Family and fossils: My grandchild Meg and a treasure trove

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Part of the author’s Cebu fossil collection. He has other sets consisting of fossil clams and corals.

(Second of two parts)

First of two parts : Family and fossils: My cousin Isko and my first precious find

I found my second fossil—and a third, a fourth, in fact several shoe boxes full—practically at my doorstep.

It was in the summer of 2003 when I was vacationing in Mandaue, the same summer my son Leon decided to expand the business he had started in that “foreign” city where his last job in IBM sales took him.

Leon had set up a small car wash in a postage-stamp-size lot beside a bank. When the business prospered, he wanted to expand it. He didn’t have the necessary funds but thought he knew where to get them. Globe Telecom had announced a national poster contest with a generous prize and he set his sights on winning it. He did!

With the prize money, Leon leased a large lot on Hernan Cortes Street and launched a large car wash and detailing station. That “Nice Day” car wash on Cortes would grow to almost 30 stations and become a byword in Cebu before he decided to sell the franchise and focus on something else.

The lot was the site of a half-hearted garage venture. It was paved on two sides and part of a third side by rough cement as wide as the length of a car. The cemented strip was divided into bays by coco lumber posts topped by joists of the same wood. Leon roofed the cement-floored bays near the lot entrance for his car wash. Using three bays at the back of the lot, he built a modest-sized cabin of Hardiflex for the family home. He also boarded up two adjacent bays to make a large room so his mom and dad had a place to stay when we were visiting him in Cebu.

With the grandfolks

My granddaughter Meg was on vacation then. Unfortunately, she could not easily visit her playmates who were her neighbors when the family lived in a compound at the back of the car wash. Thus, that summer her everyday companions and playmates were her lola and lolo.

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Meg, the author’s fossil search assistant.

How do you keep an active 5-year-old apo entertained when no other kids are around? Unlike many middle-class kids, Meg was not interested in watching TV for long periods. She and her lola entertained themselves with chats and story-telling and books. On my part, I undertook to take her out to play in the great outdoors even if the “great outdoors” were just the half of the lot where vehicles were not washed.

The family pets were a factor that brought Meg out into the yard—Maui, a German Shepherd, and Amor, a Doberman, who were kept in a fenced area at one side of the house. She spent time talking to the dogs, and loved them so much that I thought she’d consider becoming a veterinarian when she grew up.

Another thing that brought her outdoors was an aratiles tree (Jamaican cherry—muntingia calabura) that sprang up wild just outside the dog pen. The tree seemed to produce ripe fruits almost every day, and I always called Meg to help me pick them.

Chunks of limestone

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This scallop was long buried in a Cebu hillside until the fossilized beach where it lay was scooped up by a bulldozer.

The lot had been bulldozed for the garage and, like everywhere else in Cebu, the filling used to level the ground was apog, or broken limestone of a cream color, bulldozed from hills outside the city limits.

One afternoon, I came upon a large piece of limestone that was split when a vehicle to be washed had run over it. I thought I saw a fragment of shell—and found that it was a fragment of shell. I quickly examined nearby limestone chunks and found other pieces that contained bits of shell, too. Fossil shells!

It appears that geologic forces had played with the island of Cebu, thrusting beach and sea bottom up into hills long before Lapu-Lapu and his ancestors had any island to step on.

It was late in the afternoon but I stayed until dark squatted on the ground, excitedly looking for more rock-encrusted shells.

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A sampling of Cebu fossils: modern shells that can still be found in remote beaches in the country. Top: Conch, auger screw. Middle: Volute, auger, snail. Bottom: Conch, cowry, conch, urchin.

The next day I continued my search for fossils, determined to find nicer specimens. Meg saw me picking up and scrutinizing stones and asked me what I was doing. I showed her the bits of shell embedded in stone, explained that these were very, very old sea shells, and instructed her to “pick up anything that looks like shell.”

Meg was soon hurrying back with her finds. I was tickled pink: Every stone she brought contained a bit of fossil!

“Bit” was the right word. Remember, we’re talking about a child and her world of the small. There in the stones were tiny whorls and fragments I would have missed, being on the lookout of course for large shell fragments. But this child had an eye for those little anomalies on the stones, flecks or tiny shapes that were foreign to the rock.

Meg and I spent that summer—and the days of my other short visits to Cebu in the course of the year—picking aratiles, catching toads, and looking for fossils. I doubt that any other child in the country had this kind of a summer vacation!

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