Monday, August 29, 2011

Quiet and Simple Pleasures of my Youth

As a scrawny kid growing up in a small city made smaller by my inborn proclivity for keeping much to myself, memories of things that happened are easily remembered. One reason maybe is that because there were not that many memories to be remembered or forgotten.

It may be for this reason that certain memorable events in childhood are keenly remembered and recalled. The following is one such series of events.

During elementary grades and early high school, which would be in the early 50’s, I was wont to take extended visits with my cousin who was an only child. His doting mother was the elder sister of my father. Her family had at one time been next-door neighbors of ours in the old poblacion.

The family had moved to a much nicer and bigger house in a nearby suburb called Lapasan. It was only several kilometers from our house, but it might as well have been in a different town because of its stark contrast with the city life that we were all used to. For one, it had no electricity. One had to purchase a generator if one wanted the place electrified. Neighbors were some distance away, though still visible from the house.

Since I was closest to the age of my cousin among my siblings, I had the unchallenged privilege of getting invited to stay with them for extended periods – like weeks and months. During school, I went to school with my cousin since we went to the same school anyway.

I had many brothers and sisters so my protracted absences were hardly felt and my trips were never an issue at a large household already fractured by an absentee father. Though in hindsight, I often wondered why I was never asked whether I preferred staying home or staying with the relatives. In those days, my aunt invited and things pretty much happened as she wished. Though there were times I pined for the many familiarities I enjoyed in my own house – the different sights and sounds of a city that could be witnessed just outside our doors and windows. And at times I longed essentially for the freedom to do as I pleased. To a quiet introverted loner like me that was a big thing.

Anyway, whatever my aunt said, went. Her only son longed for companionship or a playmate, and I was it. I suspect that one of the moving reasons why my aunt chose me was maybe because I was very easy to get along with and I never refused her biddings.

One chore I had to suffer through with her was her fondness for the game of Chinese checkers and regular checkers. So like clockwork, some time in the morning after a hearty breakfast, she would repair to her spacious room and call for me. I would typically catch her sitting by her bed, arranging the game’s pieces on a tiny plastic board that had holes in them. And we would match up for many minutes, just the two of us; which times seemed interminable for an antsy kid like me who not only was not keen on the game but could not muster the longer attention span that adults had. So I always lost and this made my aunt visibly gleeful egging herself to play even more. At other days, we tried the regular checkers, again sitting on her bed and using another tiny plastic board with odd pieces that had different shapes – like wild animals, fishes, etc.

But somehow I survived through all of it, none the worse for wear. And I bet you maybe because albeit all this, my aunt was quite generous and likeable to me. She was terribly fond of movies; she went with us kids in tow most times new programs were showing in the local theatres. And she liked to eat well, so we always had delectable meals of chicken, pork, sea food, etc. Only occasional servings of vegetables. So definitely I got bigger and better portions than I would have gotten at home where nine kids vied for the finite amount of food set at our table.

So under this very personally beneficent environment, I and my brothers could not interpose any serious objection to what my aunt would bid us to do. Play with her son? No problem. Run errands? Okay. Take some abuse from sometimes spoiled cousin? (Chuckles) Hey, we can stand it. What about hard-massaging the feet and thick thighs of uncle as he took his regular siesta after lunch? Grudgingly, we did as told. And this last challenge which happened when we were still next-door neighbors we submit was no run in the park. He was a large person and we had to be at it until he had fallen asleep. And all this under the watchful eye of my aunt who lay beside him reading her magazines.

Anyhow, at some point during one of my extended stays with my cousin, a relative of my uncle from Bohol also came to live with us in that very spacious house. He was being assigned as the superintendent of the local trade school which was located not far from my aunt’s house. His living quarters at the school were being prepared for him and his expected family. And he was to be the first superintendent of that school, which was quite a unique distinction.

He was a very kindly and amiable person with very genteel manners. He always had on a genuine smile and a very soothing tone of voice. Qualities we associated then with the people coming from Bohol.

Unlike my uncle, he was very friendly with us kids, spending time talking and listening to us. That’s probably why he was an educator. There must have been some instant liking developed between the two of us, because the next thing I can recall is me preparing for a trip with him to his hometown of Tagbilaran. All of a sudden I am in a rush gathering the few clothes I had, my wooden clogs (bakya) included, and a few personal hygiene stuff like a toothbrush. But where to put all of it?

Did I decide to use an old heavy leather satchel bag that was sitting at home or did I decide to dump them inside an empty milk carton box? If the latter would it have been an Alpine or Carnation box? Maybe Carnation since they made sturdier and thicker boxes which were somehow treated to protect them from water damage.

I can’t tell which one I used for this trip since all I can recall is that on one boat trip I took the satchel bag and on another an empty milk carton box, the latter making dull sounds when lifted or carried if one had the wooden clogs packed inside.

The boat ride was an overnight trip from the local pier to the town of Jagna, then a quick bus trip to Tagbilaran.

I remember arriving at an old but comfortable and airy house, being welcomed animatedly by my traveling companion’s equally amiable wife and his 2 kids, the elder a boy and the younger a girl. I easily recall the most prominent piece of furniture in the house as a piano. Both kids played on it.

I was billeted by myself in one upstairs room with big windows. But can’t recall much beyond that.

But I do recall with relative ease that they had brought me to a marketplace where I was treated to a cool milkshake that I believe went by the name of mais con yielo. I must have had it more than once during that trip since the recall is quite vivid.

I must have been pre-teen when all this reckoning transpired, but beyond the above nothing much is left in memory, except for that kindly man who brought me to his place, showered me with his and his family’s hospitality, and being treated to a tasty mais con yielo which acquired taste has stayed with me to this day.

Of such were the quiet and simple pleasures of my youth!