Reminiscence

POSTED: Sunday, September 1st, 2013

By LAURA ACEVEDA MALIWANAG

Let me turn the hands of time when I was still 10 years old. The year was 1936. We were seven in the family – four girls and three boys. Mother died when I was barely eight years old.

I vividly remembered our house which was nestled in a 1,000 square meter lot owned by my father and mother. It was situated in the town of Baco (now old Baco), in the Province of Oriental Mindoro. Ours was a big house made of strong material and of nipa thatches and with floorings of seasoned stripped bamboo. It had a bedroom, a large living room, a large dining hall, a long table good for 25 people, a balcony, a kitchen and a batalan. Amid our house by the window, for passersby to see, was attached a board frame wherein were printed in bold letters: RUSTICO G. D. MALIWANAG – Notario Publico. That name belonged to my father.

The balcony was screened by long-tailed non-flowering orchids (sangumay) which the Mangyans brought from the mountain as “regalo” to my father. Here at this balcony, Father received his numerous visitors who were politicians and townsfolk who came for assistance and consultation. When these folks were beset by the land problems, Father would lend them a helping hand and accompany them to Calapan, the Provincial Capital.

At the corner of the house by the gate stood a big duhat tree always laden with fruits during the month of May, while a few distance from the gate just along the pathway leading to the balcony, stood an avocado tree where our cocks and hens perched by night time. Passing thru the backyard, one could see four (4) towering coconut trees all laden with fruits, forming a boundary from other lot owners.

Our lot was fenced by stripped bamboos alongside and sturdy kakawati trees. Inside our garden lot could be found fruit-laden guyabano trees, matured cassava plants with big tubers ready for harvest, flowering paraiso trees, Santa Ana flowers, fruit bearing atis shrubs and tuba (medicinal plants). We had also one coconut tree (adjawan) near our batalan. When we took fancy to the young coconut fruits, we used only a long bamboo pole by striking the fruits from the kitchen window.

Not far from our house, a banglin (rice bin) was erected where Father stored it with about a hundred cavanes of palay for our consumption. At the banglin, unripe bananas were also placed with the leaves of the madre cacao. The leaves of kakawati (madre cacao) enhanced the ripening of the fruits.

Come good or bad weather, our house was open to visitors. When the town was visited by strong typhoons, our house was a refuge to many townsfolk who flocked there till the storm abated, and during the town fiesta which was at the end of November. Father was always a host to musikeros (hired music band from Batangas) and the barrio folks who come to town to attend the fiesta. Since fiestas are held once a year, Father made a grand preparation to make it memorable. Our visitors breakfasted, dined and slept at our house. Father saw to it that there was food for everyone.

As a child, I loved to watch people prepared food at our house. Looking from the window of our dining hall, I could see men kept busy in their tasks. I could see them at work in our yard, cooking tulyasi of sotanghon. Apritada, adobo, and adding fuel to a can of boiling suman, while others busied themselves butchering a large pig. Some women could be found slicing onions, others shelling garlic and shrimps. In a small table nearby were cans of red pepper pimiento and gisantes, bottles of toyo and other condiments used in cooking. While not far from the small table was a stool where a woman busied herself pounding pimiento. Some were busy grilling liver and pig’s tail over the glowing charcoal. Yes, I loved to watch them in their chore, but a great deal of smoke rose to my direction so I had to retreat and join the other children follow the town band.

A week before the fiesta, palanyags (merchants with stores from Calapan) erected their improvised stores at the town proper. To give a more festive look, street corners were lighted with Culman lamps. Dolls for children, shirts, shoes, dresses, utensils and china and silverwares were all in display. Crowds flocked to these stores to buy their wares. Three days after the fiesta, they would pack up and look for another town that would celebrate another fiesta. On feasts days, I participated in the shooting gallery of lead horses where candies were given away as winning prizes. There was also a game where white mice and numbered homes were used. I usually ended up a loser. Those who won usually received pitchers, others dozens of plates while others a half dozen of glasses.

The month of May meant happiness to all of us children. During this month, my younger sister and I would participate in the Santacruzan. Nightly, we would join the procession around the town and dance at the kubol with the Reyna Elena as our head. We processioned from the town of Baco to Pambisan and to another place, Malaylay, each of us with a lighted candle. A local musical band tailed behind. We sung to our heart’s delight, amid the explosion of firecrackers as we went along.

In the wee ours of the night, we could smell the scent of dama de noche abundantly planted along the way. I would snatch some dama de noche flowers and placed them inside my basket. My sister and I had beautifully decorated baskets. Very early in the morning, in the preparation for the Santacruzan, we would pick flowers by the roadside – baligtaran, sweet rosal flowers from Tabon-Tabon and bougainvilleas from the garden of Tia Mary. We would place them inside the baskets and prepare them for the night’s dance. As a child, I was already plump and I could hear some remarks were directed to me and so I had to stretch my waist a little sidewise notwithstanding that that was painstaking effort for me. We also had banners for the Santacruzan.

The height of the affair was at the end of May. A caracol, water procession by the boat, was held. All participants including the Reyna Elena, and young men and women of the town and other folks joined in the celebration. There was splashing of water and it was a half-day affair. Everybody went home tired but happy.

Another thing I loved to do was to watch the pipit (small birds) perched at our guyabano trees. When dusk fell, I watched them where they intend to sleep. When I sensed that they were already asleep, I brought along a kerosene lamp and cautiously caught them.

A Geko crowed nearby – “Toko, Toko”. When Father is out of town, I would know if he would come home for dinner or not by the cocking of the Toko. I would listen carefully and count – “coming, not coming, coming –“I always believed what the Geko meant”.

Being young ones, my younger sister and I and sometimes my elder sister took turns in fetching water from the nearby pump. With a bamboo pole used as our window opener, we would insert the pole to the cord attached to the can of water, lift the load which was equidistant to each other and place each end of the pole over our shoulder. We saw to it that the big jar (tapayan) at our batalan and that of the other containers were all filled to last for the day.

Since our place is quite remote, Father would always buy fruits by the crates. I remembered he would buy us crates of oranges from the batels docked at our shore from Isla Verde, an island nearby. He would also buy us pakaskas (made from concentrated sweet buri sap) from Isla Verde. There were also crates of sweet mangoes from Lubang Island and atis fruits. When relatives from Batangas arrived, they brought along with them large pots of sinaing na tulingan that could preserved for even a month’s time and also large pakwans. During Christmas, Father saw to it that we had always a leg of ham and a Keso de Bola. Noche Buena and Media Noche were always observed in the house.

For our pet, I remembered my elder brother having a horse. Brother rode on it every time he went to our coconut plantation. He kept it clean and scrubbed. There was a time when he found a swarm of bees that built its beehive by a sloping coconut tree. Armed with a mosquito net and by building a fire near the coconut tree, he was able to drive the swarm of bees from its house. We were overjoyed when he arrived with a big can of wild, pure honey.

We had another pet, a dog named Brownie. She used to accompany us when the family would go to the plantation. Unfortunately, this dog was struck by a crocodile while swimming across the river as she tagged along our boat.

At home I was the errand girl. Every Sunday I would hike to a meat store of Nanay Ilyang at Malaylay, two kilometers away from our house and get the pork Father had ordered. I remembered also buying a cupful of bagoong sauce from Aling Dama’s sari-sari store. All the way home I would dip my finger into the cup, lick my finger, and upon reaching home, it was no longer a cupful of sauce; as an alibi, all I could remark was that the seller was so stingy with her sale.

On moonlight nights, I would join the other children in the tug-of-war and in a game of hide and seek. We often hid ourselves under the house of a neighbor. As a child, I think I had already played all sorts of games, like piko, luksong tinik, luksong lubid, tatsing, hipanan ng lastiko, tirador, dawit, saggam, korocotok and flying kite. On moonlight nights also we trapped sand crabs. We dug large hole in the sand, put a big open can inside it and sprinkled the sand from the hole to the water with grain husk. After a while, the sand crabs would emerge from their hideout and following the trail of the grain husk end up by being trapped inside the can.

Being near the seashore, my sisters and I used to wake up very early, sometimes as early as 4:30 in the morning to enable us to join some fortune hunters. In a squatting position and with small sticks, we would scratch the sand working horizontally and sought treasures like medals, century coins and crucifixes that were dashed by the waves to the shore. These relics were said to have come from the sunken ships and vessels caused by stormy weather and dashed by the waves to our shore. One morning, the populace woke up to see a big tortoise adrift by our shore. The people of the town were in the festive mood. When the tortoise was about to be killed, big tears welled from its eyes. The people partook of the meat and the hundred soft delicious eggs found inside its womb.

Since Father was often busy with his clients, we took fun in taking a bath in the river most often. We used to start at 8:00 A.M. and emerged from the river at 2:00 P.M., dirty, sun-tanned and of course, very hungry. I also remembered being a pinball girl in the bowling alley of our town. Father didn’t know about this but I took it for fun. I didn’t know if I was paid or not for this but all I could remember was that I arranged the bowling pins and got excited whenever there was a spare or a strike. Father, realizing that he was neglecting his duties towards his children, remarried.

Now our town, the Old Baco, which once bustled with activities and contained about a hundred houses with a municipal building, complete elementary schools, church, plaza, artesian well, bowling alley, is no longer there. These town landmarks including our house and lot were washed out by the raging sea. They were no longer in existence. What remains of the town are nipa palms and coconut trees that could be seen along the seashore, and of course memories. When the municipality vanished, another town proper (the New Baco) was transferred to the interior part of the locality.

Soon, Father had a two-storey house constructed in the newly-created town which was good vantage of Mt. Halcon. The Climate here is cold and invigorating. The town is so situated along the National Highway and is provided with electricity. It has a beautiful municipal building, a municipal hall, a concrete road, an elementary school with home economics building, a town plaza, a market, a basketball court and a secondary high school run by Father Tonkil, a German philanthropic priest.

Yearly, Father would celebrate his birthday with a party. He would always invite the town mayor Mr. Gaudencio Zulueta, and all local officials, the town’s priest and the school teachers of our town. That affair was also attended by his close relatives, children and grandchildren. Me, though I work in Manila, I see to it that I was always present on his birthday.

Father died two years ago. When he died, he was a well-loved and remembered by the people of Baco. From our residence, his body was transferred to the Municipal hall of the town. He was accorded a military burial with a Filipino flag draped over his casket. To honor him, the town’s flag was on half mast for the whole month of February, 1980. To the people of Baco, Father was no ordinary citizen. They were only paying their homage and respect to the man who had served them as Municipal Mayor during the Japanese occupation.

Father did a dual role during the period. He was not only the Mayor of the Kalibapi Government (Mayor ng Taga – Labas) but was also the Mayor of the Guerilla (Mayor ng Taga – Loob). It was Col. Florencio Medina, another beloved son of Baco, who implored him to accept the position of Mayor during the Japanese occupation. His reason was – “If nobody will head the town, then the lives of all the people of this locality will be in great danger.” Since it was for every good cause, and knowing he would be of service to the community, Father, without much ado, accepted the offer.

The Japanese Government didn’t know about this dual role being played by Father but then it had the blessings of the underground Guerilla Movement stationed at the deep recesses of Mt. Halcon. Father evacuated his family at our coconut plantation in Caritan, an island secluded and remote. Many times, the life of my father, as well as that of his family, was often in great peril. It was perhaps through miracles and by God’s help that we were able to survive the war.

I am now in my fifties. Ah! Memories…. They are happenings of the past, but, there are memories that live on and on. Oh, how I loved to cherish those fond memories.

(This essay was written by Laura A. Maliwanag in 1982. She passed away on May 13, 2010 at the age of 83.)

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