…my birthplace, my childhood and my Mamang…
My parents were always out of town or out of the country – busy making a living. Hence, we – my siblings and I were left behind with our grandmother in the old house in Dipolog; the city where I was born.
The house was made out of wood and was elevated enough to avoid it being flooded. The front door entrance stairs and landing were made of cement though. Connected to the landing a small cemented room where we did the laundry and took our baths. No, it was not the toilet, because our toilet was located at the back of the house on a separate lean-to-cube.
Yes, I guess, that was how it used to be in the Philippines. Most houses didn’t have the toilet inside the house. One needs to take a candle or some kind of torchlight to go to the toilet at night. That was why the kids grew up with the routine. On a school week, some days after school, we were allowed to play around with the neighbors’ kids along the streets, until before nightfall.
In the Philippines, it gets dark quite early. So, we were always told to clean up: wash the hands and feet or take a bath and do toilets rituals before dinnertime. Sometimes, we wanted to play a bit longer out on the streets, this was okay as long as we were all clean and smelling fresh before our grandma would come home from work. Yes, she went to work – how else could she have raised all 10 children on her own without her husband? Our grandfather left her early. He succumbed to Tuberculosis-but that’s for another story.
If one was caught smelling like dried sweat and sunburnt, then our grandma would know that that person missed the ritual because he/she must have come home really late. He or she would definitely get punished.
The punishment was never violent though. The punishment was either to recite the multiplication table or recite some kind of terribly long poem. Or perhaps sing a song in front of everybody. The singing was fun.
The poem was one written by the Philippine National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal’s, i.e. “Mi Ultimo Adios” in Spanish or “My Last Farewell” in English. Yes, at that age, we were already taught to speak English and Spanish. I never had problems with the first one. Just Spanish … and the multiplication (Math) were both my Waterloo. Both were really, really hard for me. I do regret it now though. I could have made good use of the Spanish language at work. Unfortunately, the few words that got stuck with me are not enough to make a proper conversation with a local Spanish speaker. Oh, I digress!
So, I was always careful not to get caught smelling like I’ve been out in the sun the whole day. Or getting caught coming home late. I made sure instead, to be able to go out on weekends. The excuse I most of the time used was to sell any excess harvested fruits from my grandma’s farm. I loved that chore because of several reasons.
First, I could walk around the whole neighborhood, seeing my classmates and friends along the way. Second, the earnings I got from selling the fruit was my own weekly pocket money. Although I still had to give it to my grandma, I always felt like it was mine, since I worked hard selling it. Third and probably the most precious to me, was the freedom to be alone for those few hours. Growing up in an extended family household, one would have no peace and quiet. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. I grew up with my brother and two sisters and several cousins. We were always together, after school, during weekends, either just studying, watching movies, playing at the city plaza or spending time at the beach. We were allowed to do all these as long as we have all done our assigned household chores. That’s our childhood generation.
OH, by the way, at that time, worries and fears about children being abducted, kidnapped, to be sold somewhere for slavery or worst to be robbed of their organs to sell or scattered pedophile snatching/molesting kids— was nonexisting! If I am not mistaken, that only came up later in the 80’s era and only in big cities.
Anyway, today, I woke up to a dream.
I dreamt about being in the big wood house in the Province. I dreamt about the song my brother used to practice at home for a school musical. I dreamt about being with my grandma again. In my dream, I was sitting close to her…smelling her beautiful fragrant, soft skin. I was rubbing my face to her arm while–thumb sucking! Yes, I also had that very nasty habit until I was 7 years old. It was a sign of my insecurity, I think.
In my dream, the next scene: I was watching my brother practicing his own version of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song”. I could hear myself humming along to his song. I saw myself looking up to my grandma. I felt the longing… then I woke up.
My grandma passed away two years ago. Since then, my sister Diday and some relatives have often been vocal that they got a “visit” from our grandma. Whether they were lucid dreaming or they just felt something of her. Smelled her fragrance. Or felt her presence.
I never experienced this before, so whenever they mentioned or talked about the experience, I was always curious and envious. Now, not anymore. I just miss her more.