(Fourth of five parts)
We were 11 in the family. Our tatay, Deogracias, was born in 1902 and died in March 1986; our nanay, Obdulia, was born in 1908 and died in April 2006. We were nine children—two daughters (my eldest sister and the eighth) and seven sons. The eldest was born in 1927 and the youngest in 1951. I was born on Oct. 7, 1942—the seventh in the brood.
They were eight in the family when they migrated from Indang, Cavite, in 1940; three more children were born in Mindanao. I am the first Mindanawon in the family. My mother said I almost died from kombulsyon (convulsions) when the family evacuated to Casisang, the plains west of our hilltop home, during World War II.
Straight from peasant life, my parents and their children came to Cotabato paga destino, meaning my father promised to pay their fare when they arrived—an arrangement allowed by the shipping company at that time. When the boat docked—actually, it was anchored at sea because ships could not sail zigzag upriver of Pulangi (then called Rio Grande), and only small launches could dock at the city wharf—my father got off to look for a relative who would pay while his family was left on board and “held hostage.”
The family went to Upi where my uncle, my mother’s elder brother, had earlier settled. They traveled there completely on their own, with no support from the government. They acquired a homestead of 16 hectares which, when later surveyed and titled, actually came up to 18 hectares.
Our parents never went to school but they made sure all their children did. Our father did the backbreaking work on the farm. He got plenty of helping hands when we were home, but especially after my brothers completed high school.
Upi Agricultural High School was the only one in the area. We all finished high school there except my eldest brother, who only got as far as third year. Three acquired a college degree in the city. One completed a college vocational course.
I am the only one who reached graduate school. My brother, the fifth among the siblings, did the farm work and supported me partly through college until I became a working student. Later, he, too, had to leave farming when he broke his clavicle in a cycling race with his friend on a rocky road. He took a part-time job and enrolled in a business course. He subsequently discovered he had an inclination for machines and took up auto mechanics in the vocational department of Notre Dame College.
I was then secretary of the rector (the college president) and helped my brother land a job as a bookbinder. I worked for a year as the rector’s secretary and later as traffic manager of the school radio station. Another brother, the sixth in the family, who worked his way through high school and college, helped my younger sister finish college.
The two schools in Upi—Dinaig Central Elementary School and Upi Agricultural High School—were very much part of the life of our family, and of every family in the town. I missed enrollment at Upi Agricultural only because when I went to do so, I was quickly rejected. They said I was too tiny and did not seem physically able to cope with farm work, including plowing with cows or carabaos, which was part of the curriculum.
I was out of school for a year. My Ate (elder sister), who was married by then and living in Cotabato City, sent for me and I went to stay with her and her family. That was when I saw my first movies, once a week for a whole year. I also had plenty of ice drops. The following year, I enrolled at Notre Dame Boys Department, an exclusive school for boys, along with my brother Gervacio.
I began to see the wider world.
Chickens for tuition
High school in the city had its own excitement even if for four years, the pattern of life was as regular as sundown and sunup. Every Saturday I went home to Upi to get my week’s supply—six gantas of rice, other food to go with it, and firewood or bamboo. Tuition in those days was P7 a month for the first year and P8 after that.
The family was not subsisting on a cash economy and money was hard-earned. Our father had to sell a number of chickens for my monthly tuition. Each regular-size chicken was worth P1.50, sometimes only P1. My being tiny helped, too. Because of my size, I looked like a child and for two years I was not charged the regular P1 bus fare by the conductor. I started paying half of the fare only in my third year.
Notre Dame required a uniform—khaki pants with a green stripe on each side and white T-shirt. I had one pair of pants per year, two T-shirts, and one pair of black shoes (Ang Tibay brand). I did my own laundry and used the charcoal-fed iron.
Catholic students were taught catechism, too. I was taught that “the Catholic Church is the only true church, and outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation.” Oh, well… Catholics should be glad there was Vatican II; in 1963, I heard from the bishop about the great step towars ecumenism. In short, one must live with non-Catholic neighbors!
In the family, our parents never learned to speak any of the local languages. We, their children, who grew up hearing these languages from our playmates and schoolmates, managed without difficulty. If my mother had her way, she would have wanted all her children-in-law to be “from back home.” That was not to be, and she learned to accept without culture shock a mixture of in-laws: Tagalog, Pangasinan-Teduray, Bol-anon, Bisaya, Ilonggo, and Leyte Bisaya.
‘Nanay’ in command
At 90 in 1998, my mother was still walking with no hint of a stoop. She complained of occasionally feeling cold in the joints, especially on cold nights, from a mild form of rheumatism, but was very much in command of her household in Upi, where she continued to live with a nephew and a hired hand.
The household got its supply of water from a spring about 500 meters away, which is of a higher elevation. To spare our mother the trouble of having to fetch her water—because she would have certainly done that if she had to—my youngest brother built a bamboo aqueduct to bring the water some 20 meters from her doorstep.
There was no way our mother could be persuaded to live with any of her children, where she usually had nothing to do anyway except sit around and sleep. She was happiest when she was working; she was awful when she was idle. When she was out in the city (Cotabato) or elsewhere, her thought was always with her chickens.
I sent her a woolen sweater and sweat pants when I heard about her problem with the cold. One Sept. 6, a day after her birthday, a brother, his wife, and I visited her, and it was cold in the two nights we were there. And she made me wear both sweater and sweat pants and would not take no for an answer. From the smell, I realized that these clothing items had not been worn since she received them! She also told—and I mean told—me to occupy the other bed. There were only two beds in the house; she had the other one.
Cotabato was the only city of my childhood. It is still called such. General Santos City was then called Rajah Buayan, and later Dadiangas.
Our family reunions, a practice that started in 1956, never enjoyed perfect attendance. The biggest attendance was in 1985, the year before our father died. Only the two eldest children were absent.
There was a time when we children were scattered all over: one in Davao City, one in Agusan del Sur, one in Cotabato City, another in Marbel, another in Iligan (myself), another in Cavite, and three still in Upi. Only our youngest sibling maintained his ties with the farm and drew livelihood partly from it.
There were forces that drove us to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Upi might have been green, but it did not have the answer to some of our dreams.
Now, 2022, only two of us children are alive—my younger sister and myself.
If there was one trait that we all learned from our parents, it was: Never complain in the face of hardship.