I didn’t realize until later that my Mom would harvest her catfish once in a while whenever the family had a craving for grilled catfish.

 

That fishpond was the scene of many a childhood accident, too. Although its circumference was quite narrow, it was 3 ft. deep and quite dangerous for unattended toddlers. A few cousins actually fell in and got rescued a couple of times. My Dad came out of his office one day to discover Manong Vincent’s young feet waving in the air while half his body was under water. An aunt also had the misfortune of falling in herself after trying to save my younger cousin. Occasionally, a maid would somehow fall in as well – how or why is still a wonder to us even now.

 

My parents eventually decided the fishpond was too much of an attractive nuisance and had in filled in sometime in the late 70s. It then became a sandbox of sorts for us kids, where we can sit around in a circle and play with our miniature action figures, Matchbox cars or other beach paraphernalia. In the 80s, my Mom and our maids would fill up the pond with potted plants, including its cracks and crevices, and make it like a rock garden of sorts.

 

Parties

 

Suffice it to say that I greatly appreciated the extra space that we had whenever we had parties. I remember there were quite a lot in those days because my family loved entertaining guests. There would be the annual clan reunions with my Dad’s side, and with his 10 other siblings and their respective children, plus his cousins from my grandmother’s own siblings, our place was always filled to the brim. These occasions were opportunities to show off one’s culinary skills, and each family was required to bring a favored dish as potluck. Specialties would include molo soup, embotido, kare-kare, kilawin or kalderetang kambing, and pork barbeque. These family gatherings would start at lunch and finish after dinner. In between, there would be at least two mahjong tables set up, some drinking, and kids running about or playing.

 

My parents were also members of the Lions’ Club, and when both of them were officers, club meetings would also be regularly held at our house. A spillover from this social connection would be the fact that my older sisters became members of the “Leos”, along with the children of fellow Lions and Lionesses. Thus, Ate Annette and Ate Marie would get together at home with the Santillan sisters (Sonia, Alma, and Mercy) and the Cruz brothers (Dennis and Bobot). And with Manong Butch as president of his college fraternity, his frat brothers would also drop by on occasion. And this being the era of “martial law” and “the curfew”, not a few of them would crash at our place when caught at the late hour. I especially remember that one guy named Minel with a curly Afro and motorcycle.

 

These teenage parties would continue until Giselle and I were also in college, and our Upsilonian brods and Sigma Deltan sisses would be our regular guests. These friends would mostly be from the South, if not from Laguna itself, and quite a few overnight parties were held in our time.

 

The White Lady

 

I have to be honest with you – my childhood home also had a resident ghost. Even while the whole compound was still under construction, carpenters were said to have seen a white lady in the grounds. She was usually seen traversing our long driveway up to the gate. One time my grandfather who often lounged in his butaka at the rear of the compound, thought it was my Mom leaving the house in her nightgown and got mad thinking she left us young kids all alone in the house. But peering inside the main house through the screen door, he discovered my Mom quietly having dinner with us and our yayas.

 

Our security guard and drivers were also known to have sightings of a shadowy figure with long hair and a long, flowing dress. A young Manong Richie was playing with his toy cars one afternoon when he ran screaming about a lady that suddenly appeared in front of him. I, myself, would have an encounter of my own, when one early summer evening when I was riding my bicycle I saw a silhouette of a long-haired woman facing me as my bike moved towards her. I blinked several times as the wheels kept bringing me closer to the dark figure, seconds seemed like minutes, until she disappeared just as I screeched to a halt. I fell from my bike, left it there and ran for my sisters and cousin who were in the garage. They saw my stricken face and asked what was wrong, but I couldn’t speak until I reached the front door and shrieked that I had seen a ghost.

 

Was the White Lady ever seen inside? Well, yes; my aunt (the same one who fell into the fishpond) once saw a dark figure sitting on their bed as she made my infant cousin some milk. Members of my grandmother’s household reported seeing the tail-end of a white, billowy nightgown going up their stairs. Years later, a tenant who rented an apartment door after some relatives had moved out of the compound, saw a smoky figure of a lady move from their toilet and up their stairs.

 

Floods

 

Let me just say that the rainy season played quite a significant role in my childhood home. Besides located at a dead-end, our property ran the length of a small creek on the side and which over the years became increasingly populated by urban poor/informal settlers or what we then called “squatters”. Heavy rains and typhoons meant regular floods which plagued us for years. Ate Annette told me, they use to ride salbabidas or tire interiors which serve as lifesavers and play in the floods when they were kids. Of course, the waters then were just muddy and not as dirty with assorted garbage and human waste as they became during my time.

 

Those annual floods became a great equalizer between us and our not-so-well-off neighbors. As soon as the creek level rose from the water run-offs all the way from Marikina, we all scampered to save our worldly possessions from damage. There were times when we heard of people getting swept away and drowning.

 

But so far, the worse my family ever experienced was a fence wall falling in during a strong typhoon. The sudden surge of high water almost swept away an uncle and some of our maids trying to help out another uncle’s family cope with the rains. The artificial wave caused by the crashing wall rushed into our house, breaking our glass windows. Since the waters came up so high, we were not able save some of our things from getting waterlogged. As such, the greatest damage came from our library cum study hall, and my Dad’s office. We spent days drying out the various books and encyclopedia which were worth saving.

 

Every year, we learned to open our gates just in time to move our cars to higher ground. That meant parking them a few feet away on an elevated portion of the street as our dead-end area became a swirling body of creek water. Of course, opening the gates meant some of our stuff floated out unto the street because they can’t be tied down. These included my Dad’s favorite driftwood couch, his liquor bar, and my older siblings’ ping-pong table. Each time, we retrieved these things one by one as honest neighbors pointed them out. But one year, our ping-pong table mysteriously never reappeared. We figured it probably served as a new wall for one of our less-privileged neighbors’ homes.

 

* * * *

Today, my childhood home has given way to both progress and penury. Around it still teem “urban dwellers”, but a bridge that would connect Kamias to Cubao in just seconds has been built in the recent years. And while some relatives still reside in the compound, the main house has since been vacated by my immediate family. In its advanced state of dilapidation, it should already be condemned, but my other relatives have strangely decided to “sit on it” after many years of legal battles. During the last great flood which was Ondoy, the creek waters rose to such dangerous levels that reached the second floor windows of the compound. I heard many make-shift houses there were in actual danger of being swept away too. I was told our old fence wall is also said to be teetering on its foundations.

 

Hence, all that is left now are childhood memories of a once grand place. Drive by once, and see the old house under the bridge. It is said a white lady peeks out from behind one of the windows of the main house.