Once upon a summer

Summer is about to slip away from where I’ve clenched it happily in my fist but I have this chance to make the final stretch of it last, despite the strange rains that come and go intermittently.

What have I done so far? I spent quality time with family and good friends, ate a lot of cake and even more chocolates. I read books, watched two movies (only), and (this is the one that thrills me endlessly) rediscovered the hula-hoop. I say rediscover because I lost my groove for it sometime between age seven and 17. I would pick up one and move my body here and there, but it would just drop pathetically down my legs and onto the floor in two beats. Muscle memory, where are you when I need you? Should you not be present for everything, including hula-hoops? But for some reason while in Guam, in the aisle of a grocery store there, it all came back to me. I picked up a giant hoop and just made a go for it, admittedly expecting little but hoping for some sort of breakthrough. It happened for me: I pushed my hips here and there in controlled movements and the huge ring just kept going around in circles. I was thrilled. And the more I kept at it, the more it came back to me.

There is a photo of me when I was a little girl, easily under 10, and I was (if I recall the photo right in my mind’s eye) in light blue bell-bottoms and a red sando. One foot was propped up on the edge of our sofa and I had a wide smile on me, so wide it made my eyes crinkle at the sides. I was most probably laughing. I was happy. My arms were up and I had a hula-hoop around my waist where the camera had captured it at mid-spin.

That photo pretty much captures my childhood and how I choose to — and actually do, in fact — remember it: carefree, happy, normal, real. We (by that I mean my sister and our neighbors) made slingshots, using mansanitas as our bala. We built makeshift houses, played waring-waring and tumba-lata until the sun set. My treasures included my Care Bears sticker book, a pouch full of marbles, my stationery collection, and my hula-hoop, of course. If it rained, we stayed indoors and played Monopoly, Pick-Up Sticks, or Word Factory. If I was alone, I would sew clothes for my dolls beside Yaya Juling or learn how to crochet with Yaya Hilda. There was no time to be bored, playing stopped only at mealtime only to start again soon after. I remember drinking lots of milk, copious amounts of it, cold and sometimes poured over ice cream or mixed with my Campbell’s mushroom soup. We also ate lots of fresh fruit, usually with rock salt, among them tambis, lomboy, sineguelas and santol which grew from a tree in our frontyard. We had so much of it we would actually send a couple of boxes by big boat to Lola Carmen in Cebu.

Crossing over to summers there, lomboy did not seem like anything special, until Lola Carmen showed us how she chose to enjoy the little native blackberries. The houseboy would harvest them from the trees, wash and put them in a huge white bowl that he would then ask one of the female helpers to slip into the refrigerator. Once cooled, rock salt would be sprinkled ceremoniously over it and we would eat it in front of the TV as a light snack before dinner, the salt making the cottony aftertaste more pleasant than it actually seems at the onset. Lola Carmen was ritualistic that way, and had a knack for making the mundane seem special. Even simple bread and butter she would enjoy with a little almost-ceremony — the bread always warmed up in the oven and a pat of butter melting into it in a golden pool until it disappears just so. Only then would she start enjoying it, thin lips with her trademark bright lipstick always pursed together as she chewed, pleasure in her eyes and soft smile. She ate slowly, her back straight, and was one of those who never rushed through her meals, any of it. I envy, and miss, that about her. She was the only one I know who always wore jewelry at home, even if she was just in her trademark muumuu. Bread and butter: that was her favorite merienda.

Summer is joy, a time of fluidity when life seems more like a series of happy answers than questions, when there naturally seems to be fewer rules. There is so much time before you yet there is no chance to be bored. I saw a shirt that said “I liked the world better when apple and blackberry were just fruits.” I want to keep my family’s summers that way. I want Juliana’s summer especially to be like that. I want her to experience it fully on her feet, under blue skies, playing with sticks and stones with sweat soaking her shirt and her heart beaming with the kind of joy that comes from simply being alive. I wished that for every child this summer, or what is left of it.

I remember when I was a newlywed. That was the “summer” of my married life summed up thus far. I hardly knew anyone in this big city, save for a handful few, and after I settled my stuff into drawers and closets and wrote all the “thank you” notes for our wedding, I was faced with all this time that I happily used to fit into my own shell. I embraced the things that always interested me in the past but had no chance to pursue because I was either still busy with school or lessons for it were never offered where I was based then — I jumped into the world of arts and crafts, spending many hours in a day creating with my hands. I took dance lessons, starting with flamenco (it has since evolved into Latin dance which I love up to this minute), I took up boxing, I enrolled in a wonderful class called Creative Wrapping and Gift Packaging that I miss very much. I miss the quiet fun I spent in that class, just four of us students — Tita Ping, Tita Inday, Cathy and myself. I miss our wonderful, funny teacher, Portia, who always wore pink and lived in a pink house with predominantly pink things and who — I kid you not — serves pink sandwiches. One day before I am 85 I will find time to do that again — work with my hands and be amongst fun company, allowing my heart to feel that kind of happy that is so simple and real.

I spent all that free time shedding all that most everyone said I must do, concentrating instead on all that felt right for the heart. I took on activities just because, with no projection of what I intended to do with what I would learn eventually. It was all very nice, the languid joy of just taking it all in with not a definite goal before me except to enjoy where I was at the given moment. I was present, something I cannot always claim to be when my schedule is as hurried as it is harried.

The summer is when you never sleep early and, when you finally get down to it, you can enjoy it in a stretch so long without anyone faulting you for it. The best part is that you grow in inches still despite the late hours. I think the siesta is where all the magic happens. It is when the universe generously gives you time to bloom to become your better self, when something inside you gently shifts a little here and there and you come into your own, somehow. We are all works in progress, may we never outgrow summer and let go of the golden chance it brings to be as happy as a child.

It is almost over, but I can always prolong summer by choosing to recall all that is beautiful about it.


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