Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Some Anecdotes for Growing Up

These anecdotes pertain to my life and personal experiences - AVR

 1. Staying put on the farm -  is that all you aspire for?

“Buy me a tractor,” I asked by dad,  “And I will not look for a job. I’d stay on the farm.”

 “Is that all you aspire for?”  My father replied. It was the turning point of my life.  I left the farm and went on to pursue my studies, later joining the government service, and after early retirement, becoming a university professor.
Farm house of a Gentry, acrylic AVR 
Dad is now long gone and only my sister is overseeing the farm.  One time while visiting the farm, I asked my eldest son, Marlo, “Do you like to stay here and manage the farm?”  He fell silent and I did not utter another word.

2. I stopped schooling to be with my dad.
I stopped schooling in Manila, so I went home to San Vicente, arriving there on a Sunday at dawn.  Instead of directly proceeding to our house, I dropped at the church through the main door.  In the distance a man was standing, stooping, his nape showing the marks of old age.  I wondered who the man was, and to my surprise I found out he was my dad.  I did not know he had grown that old.  I said my prayers, and left with a heavy heart. 
It was at home that my dad and I met after the mass. He knew it was not yet school vacation, but he was very happy to see me.   I did not tell I saw him in the church that morning. Later I told my plan not to continue my studies anymore because I wanted to be with him.  He just felt silent.
Life on the Farm, acrylic AVR
The following morning he prepared our two bikes.  “We are going to Banaoang,” he said in an aura of confidence.  Banaoang is a mountain pass through which the mighty Abra River flows, where bamboo from the hills are sold in quantity. We were going to build a flue-curing barn.

The going was easy at first, but the distance and the uphill part were exhausting.  Dad gave up before we reached our destination.  “Get a rope and pull my bike.  Let’s go back home.” He sat down in the shade of a mango tree. When we were rested we slowly pedaled back home. Both of us were silent the rest of the day. 

I stayed with my dad until the end of summer working in the tobacco barn we put up. I went back to Manila the following schoolyear to continue my studies. I always pass the highway dad and I once took, and there under  an old mango tree, I would be seeing a man resting in its shade, stooping, wrinkles in his nape showing old age.   
3.      I shot an arrow into the air and it fell on a newspaper
I must have been 4 or 5 years old. Dad was reading Manila Bulletin on a rocking chair.  I was playing Robin Hood. Since our sala is very spacious (it has no divisions), anything on the ceiling and walls was a potential target. But something wrong happened. In physics a crooked arrow would not follow a straight line, so it found an unintended mark – the center of a widespread newspaper.  The arrow pierced through it and landed on my dad’s forehead, almost between his eyes. He gave me a severe beating with my plaything as he wiped his forehead, blood dripping. I did not cry, I just took the punishment obligingly.  Dad must have seen innocence in my eyes.  He stopped and gave me a hug. 

4.      I shot my finger with an airgun.
I bought an airgun from Ben Florentino, a classmate of mine in high school at the Colegio de la Immaculada Concepcion (CIC Vigan) for fifty pesos, a good amount then, circa  1955.  I was loading the pellet, when I dropped the rifle, and on hitting the ground, went off.  The bullet pierced through the fleshy tip of my left forefinger. I tried to remove it but to no avail, so I went to the municipal doctor, Dr. Catalino Lazo. There was no anesthesia available, and when I could no longer bear the pain, he simply dressed the wound and sent me home.  

My wound soon healed, and the lead pellet was to stay with me for the next five years or so, when I finally decided to go for an operation. Had it not been for my playing the violin, I would not have bothered to do so.  And it was providential. 

Dr. Vicente Versoza, our family doctor in Vigan, performed the operation.   A mass of tissues snugly wrapped around the pellet, isolating its poison. He told me I am lucky. There are cases of lead poisoning among war veterans who bore bullets in their bodies. I remember the late President Ferdinand Marcos.  Was his ailment precipitated by lead poisoning?   

5.      I can “cure” a person who is naan-annungan.
An-annung is the Ilocano of nasapi-an. Spirits cast spell on a person, the old folks say. The victim may suffer of stomachache or headache  accompanied by cold sweat, body weakness or feeling of exhaustion.

Well, take this case.  It was dusk when a tenant of ours insisted of climbing a betel, Areca catechu to gather its nuts (nga-nga). My dad objected to it, but somehow the young man prevailed. 

The stubborn young man was profusely sweating and was obviously in pain, pressing his stomach against the tree trunk. Dad called for me. I examined my “patient” and assured him he will be all right. And like a passing ill wind, the spell was cast away. Dad and the people around believed I had supernatural power.

There had been a number of cases I “succeeded” in healing the naan-annungan But I could also induce – unknowingly - the same effect on some one else.  That too, my dad and old folks believed.  They would sought for my “power” to cast the spell away from - this time – no other than my “victim”.  What a paradox!   When I grew older and finished by studies, I began to understand that having an out-of-this-world power is a myth. I read something about Alexander the Great consulting the Oracle at Siwa to find out if indeed he is a god-sent son. “The Pharoah will bow to you, ” the priestess told him.  And it did happen - the pharaoh kissed Alexander’s feet.  The great warrior died before he was 33.

 6.      Manong Bansiong, the kite maker
Kites always fascinate me, thanks to Bansiong, nephew of Basang my auntie-yaya.  He made the most beautiful, often the biggest kite in town.  His name is an institution of sort to us kids.  But remote as San Vicente was, we had the best kites and the town was also famous for its furniture and wooden saints.

It's kite flying Season mural painting by the author dedicated to the late Manong Bansiong.

Manong Bansiong made different kites: sinang-gola, sinang-cayyang, sinang-golondrina (in the likes of a bull, a bird with outstretched wings and legs, and a maiden in colorful, flowing dress, respectively).  His kites were known for their strength, stability, beauty, and their height in the sky.  In competitions he would always bring home the trophy, so to speak.

Because of Manong Bansiong I became also a kite maker of less caliber, but being an endangered art there is not much variety of kites flying around. The kites I make are not common, and they probably exude the same feeling to kids today as during our time.

I made kites for my children when they were small.  Kites fascinated my late first-born son, Pao. It was therapy to his sickly condition. We would sit down together on the grass for hours holding on to the kite, the setting sun and breeze washing our faces. 

When my youngest, Leo Carlo, took part in a kite competition at UST, I helped him with the sinang-cayyang.  It did not win.  But in the following year and the year after Leo Carlo became the consistent kite champion of UST, and so he carries on the legend of Manong Bansiong. 

7.      Draining a fishpond with centrifugal pump
We were perhaps the first in town to own a centrifugal pump, a three-horsepower Briggs and Stratton with a two-inch-diameter pipe.  Which means, we can now irrigate whole fields, or drain fishponds.

One summer when the water was low, dad decided to use the pump in our one-hectare fishpond by the estuary in Nagtupacan, a coastal village of San Vicente.  He put me in charge of the operation. I was a high school sophomore then. I stayed with the pump in the shade of nearby spiny candaroma (aroma) trees, sleeping under the stars at night. I learned that high tide followed by low tide occurs during the day, and repeated at night. That means the pump must overcome high tide that pushes water from under the fishpond and through the base of its dikes.

What we thought to be an easy operation probed to be an unending battle.  Finally we gave up.  We lost, but not entirely for we were able to harvest some fish from a drained area. Above all, I learned a lesson, which I was to use in my teaching in the university.  On the part of dad, he told me, “Machines are no match to enormous power of nature.” A few years after, the machine broke down, so told dad in his letter. I was then in Manila earning a college degree. That night I imagined the spiny candaroma and the stars and the tides.

8. Blackout and A Blue Baby
Basang, my auntie-yaya used to recount this story on how I came into this world.  It was Japanese invasion. At night no lights were allowed for fear of the Japanese bomber planes. The whole town plunged into a blackout when I was born. It was October 22, 1941. The partera (midwife) worked under a flickering candle. I came out a blue baby, hind first (suni). And knowing I did not have any chance to live, the carpenters in my father's furniture shop started making me a coffin.

But there was an old woman, Lela Usta (Faustina Ramos), a good neighbor and distant cousin of my dad who did not believe I was dead. She bundled me up and kept me warm by  blowing over my cuppo-cuppo (bumbunan) with her breath as she chewed ginger. An hour had already passed and the kind old woman, now covered with sweat and tears, noticed a faint pulse, then heard a faint sound.  She continued on until I started to breathe.  Not for long, I cried and drew the small crowd to a cheer. 

Shhh.... my father cautioned everyone, and I, too, stopped crying.

9. I remember the Japanese
It was in the last year of the Japanese occupation that memories of World War II became vivid to me. In desperation the enemy killed anyone at sight in exchange for its apparent defeat. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were soon to be erased virtually from the map. I was then four years old. According to psychologists, at this age impressions become lasting memory.

WW II Memorial, St Paul University QC

Vigilance was the game. Far ahead of time one should be able to detect the enemy. Fear gripped the neighborhood and the whole town. We hid in a dugout shelter made of solid narra slabs several meters away from our house. Trees and banana plants hid it from view. At one time, I wanted to get fresh air, but my yaya, Basang prevented me to do so. Japanese soldiers were around the place. I heard them chase our geese and chicken. Then I heard my favorite goose, Purao, pleading - then it fell silent. Instinctively I rushed out of our hideout, but Basang  pulled me back just on time.

Before this incident Japanese soldiers entered and ransacked our house. Two confronted Basang who was then wearing thick shawl and holding me tight in her arms. In trembling voice, she was saying repeatedly, “Malaria, malaria,” and begging the soldiers to take anything and leave us. One took all our eggs and started eating them raw, pitching the shell at us. One hit me straight on the face and I squirmed. Basang apologized. The soldier shouted.  Then the other came back with a stuffed pillow case and signaled the other to leave, but before leaving he gave me a hard look.

It is a face I still see today, cold as steel, lips pursed into a threat, brows drawn down like curtain over sultry and flashy eyes. How I reacted on the wicked face, I don't remember. I must have just stared coldly. But deep in me grew a resolved never to be afraid of the Japanese or an enemy for that matter.

8.  Watching war plane in dogfight.
It was the last year of WWII, 1945.  I was going four at that time and the images of planes fighting are still vivid.  Toward the east is the Cordillera range that looked blue in the distance. The view was clear from our house, and hideout. Even if the old San Vicente church got across our view, we saw now and then warplanes passing above.  It was also the first and only time I saw a double body aircraft flying. There was at least one occasion warplanes fought somewhere above Vigan, and a plane simply bursts into flame and dark smoke. My dad prodded us to go back to our underground hideout.

10.The Case of the Empty Chicken Eggs
Childhood is full of adventure. I was big enough then to climb and reach the baki (brooding nest) hanging under the house. I found out that if I leave some eggs in the basket as decoy, the more eggs you gather in the afternoon. But why leave some eggs that may become stale?  Then a new idea came. With a needle, I punctured the egg and sucked the content dry. It tasted good and I made some of these empty eggs as substitute decoy in the nest.
My dad was a balikbayan. He settled down in our hometown, San Vicente, Ilocos Sur, soon after finishing his studies at De Paul University in Chicago. That evening after discovering the empty eggs he called all of us and said, "First thing tomorrow morning we will find that hen that lays empty eggs.”

It was a family tradition that every Sunday we had tinola - chicken cooked with papaya and leaves of pepper (sili). Dad would point at a cull (the least productive member of the flock) and I would set a large basket with a trap door, and place some corn for bait. My brother Eugene would slash the neck of the helpless fowl while my sister Veny and I would be holding it until it laid still. The blood is mixed with glutinous rice (diket), which is cooked ahead of the vegetables.

That evening I could not sleep. What if dad inadvertently chooses one of our pet chickens? On the farm we call our favorite chickens by name. I felt sorry, the empty eggs were the cause of the whole trouble.

In the morning after the mass I told dad my secret and even demonstrated it. He laughed and laughed. Soon we were all laughing. And the case of the empty eggs was laid to rest.
Many lessons dawned from my first experiment. I also realized that one just can’t fool anybody.

11. The caleza I was riding ran over a boy.
Basang, my auntie yaya and I were going home from Vigan on a caleza, a horse carriage. I was around five or six years old, the age children love to tag along wherever there is to go. It was midday and the cochero chose to take the shorter gravelly road to San Vicente by way of the second dike road that passes Bantay town. Since there was no traffic our cochero nonchalantly took the smoother left lane fronting a cluster of houses near Bantay. Suddenly our caleza tilted on one side as if it had gone over a boulder. To my astonishment I saw a boy around my age curled up under the wheel. The caleza came to a stop and the boy just remained still and quiet, dust covered his body.  I thought he was dead. 

Residents started coming out. I heard shouts, some men angrily confronting the cochero. Bantay is noted for notoriety of certain residents. Instinct must have prodded Basang to take me in her arms and quickly walked away from the maddening crowd.  No one ever noticed us I supposed.

12. Paper wasps on the run! Or was it the other way around?
This happened to me, rather what I did, when I was five or six - perhaps younger, because I don’t know why I attack a colony of putakti or alimpipinig (Ilk). It was raw courage called bravado when you put on courage on something without weighing the consequences. It was hatred dominating reason, motivated by revenge. 

I was sweeping the yard near a chico tree when I suddenly felt pain above my eye. No one had ever warned me of paper wasps, and I hadn’t been stung before. I retreated, instinctively got a bikal bamboo and attacked their papery nest, but every time I got close to it I got stung.  I don’t know how many times I attacked the enemy, each time with more fury, and more stings, until dad saw me.  I struggled under his strong arms sobbing.  I was lucky, kids my size can’t take many stings. There are cases bee poison can cause the heart to stop. 

13. Trapping frogs
It was fun to trap frogs when I was a kid. At harvest time I would dig holes in the ricefield around one and one-half feet deep. The frogs seek shelter in these holes because they need water and a cool place. Insects that fall into the hole attract them and become their prey.
By the Fishpond in Nagtupacan, San Vicente
Early in the morning I would make my rounds, harvesting the trapped frogs.   The frog is skinned, its entrails removed, and cooked with tomato, onion, and achuete (<span style="font-style: italic;">Bixa orellana</span>. Frogs make a favorite dish, especially among Ilocanos. 

14. I got caught by an iron hook.
I was boarding with the Camat Family in Gatid, Sta. Cruz, Laguna in 1962.  I was then a trainee of the Farm and Home Development Office (FHDO) under UPLB, then UPCA, as a crop technician under the sponsorship of the Ford Foundation. One morning while standing on the batalan I saw a rope dangling from a nearby branch of a sampaloc tree, and the little Tarzan in me told me to try some acrobatics. I jump for the rope, and as I slid down an iron hook tied at the end of the rope caught me between my legs.  I was able to free myself on reaching the ground and immediately called for help. My friends flagged a jeep that took me to the provincial hospital in Sta. Cruz, some seven kilometers away.  We were over speeding and a police officer stopped us.  I pointed at my wound, by now blood had soaked the towel cover, so he let us go.  The doctor said I was lucky, the iron hook missed just a fraction of an inch the vital parts of my body, principally my reproductive organ. After my wound was stitched and dressed I was allowed to leave the hospital.  I went back to Gatid to recuperate.
15. Getting drunk at an early age.
I was already a farmhand before I was of school age, but dad always warned me not to be an aliwegweg (curious at doing things), the experimenter that I was. One morning as dad went on his routine, first to hear mass in our parish church just across our residence farm, I went down to the cellar with a sumpit (small bamboo tube) to take a sip of the sweet day-old fermenting 

Farm Brickhouse, acrylic AVR

sugarcane juice. I didn't know that with a sip too many one gets drunk. 

And that was precisely what made me feel sick, but I did not tell dad. He called a doctor to find out what was the matter with me. When the doctor arrived he found me normal. What with the distance from Vigan to San Vicente - on a caleza (horse-drawn carriage)? But the doctor was whispering something to dad.

Then it happened. Dad had left for the church, so I thought. I went to the cellar and as soon as I probed the sumpit into a newly fermenting jar and took a sip, someone tapped my shoulder in the dark. It was dad!
Imagine the expression of his face (and mine, too) in the dark. I sobbed with embarrassment while he took a deep sigh of relief.  Since then the doctor never came again. And I promised never to taste my “beverage" again.~

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