Once upon a time — I remember it too well to say it was “so very long ago” so I won’t say it was — I was a little girl in a smocked dress or long shorts paired with a T-shirt playing under the summer sun, in our home in Bonifacio Street in Ormoc.
Back then, my playmates, cousins and I built memories using sticks and stones and marbles; we flew handmade kites, rode our bikes, fashioned little houses with branches and old blankets, decorating those makeshift spaces with fallen leaves and hand-picked flowers. We would eat fruit we plucked from trees ourselves… macopa which we know as tambis in our dialect, washed and dipped in rock salt, the skin a blush pink that reminds you of flushed cheeks and its flesh airy and tasting strangely of cotton, like you were chewing on the inside of pillows.
We would feast almost greedily, too, on rambutan, santol, and mangoes. The latter we would most likely make into ice candy, mixed with milk and sugar and poured into ice bags, to be transformed many hours later into fat yellow tubes that we sucked and could not get enough of, until our lips were numb with cold and our tummies ached. We would make our own slingshots, or tirador as we called them, and pretend we were as skilled as David when he toppled Goliath. As bala for the tirador, we would use unripe mansanitas (I think it is called aratilis here) plucked straight from the short tree. We nibbled on tubo, freshly cut sugarcane, until our teeth and gums tingled uncomfortably and our energies soared to a high because of the sweet rush, much to the chagrin of the adults whom we exhausted. They just could not keep up with a child running on too much sugar, much less a handful of them.
We also knew very well how to enjoy the nectar of santan flowers, make leis out of calachuchi and sampaguita, fashion candy wrappers into pretty flowers that would swing gently under the breeze, in a vase, almost the same way real flowers do. Like good butchers who knew how to make use of every part of the pig, we were taught not to waste, and over and above that not to be intimidated by anything. By the latter I mean we were made to believe there was nothing we could not do or make. The polished toys from Manila and Cebu that only came in fancy boxes? We could make our own handmade version, either by ourselves or with the help of the panday (which is what we call a carpenter where I am from).
In my case, the panday I turned to most often was the gentle Manoy Susing, who just passed recently, he who was never without betel nut in his mouth and made little furniture for my Barbie dolls, the very same person who also fashioned from hand-cut wood a lot of the beds and most of the cabinets in the guestrooms. Want or a childhood whimsy was the mother of invention in those times and “impossible” was a word we did not entertain. In our world and in our little minds, there was no such thing. Everything could be made from scratch: little houses, stools, airplanes, Christmas trees and requisite Christmas angels— you name it.
Even our bookmarks were handmade. Ramir, the son of Manoy Susing, would paint in watercolor beautifully, making misty images of anything we fancied — Sanrio characters, flowers, sea and landscapes. We had no idea about the existence of lamination machines back then so even that was improvised. Each bookmark would be sandwiched between two sheets of plastic, the type we use to cover our textbooks, and to hold them together they would be sewn by hand with needle and thread on all four sides. I had so many of them before, but they all disappeared when the great big flood occurred in 1991.
Looking at how things are now, my childhood seems to be very different from that of my daughter’s, which really is not a problem in itself. I just wish she, and other kids her age, could also experience alongside all that is available to them now, what we had so much of in the past, a lot of which has already been lost or maybe just buried, waiting to recovered and rediscovered. I blame it on the sleekness of life in the city, where everything just seems more… I don’t know, polished, I guess. I can’t think of a better word. Times are different, too, and there is an almost absurd abundance of techie games and dummy everythings. Like noodles, most anything now has an instant version. I miss the rituals of the past, the learning curve that fostered respect for the craft, whatever it was, crocheting, cooking, sewing, building makeshift houses, even.
I think about all that now because summer is being ushered in once more, the whole slab of it, hot and chunky and full of promise, and I just came from the province. My daughter, who has lived for the most part in the big city, left ahead with her daddy and days later when I followed I found her enjoying the sights and sounds of my own childhood. As seen through her eyes, I relive my own experiences. There and then I realized, the more things change the more they stay the same. She would play in the mornings and in the afternoon but in the evening she would settle in a chair and… crochet. Thankfully, the loops and chains that frustrated her so much in Manila she easily took to in Ormoc. Her little hands moving with a rhythm all her own, she was able to do ever so effortlessly what she struggled so much with just a few days before. The breakthrough empowered her, I could see that much in her eyes, in the way she was seated, and the length of time she kept at it.
I do not take that as any coincidence, really. I believe it is, very simply and truly now, the energy of the place. Like sugar being poured into a clear glass, you sort of just melt into the space, allowing it to gently lead you where it may: no pressure, no rush. In the province, there is a stillness you naturally settle into, a happiness you do not have to think about. The streets smell of freshly baked bread, it’s easy to find good, fresh food that does not have to cost an arm and leg, and the streets are lined with smiles. There is simplicity and contentment, for the most part, nearly everywhere. How lovely is that? It sort of naturally just happens there, like serendipity and destiny, and as though it were a birthright.
It is a shabby chic kind of life in the province, reminding you, and in the process making you smile at how as a child you played to make sense of your days and make something beautiful of them. As an adult now, only when I look back do I truly appreciate and miss all about it that was homemade and handmade, and as such speaking of so much history and character.
Far from all of it now, back in the thick of things here, my thoughts cannot help but drift to the summers I knew, that place in time I so wonderfully and fondly remember, where living the simple life was pleasure enough. Many times over and over again we were given the joy of touching the clouds even with our feet still planted firmly on solid ground. Playing was like a big slice of heaven enjoyed on a patch of earth. Thank God for that. Because we all know that while growing up does have its parallel joys, they are far from ever being as simple as frolicking once upon a time under the hot, yellow summer sun.
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