I can’t seem to explain why I’ve been listening to some sappy, cheesy love songs lately. I’m supposed to be listening to some summer-infectious tunes to celebrate this time of the year when I get away from all the demons of school. But yeah, I’m stuck with Silent Sanctuary, Rico Blanco, Colbie Caillat and Sugarfree with their lovesick songs. Ugh. Maybe some other time. So with nothing to do, I browse the pictures on my laptop and picked the folder entitled Family. God, I’ve never been so sappy with my family. But I guess, summers and my family go together.
And, by the way, when I say family, what I have in mind is not only a picture of me, my siblings, and my parents. All the pictures of my extended family (from my father’s side) automatically form a slideshow in my mind.
Some people find it different that I have a lot to tell about my cousins (along with the fact that I have a lot of them and that I know each one well). My father is the youngest in a brood of eleven. You can only imagine how many cousins I have. How did I even manage to get close with a lot, if not each, of them?
My father’s family grew up in Guimbal, Iloilo – home of the world-class Bantayan festival, rich in serguelas (sieguelas), kamunsil (kamatsile), and paho (mangga). Some of my Lola Dia’s children stayed and lived in Guimbal while some had their families and settled in the city. Those who stayed in the province had their houses built in one compound, but those who stayed in the city would still visit every now and then.
Lola Dia and my late Lolo Max with their children
Although my weekdays would involve having to stay in the city because I studied there and my parents worked there too, my parents would never fail to bring us home every weekend. We had to go back to the city every Sunday afternoon to get ready for next day’s class. My parents then had to literally drag the wailing me from the house to the waiting shed.
Our family had our very own neighborhood. My cousins and I would go house-hopping if we felt like it. Nobody felt shy to do so because everyone would feel at home in every house. In the early days when owning a TV was a luxury, my cousins and I would troop in a Tita/Tito’s house after dinner to watch our favorite show. We would cheer for our favorite Starstruck avenger, and play the “Paktanay Pasayod” wherein whoever guesses the brand endorsed by the advertisement first gets to pinch the others’ ears. This goes on until the owner of the house calls it a day or until our parents call us home – whatever comes first. Sunday lunches then were also considered the most special meal of the week. Usually, each household prepares a dish that isn’t usually served during the rest of the week. But the serving is not only for the household members as my mother then would prepare bowls, fill it with the dish, and ask me to deliver it to a Tita/Tito’s house – just in time for lunch. And when I go back home to get another bowl for delivery, I would be greeted by a cousin holding a serving of their own prepared dish, for us feast on. Every lunch then, we feasted on plates and bowls of shared love.
Of course, like a normal kid, I always hungered for summer. For the whole summer, my parents, who still had to work in the city, would leave me under the care of my Lola Dia, who also took care of several other apos in her house. A day would never be complete without a fight over the remote control or a cry-fest after an exchange of hurtful words from the older ones who are bullying the younger ones – to which Lola would respond to with her handy walis tambo. Nonetheless, the jungle that is the house of Lola Dia also had its share of happy childhood nostalgia every day.
The day starts after breakfast, when us girls would play with our dolls. We would dress them up, make them clothes out of old fabrics, and pretend they were having a beauty pageant. Sometimes, we would make teleseryes of our own, mimicking those that were in TV. We would even fight over whose doll gets to marry Ken because he was the only male doll we had. (You know it, male dolls were rare and expensive and the one I had was a hand-me-down.) I would tell them that my doll gets to marry Ken because mine was an original Barbie doll and my cousins’ were the cheap ones that couldn’t bend their knees. Yep, I was that mean.
If we get tired of our dolls, we would play balay-balay. We would build, yes, build, playhouses out of scrapped wood, discarded linoleums and whatever materials we could find inside the compound. Our playhouse would never be complete without a sari-sari store filled with empty chip packages, shampoo containers and whatever discarded items I would call now as garbage. We even had our own form of currency. We used the cigarette packagings as bills and tansans as coins. Each different color of the cigarette pack and each brand of the tansan had a denomination.
And wait, we even had our own bakeshop, halo-halo stand, and restaurant. We played with mud and clay – we shaped them into doughnuts, teren-teren, pan de sal, cookies and dried them under the sun. We made ‘halo-halo’ with ingredients such as alugbate seeds, santan petals as toppings and sand as crushed ice. We were also the culprit behind the bald garden of Lola Dia as we picked flowers and leaves to make different ‘dishes’ for our restaurant.
The boys, on the other hand, would play gyera-gyera. They made guns and ammunitions out of banana stalks and walis ting-ting sticks. Sometimes they would pretend to be the bad guys and destroy our playhouses but sometimes, we would cohabit peacefully with them acting as policemen that guarded our playhouses against the older cousins who bullied us or with them as the customers of our sari-sari store.
We would turn dark after playing for several hours under the scorching heat of the summer sun. By 11:30, Lola would call us home to eat lunch and we would race towards the house, shouting “Ulihi baho utot!” or “Ulihi law-ay!” (“The last one smells of fart!” or “The last one is ugly!”)
After a hearty lunch, Lola would tell us to get our siesta while showing us the handle of her trusty walis tambo which by time got crooked. Of course, we would pretend to close our eyes and snore while silently imagining all the mischiefs we would be doing after Lola herself fell asleep. By the time Lola snored, we would tiptoe out the door while holding our laughter. In some instances we would be lucky to make our escape, but most of the time, Lola would catch us on the way out and it would be too late for us to realize that the walis tambo had already hit our butts.
After the siesta, we would all look like captives set free after fifty seven years. Running towards the ‘kahon’ of rice fields, we would debate on what game to play. Our list of choices was endless. We could play entren, a kind of modified ‘ins’ wherein those who guarded the bases had to hit the player attempting to cross with the slippers in his or her hands. Being hit square in the foot was utterly painful, but being able to make a homerun was equally as victorious. There was also Serve-serve sa Likod, like the usual hide and seek wherein the ‘it’ had to chant “Serve-serve sa likod, tumago na kayo. Pagbilang ng sampu, nakatago na kayo. Isa, dalawa, tatlo, apat, lima…” After counting to 10, the ‘it’ would ask “June na?” (It should have been “Due na?”) Anyone who wishes to temporarily leave the game would shout, “Taympers” (Yes, it should have been “Time first.”) Who could also forget the running games ‘Langit, Lupa, Impyerno’ and ‘Bugtaw Piling’? The youngest ones who badly wanted to join the game but could not run fast as the older ones and thus, ended up tripping and skinning their knees would be branded as ‘pasi’. They could join but could never be made ‘it’. If we get bored of playing games with rules (or if we get tired of being ‘it’ forever), there are two other destinations: pa-takas and pa-suba: uphill or downhill.
The former would involve trekking to the mountains wherein we would gather fruits and flowers. We would gather dried coconut branches without leaves and ride it from a high point in the hill and plummet downwards – again and again. We would go home with the back parts of our shorts smeared with mud, and worse, cow dung.
The latter, on the other hand, would involve tagging with our older cousins towards the river across our compound. While the older cousins would go there with to do pamangka (catching frogs), us younger ones would go there to take a dip or gather flowers like cadena de amor. To reach the river, one had to slide his or her way from the cliff, with nothing but vines and tree branches to hold on to for support. It was our very own ‘Adventure Time’ as only bold ones could handle the seemingly gravity-defying paths towards the suba. As soon we reach the river, we would take a splash on the shallow parts of the river where we would lie on our backs and feel the cold water massage the deepest of our tissues. The older ones would go to towards the deeper parts of the river, gather crablets and frogs, which they would feast later on.
We would go home around 6 pm, just in time to smell Lola Dia’s dinner in the making. We turn the TV on and get ready for a round of Paktanay Pasayod.
Times have changed a lot since then. Some of my older cousin-playmates now have children of their own and some have moved to the city to work or study. Those of my age, like me, are studying in college and battling the demons of the academic life coupled with the stress of having to say goodbye to the carefree years of our childhood.
I decided to temporarily disconnect with my fast-paced Miami Town-Iloilo City life and spent the last few weeks here in my town, in my place, in my home. (Which is why I have probably been listening to all the corny songs in my playlist reserved for the tweetums moment I feel when I see my crush even though all I can see here are right now are the ricefields and the trees and the birds.) I needed a break from all the migraines, headaches and occasional depression the real life is giving me. Partially though, I half-expected to see my playmates and hear them invite me to a game of entren. Great. What was I even thinking?
The truth is, when 4pm strikes, I can no longer see children running free in the kahons of rice fields, with their hair blown by the summer air. I can no longer hear the screaming of “Taympers” coupled with heavy breathings.
Well, no, sometimes I do. Only that it’s a picture of us, the yagit version, who shunned sleep without realizing how valuable it would be later on, who teased each other without knowing how such moments would ultimately fade away, and who never really cared about anything but to be happy.
I’m thinking maybe it’s my playlist that makes me feel this way.
But maybe not.
It’s the summer calling. The rice fields, the heat, the smell of sineguelas and everything in between.
My playmates then. (I was not yet born at the time this photo was taken)
The basketball team…
…and the cheerleaders