I believe my parents lived briefly in Sta. Ana, Manila but it was in Pasig where my eldest brother and the rest of us were born. I am not sure exactly when they moved but that would put my parents in Pasig by 1974. By 1975, Pasig became a town in Metro Manila after being the capital of Rizal province for a long time.
When they first moved in Pasig, they rented a house in San Joaquin. It didn’t take long until they moved again this time to a two-storey house where we stayed until I was six or seven.
The farthest that my memory can take me was when I was maybe a year and a half or two years old. I remember being surrounded by and looking at my brothers. It was almost like an introduction. They were all looking at me like it was the first time that they had seen me. And after a few minutes, I could see them talking to my mom except for my brother JR (Freddie) who stayed by me and played with me. And then he got scolded because of something like pulling my arm.
I know I co-slept with my parents, my dad on the left, my mom in the center and me on the right, right against the wall I guess so I wouldn’t fall. We slept in a queen size bed. The headboard was a curvy wood much like the parenthesis sign only horizontal, with the vertex pointing up. It had a beautiful carving of two birds . My brothers slept on a banig (mat) on the floor in the next room. Although there was a frame, there was no door panel.
There was a window on my side of the bed where my mom and I used to look out as we waited for my dad. The windows slid from to side to side but not as smooth as shower doors slide. It was all just wood carved on the top and bottom ends allowing the window to slide through the frame. I remember sometimes we had to push a little harder to make them move. The window panes were capiz shells framed in wood painted in dark dark brown.
By this time my dad had already quit truck driving. He drove a trike instead. I would always catch my mom look twice every time a trike would go by and I’d see the sparkle in her eyes disappear when it was just another driver and not my dad. Somehow at a young age, I felt how much my mom loved my dad and that she was always happier when he was around.
WWF (World Wrestling Federation) was popular then. Every Wednesday night my dad would buy Reno (liver spread) and a bag of hot pan de sal. And then we’d gather in front of the television watching Hulk Hogan drop his arm at the first two counts but keep it mid-air on the referee’s third tap on the ring floor. We’d all get excited! We talked back at the TV and said things like “Bring it on!” “Now you just got him sooo mad!” even if it happened every week anyway.
Pan de sal is our own version of the dinner roll although it is usually served during breakfast. They are usually bagged in a brown paper which is then crumpled close to lock the warmth in. They are also baked and sold during snacks- first between lunch and dinner (around two thirty to 3 o’ clock in the afternoon) and then after dinner before bedtime (around eight thirty to nine o’clock). They are usually only good served fresh that’s why they are sold and bought at specific times of the day and immediately served.
We always had silly moments. I remember once when I woke up alone in bed and I was crying and my dad picked me up. He offered me my favorite breakfast which was hot pan de sal dipped in sardines in tomato sauce. And then he asked me “Iyang“, (Eeh-young) “Who left you alone in bed?” It was like my dad was encouraging me to tell on my mom. I then pointed to my mom. It was silly and funny and dear to me. It was the beginnings of my dad being my hero. You know what’s funny is that we do the very same thing in my house now. I let Jeff be the hero.
Iyang or Iyang ko (my daughter) is what he used to call me actually until I was a teenager. It is derived from iha or hija (eeh-huh) which in Spanish means daughter.
In the afternoon, my dad used to make me take a nap. Oh I dreaded it! You know, because I just wanted to play all day. He always promised to buy me snack when I woke up. I always wanted this root beer called Sarsi and spanish bread which is basically a crescent covered with crumbs and sugar and filled with margarine and vanilla.
My mom spoiled me too with surprises or what we Filipinos call pasalubong. She always brought me something whenever she came home from school. The best one that I remember was a set of jack stones. I was jumping up and down and I remember my dad teaching me as I did not have a good control of tossing the ball up nor catching it.
I was the ‘problem child’ when it came to dinner. I had simple favorites like rice and soy sauce but ate very little. My mom would always make me finish my food. At some point, I got too thin and they got worried. Somebody suggested giving me a haircut because they said that my hair was too long (down to my waist) and that all the nutrients were going to my hair. So they did but it didn’t improve my weight anyway. Eventually, they prevented me from drinking right before every meal.
Meals were always on the table. My dad was strict although not so much about table manners. He just didn’t like too much conversations around the table. He told us about his brief experience in the military where they sat up straight and looked straight ahead as they shoveled food in their mouths. They were timed, of course. I remember our food that night was fish. And as you might already know, average Filipinos don’t serve fillet and we usually have to pick out the bones. So I was telling myself, there was no way we could do the same at home.
He definitely didn’t like the TV distracting us while eating. We could see the screen in the living room from the dining room. I used to get in trouble with my brothers because my dad would let it stay on in the beginning. But he would usually catch me glancing and not chewing, so he’d order one of my brothers to turn it off. My brothers then would look at me like they wanted to strangle me for not being discreet.
Many of my ‘firsts’ happened in the same house and actually before I was even able to read. I made a list of what I can remember.
First lesson on obedience. I remember my dad taking us to this new park in Pasig. It was so new that the wooden slides were not even finished yet! So my dad warned us to not use the slides but my stubborn brother JR used it anyway and sure enough it was no fun when his butt was slightly scraped.
First brush with death. There was a bad typhoon and the town was flooded. There was water in our house about up to my dad’s knees. That’s about a foot and a few inches. We then had to live upstairs. Unbeknown to my brothers whom I remember were watching the children’s show Lola Basyang, I sneakily went down the stairs and sat on the last step right above the flood level. But as I stood up, I fell forward and accidentally plunged into the water. My dad found me in the kitchen with the water containers. He said he almost tripped over me. I guess I ‘swam’ from the bottom of the stairs which was at the end of the living room. Either he found me soon enough or my angels were on duty then. After they wrapped me in a towel, they all gathered around me. My mom had an apologetic look mixed with a relieved look on her face and then she hugged me ever so tightly.
First lesson on recognizing good deals. We used to rent komiks or comic magazines from the next door neighbor for 25 cents for thirty minutes. But all four of us got to read it before we returned it. I still couldn’t read then but I loved looking at the illustrations. It was also my first exposure to Philippine Literature.
First physical fight. Once, when my parents were gone, my brothers put me in a boxing match with a four year old boy whom I could only remember as Ogie. I lost of course and in fact, busted my lower lip. That night I had my first really vivid dream.
First really vivid dream. I was getting even with Ogie and I was actually winning! I was pulling his hair with all my strength and he was tugging his head back but I was suddenly stronger than he was. I woke up feeling strong and happy that I was able to get even with him at least in my sleep! But then my mom (remember I co-slept with them) scolded me and said that she was awakened in the middle of the night because I was pulling her hair! I still laugh out loud when I remember this.
First lesson on physics. We once had a dog that was chained on the back porch. When I went in the house, the chain tripped me. And my forehead hit the edge of the cement floor. I had a knot on my head much like the shape of an egg. I was crying of course. And then after sometime, I noticed that there was a dent on the edge of that floor shaped the same as the knot on my head. This was way before I was taught that “no two things can occupy the same space at the same time.”
First lesson on entrepreneurship. This is particularly on “how to increase repeat sales”. We used to sell pigeons. If I remember it right, it was 20 pesos to 35 pesos depending on the age and color. But then the pigeons started coming back to us. And we’d keep it until the old buyer came back. And then guess what? My dad and oldest brother Frederick would sell them to the same buyer again! Of course I didn’t understand the logic but the buyers bought them back for five or ten pesos. Now I’m thinking maybe it’s sort of a finder’s fee. So then, my brother started teaching the pigeons to come back. He’d let them go and clap a certain way and then they’d be back. And he sold more pigeons that came back and for which some buyers paid twice for!
First exposure to gambling. My mom, my dad and my three brothers used to play cards. Pares- pares or pairs. Sometimes with real money involved. This was a really fun time for us. The house was filled with laughter. When I got a little older they taught me Pusoy-dos- game where the card number two had the most value.
All of these happened before or when I was four. 1986 at the latest. There was an instance though that didn’t make sense to me until I was maybe eleven and in my fifth grade history class.
First memory about politics. I remember being held by my mom while we were standing outside of the house. There were a lot of people marching, most of them wearing yellow shirts and yellow bandana and flashing a hand sign of the letter ‘L’. That instance only made sense to me when I learned about martial law and the Marcos versus Aquino snap elections. ‘L’ was for laban or oppose. (I just thought you, my dear readers might be interested to know that I am a Marcos. So more on this in one of my future articles.)
How about you? How far does your memory take you? Do we have any similar experiences? Or exactly opposite ones? I’d love to hear about them!
Michelle grew up in Taguig City, Philippines where she finished her primary and secondary education. She took Bachelor of Science in Accountancy at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (Sta Mesa, Manila). Although she was unable to finish, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise that made way for "real world" experiences and even more colorful stories to tell. She now lives in Saint Louis, Missouri with her American husband and their two young Fil-Am's. Michelle is no longer a LiP writer.