‘At my age one has to start thinking of retirement; and while I had always dreamt of retiring to someplace exotic like BGC or Legaspi Village, this pandemic has in part forced me to reassess options – and the idea of a “little house in the poblacion” began to seem more and more attractive.’
IT’S been almost four years to the day that my dad passed away. A simple man – as his colleagues at the UP College of Medicine can attest – he did not have much to pass on to his three sons, telling us years ago that the most valuable thing he (and my mom) could give us was a good education. Admittedly, there were times when cynical me was thinking that some cash in the pocket and less face time with teachers would have made me a much happier person. But heck, you can’t choose your parents and how could I tell my dad that choosing to be a teacher of medical students all his life (instead of engaging in what could have been lucrative private practice) would leave him personally fulfilled but me financially challenged?
Anyway that’s that – or, as Trump would say “It is what it is” – and so when he died on Sept 25, 2016 he had in his nice neat script detailed how his modest earthly properties would be divvied up by his three sons. (Since one is a Jesuit priest who couldn’t inherit anything, then his earthly belongings became divisible by two.)
The most sentimental item he left behind was a small piece of property in Alaminos, Laguna, found on Baylon St. – named after a great-great grandfather (Don – or Mr. – Cirilo Baylon) who led the petition to establish Alaminos as a separate municipality from San Pablo during the Spanish regime. The house is actually one that my father inherited from his aunt Salome, younger sister of his father Godofredo, who died in Fort Santiago during the Liberation of Manila. Salome (called “Nay” or “Tia” or, in our case, “Lola” Omeng) was childless, so she took in the four surviving orphaned children of her kuya: Elisa, Gloria, Liwanag and Bayani. In her last few years she sold the house in which she lived (on the street carrying the family name) to her nephew, my father, because he was the one who carried on the family name, too. The selling price was P15,000 in 1981.
It’s been almost six years since anyone has lived there because my dad moved in with me a year-and-a-half before he passed away. Expectedly, parts of the house have gone to seed; and because Alaminos still has lots of trees, termites abound. My dad didn’t do a good job of getting rid of the termites; they’ve been having a field day chewing up parts of the house that are not the old hardwood which had been taken from another, older house that was destroyed during the Second World War.
Last February, I finally took it upon myself to get the house fixed. At my age one has to start thinking of retirement; and while I had always dreamt of retiring to someplace exotic like BGC or Legaspi Village, this pandemic has in part forced me to reassess options – and the idea of a “little house in the poblacion” began to seem more and more attractive.
If not for the ECQ lockdown from March to July maybe the restoration would have been done by now; but after a week of work in early March it’s been only three weeks since work has resumed. I’ve decided to keep the house looking the same from outside but have done a number of major changes inside. I’m excited about surfacing the old wood flooring, the breeze on the second floor when the windows are flung open, and the fresh air that only a pair of lungs raised in Manila will truly appreciate whenever the opportunity arises to take deep breaths of it.
But what’s most fulfilling to me, I think, is being able to walk around the house that looked strange and a bit large for a small boy but is now much more familiar; to remember the many people – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, the neighborhood all-knowing (“chismosa”) who knew everything from the bus schedule of BLTB to the winning jueteng numbers – who used to come in and out of the house especially during fiesta (October 12, Feast of the Nuestra Sra Del Pilar); to remember how we used to pee into a tin chamber pot (arinola!!) which my lola’s loyal house help and companion Dolores would dutifully empty every morning; oh, and the kaing-kaing of lanzones under our beds complete with the small black ants that I despised so much that I grew up not liking lanzones at all; and the lolas who we would go visit in their respective houses during Christmas who would peel off crispy 10, or 20 – or if you’re lucky 50 – peso bills to give to you after the ritual “Mano,” and then it’s off to eat off their buffet tables.
I count myself lucky to have such memories to relive, walking down memory lane in the process of completing this project.
One last thing: I do remember a story my dad told me. He said he had dreamt one day that he had woken up in his bedroom on the second floor and walked down the stairs to get to the refrigerator on the ground floor. To his surprise five of the six chairs around the dining table were occupied: there was his Tio Gauden and his Tia Omeng, but with them were his sisters Elisa and Gloria and, lo and behold, my mother Josefina. All dead people. And next to my mother was an empty chair. He told me he stared at them but they didn’t seem to notice him; they didn’t call him to sit with them either, and so he just walked away.
So now I wonder: when I’m done with the work on the house and decide to sleep there for the first time, will I also have the same dream? Will there now be six seated around the table? How will I react if I “see” them that way? One thing’s for sure – I will only put six chairs around my dining table. So there won’t be an empty one. Oh… and maybe I will add a small refrigerator on the second floor so that I won’t even have to go down the stairs in the first place.
I will have to look for the old arinola too!