Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Growing Up in Claveria*

My dad stayed in the hospital for four days last week. I'm glad he's up and about now, and back to reading the blog. Yey.

I thought for today, I could share a speech that my dad wrote for his high school reunion early this year. I edited it a little, but it's mostly his.

There isn't really anything fantastic about the speech (sorry, Daddy), but it provides us a glimpse of what life was like in the late 1950s for a high school kid. Personally, the speech taught me things about my dad's life that I wouldn't have known about otherwise. Who knew, for example, that he ran off the stage in embarrassment when he forgot a few lines in a declamation contest?

Anyway, the [condensed version of the] speech is quoted after the jump. It's still admittedly long, but worth the read in my opinion.

* My dad grew up in the town of Claveria, Cagayan. It is on the northernmost tip of Luzon and is 1,000,000,000 kilometers away from Manila (at least, we think it is that far away when we go there. Saksakan siya ng layo!). My father "comes home" to Cagayan at least once in a couple of months. I say he comes home to it because it's where he is most at home. Manila, which is where he's been raising his family, is really just a pit stop.

When I was delegated by my batchmates to prepare a pep talk for our younger alumni, because they knew me to be the most talkative in our class, I was excited. I never expected that I would be given the chance to speak to a younger audience, much less at my age. You see, even when it doesn't look like it, gawa nang hindi naman kami nagkakalayo ng itsura  ni Piolo, I promise I am a bona fide bearer of a senior citizen's card. 

You know how it is when you become a senior citizen. Your ears and nostrils are hairier than your head. You try to straighten out the wrinkles in your socks and discover you're not wearing any. You and your teeth don't sleep together anymore xxx We get grouchier. Our physical abilities and mental faculties appear to have dulled over the years. So naturally, most people will assume that they are not only better but in fact better off than us senior folks. I beg to differ.

My Father's Daughter. This is me with my dad, in front of our house in San Juan. The Corona that you see was my first car. Plate No. DCT 900. I still remember.

On the contrary, being a senior citizen has its benefits. You get to shout because of bad service in restaurants and people will just think you're only hard of hearing. Kidnap groups will not even be very interested in kidnapping you. In fact, statistics show that senior citizens are more likely to be released first in a hostage situation. Also, you get to reminisce about the "good old days" in public, in the guise of giving a pep talk, which I am about to do now.


Here's a photo of my dad, not in high school, but as a med student. He looks a lot like my nephew AC.

During those days, the Academy of St. Joseph was far from the two-storey, concrete structure with all the amenities that you see now. The St. Joseph that we knew was an 6 or 8-classroom ramshackle, wooden, one floor building. The 'kasilyas' was an outhouse 5 minutes away from the main building. Our recess period was a quick run to nearby sari-sari stores for 'salto', 'two-sisters', 'kallihim' washed down with a 6 ounce 'sarsaparilla or soda if you had the money. The Principal's office doubled as the admin office, and was adjacent to a library stocked with Erle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew mystery books. Just to give you an idea of how limited the library's book collection was then, I actually read everything in that library. In some cases, I read a book more than once.

This is proof that my craziness is genetic. 

The old days were difficult times. The country was rebuilding from the devastation brought by WWII. Being ordinary citizens, our hopes and aspirations were hampered by the financial difficulties of going to college. To go into medicine and law entailed steady financing. Competition for scholarships was fierce. Everybody wanted to avail of the minimal tuition fee of the limited number of state colleges and universities. I was lucky, because I was born to hardworking middle-class parents who struggled but valued education. Imagine sending 6 children to 8-9 yr. college courses! The rest of us, however, were not so fortunate. Most of my batchmates had to trade LLBs, engineering and medical degrees to take up vocational or 2 and 4 year courses for fast financial returns.

Notwithstanding our humble circumstances, or perhaps because of the gratefulness that we learned from it, we had a blast. High school days during the late fifties were happy go lucky times. We were introduced, during our teenage years, to the novelty of wearing long pants and enjoying sin-taxed "luxuries" such as cigarettes and liquor. It was a privilege to drive any kind of motor vehicle. McArthur jeeps were few and far in between.

High Fidelity (HiFi) music of Patti Page, Vic Damone, Petula Clark, Pat Boone, Perry Como, Nat King Cole and Elvis filled the air. That was good, refined music that we listened to. We had none of this Eminem, Lady Gaga Justin Bieber, and Charice Pempengco madness. There were no mobile phones or the Internet or music playing on the radio either. So if you wanted to listen to music, you had to get hold of LP (long playing) 33 and 45 albums.  


The Josephites sense of discipline will always be attributed to the founding SVD Fathers. I remember Father Rocks and Father Eisenberg. Father Eisenberg was an imposing 6-footer hunk of a priest who sent chills down our spines when a misdemeanor was committed. All in all, the Fathers inculcated in our young minds the way to reap the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

I am especially proud to have been taught by teachers who were dedicated and qualified in their own fields. This is not to belittle the contribution of our other teachers at the time, but I distinctly remember a handful, like Ms.  Benilda Culig (now Mrs. Ratum) our Biology teacher. I always made it a point to top her class. Back then, if you wanted to become an M.D. you should excel in Biology, so I did.

There was also the Naceno husband and wife team composed of Mr. Bonifacio Naceno, who painstakingly taught us Physics and Ms. Juanita Naceno who is the best English teacher I know. Ms. Naceno was my declamation coach in the school Intramurals, and although she probably had the best of intentions, was instrumental for my aversion to public speech.

My phobia arose when in my 3rd year, during the course of a literary-musical competition where I was the declamation contestant, I overheard her at the sidelines saying: "Ney nalipattannan..." [My translation: "Oh no, he forgot."] when I missed a line in the latter part of my declamation piece. I ran off the stage in embarrassment. My losing the contest contributed a lot to our side giving up the general championship. I was devastated. But it turns out, after 50 years, traumatic high school experiences such as this get eclipsed by more important things, like family and careers.

Here is where the values that we learned at the Academy of St. Joseph come in. Next to our families, this school helped mold us into the people that we are today. It was not so much the poems and formulas that we took with us when we graduated from this school and moved on to more challenging endeavors. Who here remembers the formula for determining the length of the longest side of a right triangle? Possibly none.

And yet, we were raised by the Academy to be God-fearing, law-abiding citizens, persevering in the face of adversity to be the most successful persons our circumstances will allow us to be. Ralph Waldo Emerson, American lecturer, essayist and poet of the 19th century said: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." I agree entirely.

To you, our younger fellow Josephites, strive hard so that you will make God, country, and our beloved alma mater proud. That part of the ASJ HYMN that goes.. "For we are sure that strife will lead to life...in first division...ASJ,"  should guide you not just to strive to live but to claim the best that life has to offer. "Ti lubong ag wer-werret, matnag ti di makakapet"  [Translation: I don't know. My Ilocano is pathetic. Haha]

Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Aaaw!! This is an early Father's Day post! Piolo? He meant John Lloyd? :-) Glad your dad is doing better, Gladi!


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