Monday, March 21, 2011

Goodbye, Gabaldon, Goodbye!

Not a trace was left of the school where I first heard cicadas sing, where we used to mumble "Land of the Morning," where I learned to write "What I Did Last Vacation," where we learned Good Manners & Right Conduct while lining up for our share of "nonfat dry milk donated by the people of the United States of America," and where I experienced this thing called "puppy love" when I was in Grade 2

The Gabaldon I'm referring to here was the 9-classroom, single story, and cream-colored building that many senior and almost-senior citizens of Dupax del Sur of today certainly have gone to when they were in grade school. Were it still standing today, it could have looked very similar to the picture above of the well-preserved Gabaldon building of Guinayangan, Quezon, that I downloaded from the internet.

The Origin of Gabaldon

Up until recently I thought the word "Gabaldon" was the name for that particular spot of the town bounded by the Laccay and Bato^ lots on the north, the Galam and Latar residences and their adjoining solar on the east, the Benitez guava farm and a child-friendly small hill on the west, and the Abannatan creek on the south.

Through the internet, however, I learned the following:
  • Gabaldon refers to the school buildings built as part of the elementary school training given by the Thomasites, the first batch of American teachers sent to the Philippines aboard the MV Thomas during the American colonial regime; 
  • the blueprint of the Gabaldon Building was a complex containing nine classrooms, a library, a property room, a principal’s office and an assembly hall; and 
  • the buildings were called as such in honor of Assemblyman Isauro Gabaldon of Nueva Ecija who authored Act No. 1801 widely known as the Gabaldon Act that appropriated 1 million pesos between 1907 and 1915 for the construction of schoolhouses of strong materials all over the country.

Gabaldon Memories

Those who went to that one and only Gabaldon building of Dupax del Sur in the '50s up to the '90s would recall that the building then had wide windows made of Capiz shells. I recall the same type of window seemed to be the standard for old houses in Dupax in the 1950s. The roof was also of galvanized-iron sheets, not asbestos like the smaller pre-fab building that we later went to for our intermediate or Grades 5 and 6 classes.

When I was enrolled in Grade 1, the first room that I ever entered in that building was the one on the right. I remember our teacher then was Mrs. Suzon and for the couple of hours or so that I was in her class (before I got "nakalus" or weeded out for being under-aged), I can only remember her pointing to a framed photo of Jose Rizal above the blackboard while telling a story about the guy being shot in Luneta or something. We were too many in that room and the other kids were quite pushy and my little brain then could not quite understand why the fuzz about this Rizal. And so I was listless and preferred listening to the song of the cicadas on the mango tree that framed the right side of the Gabaldon.

Apart from the familiar wide stairway and the long signboard above it that carried the name DUPAX ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, there was a concrete flagpole in front that served as our "save" (meaning, point where one is already immune from being chased) each time we kids played hide-and-seek. When I was bigger, it was a favorite base for teams when we played the then popular game of  "Prisoner." That game as well as that flagpole did much to build our agility and skills not only in running but also in doing the kulkulepot (Isinay word for evading a chaser by running zigzag or from side to side).

I haven't seen kids playing Prisoner lately but, for the record, it consisted of two competing teams fielding runners to chase one another on the then wide open, foot-friendly and thickly grass-carpeted school yard of the Gabaldon. And whoever got touched by a chaser would become hostage or "prisoner" of the chaser's team. The prisoner could however be saved if his team would send one member to sneak up behind the enemy line and rescue him while one or two of his teammates are diverting the attention of the opposition's "soldiers."

I remember there used to be a bell near the door of the front room on the left. Made of a sawed-off World War 2 bomb (almost one-foot in diameter), that bell went "teng-teng-teng-teng" each morning that Mr. Julian Benter (during my time) pulled its string to signal that it was time for us mostly barefooted pupils then to stop running after one another in front of the building, and to fall in line in our respective grades and sections for the raising of the flag and singing of the "Land of the Morning" (yes, we used to sing the English version of the national anthem when I was in Grades 1 and 2), followed -- especially on Mondays -- by a pep talk on good manners and right conduct or other such themes by the Principal (at the time our Domang neighbor Mr. Andres Imperial).

That building certainly helped build the character of today's senior citizens of Dupax. It was where we learned to scrub the wooden floor with coconut husks, to pull stubborn grass such as the po-ot (amorseco; puriket in Ilocano), to sweep the yard of fallen leaves (yes, no plastic wrappers nor other such non-biodegradable litter then), and to fetch water in pails to flush the maggoty toilet bowls behind the building then -- things that many of us certainly did not do in our own houses!

It was also in the Gabaldon where we learned to be good Boy or Girl Scouts and not to push one another each time the "Non-fat Dry Milk Donated by the People of the United States of America" or other such foreign-to-local-taste goods as bulgur wheat, corn meal, cheese, and linseed oil arrived (I don't recall how) and we were asked to fall in line to receive our share. Whenever a classmate happened to have run out of grade school pad paper to form into cone as container for the powdered milk, he/she was always rescued by another who happens to have a thick pad.

Where's the Gabaldon?

I first learned that the Gabaldon building is no more from Mrs. Angelita Ponce-Luma'nga, sister of my Grade school classmate Luis Ponce whose house was near the elementary school, just across the stands of uhaw (a species of bamboo; bulo in Ilocano, boho in Tagalog; ) that formed one bank of the Abannatan brook. This was last January 15 when we went to the funeral of one of Mama's cousins, Uncle Antonio Pudiquet, who carried me on his shoulders when I was around 5 and we went for a picnic at the then still alive and sparkling Salinas Salt Spring (which Ilocanos or people in the area then called galpang).

Uwa Lita of course mentioned the sad news only casually. This was because she was excitedly contributing to the discussion with Mrs. Raza of now rarely used Isinay words among which were the following:
  • arehana (backyard; Ilocano arubayan)
  • galunggung (throat; Ilocano karabukob)
  • ilob-ah (to discard or reject; Ilocano ibelleng)
  • man-alinsaru (to sob; Ilocano agsaiddek)
  • manbinbiniwung (stay uninvolved in the corner; Tagalog magmukmok)
  • manbinbiniyu^ (adolescent woman; Ilocano balasitang; Tagalog dalagita)
  • misepsepat (join a conversation uninvited; Ilocano sumampitaw)
  • mise^se-ung (intrude into a conversation; Ilocano makisawsaw)
  • sumepaw (go over a fence; Ilocano lumaktaw)
  • tiyapong (gone astray; Ilocano bulakbul)
Mrs. Lumanga also animatedly recalled how, when she was in Grade 4, the boys spread wawini (Ilocano sabawil) fruit hair on the girls' desks and the resulting itch she got on her legs, buttocks and pubic area made her go careless in scratching affected parts including their tili-tili (Ilocano sellang; Tagalog singit), in the process raising her skirt like what the other girl victims did. But instead of punishing only the boys, Papa included the girls in receiving whips on the buttocks (or was it being hit with chalk and eraser projectiles?).

Not a Trace Left of Gabaldon

To verify the news, on our way home to Mama's house in Domang after the feast cum reunion that followed Uncle Anton's funeral, I asked my bayaw (brother in law) to let his van pass by the Dupax elementary school. And, indeed, I only saw a couple of goats grazing on the grass that overgrew in the spot where the mighty building once stood. Right then and there, I could only heave a sigh of sadness.

I went back there last March 12, almost two months after seeing the vacancy. What I discovered was not only emptiness but also signs of neglect if not lack of concern for campus maintenance. Naturally, what I saw did not only hit me like something was ripped out of my being; I also felt guilty for my not having been there when they totally obliterated my dear school.

Not only could I no longer associate the unkempt grass and gravel that I saw, with the cream-colored school that used to be my "home" when I was in Grade 2 (under then Miss Jovita Sanchez who held fort in the classroom main door on the right) and in Grade 3 (under then Miss Rosalina Gabriel, main door on the left).

Gone, too, was the flagpole that I never got to raise the Philippine flag on but which served as our "save" each time we played hide and seek when we got sudden breaks from classes each time the Principal (Mr. Andres Imperial) or the District Supervisor (a bald-headed round guy named Mr. Guiab) called our teachers to a meeting.

Indeed, not a trace is left of the school that heard me sing "Lend op di morning, seldi seldi serning... lend deer en holy dudu our sols ador!" All right, this was when it was not yet compulsory for public schools to sing the "Bayang Magiliw" (officially Lupang Hinirang).

Not one bit is also left of the wide building that saw me frequent Mrs. Cayetana Magaway's clinic for cleansing of the stubborn ga-te (scabies; gaddil in Ilocano) on my legs (which I recall I either acquired from too much climbing sapang (kararawit in Ilocano; lubalob in Tagalog; scientific name: Bridelia stipularis) and other such shrubs in Pitang for their fruits that I used as bullet for my kalido^do^ (bamboo toygun; palsuot in Ilocano; sumpak in Tagalog), or from riding carabaos in I-iyo with their hairy hide still wet from soaking in the river).

Not a bit of reminder also remained of my Grade 2 classroom where boys and girls were seated to keep them from making too much noise -- like what our teacher Miss Sanchez had done to me and a sweet-looking girl who I recall was at the time often wearing white sweater and went by the name Mercedes Perez.

Not one memento was also left of the building where in Grade 3 I cherished writing "My Pet Dog" and "What I Did Last Vacation" for my first English compositions under the Ilocana Miss Gabriel.

Not a dust also remains of the rooms that made me enjoy being a teacher's pet as a Grade 2 and as a Grade 3 pupil. (Well, hindsight tells me now I was that lucky not so much because I was doing well in class as because I happened to be the son of Mr. Vicente M. Castro, then a Grade 4 teacher; and that I was a nephew of other sirs and ma'ms like Uncle Ermin Castro, Uncle Cion Coloma, Uncle Polonio Latar, Auntie Tating Fernandez, and Auntie Toring Coloma.)

Not a shard remains of the wooden walls and floors and the GI roofs that were once silent witnesses when, as early as in Grade 2, I had this thing they called puppy love. (Bless her soul, the girl of my dreams then -- I heard the angels took her away one wintry day, only last December, most likely shivering, in a cold foreign land, and probably remembering!)

With the Gabaldon building gone, the school yard of Dupax Central Elementary School doesn't look like a school yard anymore. When I was little, this part of the 8-hectare campus was green with amorseco that we pupils often competed in pulling and which served as our playground for such 1960s games as "Prisoner of War," "innunungan" (wrestling) and "binnansiyan" (where one carried a partner on his back and used him to kick other pairs). At the time, a few meters from the gate (where this photo was shot March 12, 2011), one could already see the imposing figure of the building flanked by the Home Economics Building on the left and a round mango tree on the right that I never saw bear fruit but nevertheless had plenty of singing cicadas.

Call it a case of crying over spilled milk, but I do miss that old school for its having been part of my life when I was growing up. It was where I got to learn and practice my Isinay, where I made many friends among the Ilocano pupils from I-iyo, Manggayang and Bagumbayan, as well as gang-mates from among the Isinay-speaking guys on the central part of Dupax (not yet divided between Norte and Sur at the time).

The building also saw me bond with my father each election time even when I was already at St. Mary's High School and he would be one of the precinct leaders in the inner rooms of the Gabaldon, and I would bring him his lunch that Mama prepared and put in an aluminum lunch box.

There was also one evening Papa took me to watch the burning of old "condemned" books right near the flagpole and as we and the Latar boys watched the smoke billow from the bonfire, I could only feel sorry for those books that could have been given away to be read by my playmates in the barrio while keeping watch of their pregnant ricefields from marauding billit-tuleng (rice sparrows) or while waiting for their carabaos to finish their muddy pond wallow.

Gabaldon Photos, Anyone?

I don't know if somebody in Dupax has kept a "whole-body" picture of the school the way it was when I was small. Which was why when I asked my cousin Ninfa Castro-Tolentino if she happened to have a photo of it in her files and she said yes, I readily gobbled the photo below.

For, even if the picture only shows the concrete stairs of the building and part of a door that I can't even determine if it was one that led to the rooms on the left or the rooms on the right, I'm quite certain that I have walked up and down those stairs and went through that door many times before -- and long, long before the respective births of the bright-eyed kids (three of whom are my "forest products") in this historic photo (taken by Ninfa more than two decades ago).

Taken circa 1988 at the stairs of the now-gone Gabaldon building of Dupax Elementary School -- Front row: Herbert Castro Tolentino and Enock Castro Dial. Second row (left to right): Minerva Fiadchongan Castro, Roselyn Castro Bañez, Leia Fiadchongan Castro, Charles Vincent Fiadchongan Castro, and Audrelyn Castro Bañez.

The Gabaldon was said to have been so termite-infested and earthquake-damaged the school authorities decided a couple of years back it had go. I don't know. But I do have this nagging feeling that those who call the shots for the demolition of school buildings and construction of new ones may have merely shifted more attention to the other school in the middle of the town, near the plaza -- the Governor Alfonso Castañeda Elementary School (GACES).

It's only a building, you might say. But not this building that was on our minds each time we sang this parody of Church in the Wildwood taught to us by Papa's cousin (and my Grade 6 teacher) Estela Guiab Fernandez:
There's a school in the valley by the wildwood
No lovelier place in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
as the little cream school in the vale.

Indeed, the school was almost a girlfriend to me! And so, it is as if the following lines by the British poet and painter David Harkins are beamed in my direction:

You can shed tears that she is gone,
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all she's left.
 Your heart can be empty because you can't see her,
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her only that she is gone,
or you can cherish her memory and let live on.
You can cry and close your mind, 
be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what she'd want:
smile, open your eyes, love, and go on.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Farewell to a Great Isinay Teacher

She sang to us the Indian Serenade and Sweet Afton like we were kids that needed pacifying with a lullaby. In her characteristic mellifluous voice she animatedly recited several stanzas of Longfellow's Song of Hiawata. She taught us how to conjugate sentences in English and introduced us to such phrases as apple of one’s eye and emotion recollected in tranquility. And one time that the unmistakable aroma of green tamarind wafted in the classroom, she called our attention to the fact that the correct Isinay word for “sour” was maesom and not mapayit.

t the St. Mary’s High School in Dupax, Nueva Vizcaya, easily the teacher who inspired me the most was Mrs. Ermelinda Castañeda Magalad -- or Madam Magalad for short among us her students. Born December 1st, 1910, she passed away in Quezon City last February 19 at the age of 100 years, 2 months, and 18 days, and got interred at the Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina. 

I’m doing a full post about Madam Magalad here not so much because she was the best English teacher I ever had in my 24 years of attending classes (since Kindergarten up to Graduate School) as because it was she who had unwittingly blazed the trail for me to take a second look at the beauty of the written word, including the Isinay language.

A Stickler for Correct Usage

It was Madam Magalad who taught me how to conjugate English sentences. You know the kind -- subject, predicate, object, indirect object, apositive, and all that stuff. (In fact, when  my cousin and St.Mary's classmate Jessie Lopez Castro texted me about our teacher's passing away, that was one of the things that immediately came to my mind. I recalled how one time I was the only one who correctly conjugated a difficult irregular sentence on the blackboard, and my two rivals for the top of the honor rolls looked like they just bit sour tamarind.)

Indeed, aside from introducing us to the concept of idioms, Madam Magalad was also a stickler for correct grammar and correct usage -- be it in English or Isinay. Her pet peeve was "taken cared of" -- it should be "taken care of", she said, as the "care" here is a direct object and not a verb. 

It was from her that I got to learn that the proper Isinay phrase for the English "a while ago" is besan ye and not umommo ya which in itself is wrong grammar. Umommoy, she said, is in the future, meaning "in a little while" or "later."

Today, we lesser mortals would of course refer to umommoy as "by and by."

Inspirational Poem-Songs

I'm not sure now (I too have my "senior moments") but during my time I think it was Madam Magalad who introduced "Laarni a Dream" to us First Year St. Mary's students.  But this I'm sure of: when I was in 4th year, she taught us the tune of "The Indian Serenade":

I arise from dreams of thee 
In the first sweet sleep of night 
When the winds are breathing low 
And the stars are shining bright.

I don't know if it was by design. She also taught us that the very lyrical "Sweet Afton" also had a tune, one that I learned decades later was similar to one of the tunes of the Christmas carol "Away in a Manger."

Anyway, I liked the poem/song's Nature-attuned words:

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream

Thou stock dove whose echo resounds thro' the glen

Ye wild whistly blackbirds in yon thorny den
Thou green crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear
I charge you, disturb not my slumbering fair

How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighboring hills

Far mark'd with the courses of clear winding rills
There daily I wander as noon rises high
My flocks and my Mary's sweet cot in my eye

How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below

Where, wild in the woodlands, the primroses blow
There oft, as mild evening sweeps over the lea
The sweet-scented birch shades my Mary and me

Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides

And winds by the cot where my Mary resides
How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave
As, gathering sweet flowerets, she stems thy clear wave

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes

Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream
So flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dreams!

Madam Magalad sang these songs (actually poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Robert Burns, respectively) as if we were kids that needed to be pacified or lulled to sleep with a lullaby. But looking back now, I did love not only the way she sang them but also the way the two songs helped me fight bouts of homesickness years later in UP Los Baños.

I loved to sing snippets of the rhythmical lines each time I felt like quitting school and wanting to be just a child again and free to roam the hills and fields and rivers of Dupax. For instance, I would surreptitiously hum them when I did my laundry at the dorm. Or when I crammed for my Trigonometry exams. Or reviewed my bayong-full of leaves and twigs for my tree-identification subject. And when one summer I painted a long-horned carabao amidst the backdrop of a red-orange sunset as a requirement for passing Humanities.

In other words, those songs that I learned from Madam Magalad kept me attached to my Dupax roots. Mind you, it had not been easy. This was because it was fashionable then to belt out songs by the Beatles then the Cascades then Bob Dylan then Peter, Paul & Mary -- then the "Internationale" and "Awit ng Mendiola" and other such activist songs before Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972.

Tamarinds Are Sour, Not Bitter

Ah, memories! One time the unmistakable aroma of green tamarind wafted in the classroom, Madam Magalad didn't castigate whoever it was who brought the fruits to be shared among the girls in class.

Instead, this Isinay teacher of several generations (and daughter of the former Nueva Vizcaya Governor Alfonso Castañeda) went into a little lecture that the correct Isinay term for “sour” is not mapayit but maesom. (Sounds almost the same as the Ilocano naalsem and the Tagalog maasim.)

For the sake of this blog's readers, the Isinay mapayit is of course “bitter” in English (napait in Iloco; mapait in Tagalog). Thus, it is correct to say, in Isinay: “Mapayit di tamtam di apalyar” (The ampalaya tastes bitter). But it is wrong to say: “Mapayit di tamtam sompalo war an mata” (Unripe tamarind tastes bitter).

How I wish Madam Magalad was still in Dupax when I was asking around for the correct Isinay word for "smile."

For, indeed, it took a long time for senior citizens, including Bona^ si Isinay (Isinay Culture) Vice President Abraham Reyes who jokingly proposed mantatawa an marin man-awiwit di tamilnar (literally: laugh but not with twisted lips), to submit their respective guesses before somebody (Uwa Sofia Arroyo) came out with the final word mangumimit.

It took sometime, too, before my wedding godmother Francisca Felix viuda de Mayangat remembered her father use the term burarol when I was almost getting desperate asking around for the Isinay term for "kite." Before then, almost everyone I asked who played kites when they were young just said they grew up knowing that that plaything they call ullaw in Ilocano and saranggola in Tagalog was simply referred to as "kite."

I digress, but the prevalent use in Dupax of the English name for kite is similar to the case of the cricket (yes, the black insect made popular by the cartoon character Jimminy Cricket). My father's cousin Ambrosio Mambear and my former neighbor Guillermo "Base" Abijay Calacala Jr. could not recall an Isinay term for it but they do know that the mole cricket (the brown one) is called e-e in Isinay (ararawan in Ilocano, suhong in Tagalog).

A Church Choir Institution

There is a picture or rather a sound that quite often pops out in my mind each time I go to Dupax and visit the St. Vincent Roman Catholic Church (the most famous place in Dupax del Sur whose baroque Spanish-era architecture got it named as a UNESCO world heritage site).

The picture is that of the combined image and voice of Madam Magalad on Christmas dawn masses animatedly leading --

"Christians arise and loud let us sing
To a sweet baby born as our king
Come to a stable where in a manger
Lies a wee stranger bedded in hay."

I'm not sure now if Madam Magalad also sang during Sunday masses. On regular Wednesday afternoons, however, her sweet voice also filled the air when we St. Mary's students went to church for the novena to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (as part of the requirements in Religion) part of which included the singing of the --

"Immaculate Mary, we come at thy call
And lo at thy altar before thee we fall
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!"

Had it not been for Madam Magalad's leadership, many of us then would not have loved to sing with feeling the Wednesday novena finale:

"Mother dearest, Mother fairest help of all who call on thee
Virgin purest, brightest, rarest help us help we cry to thee!"

During Holy Week when we sang Tantum Ergo the hymn would not seem to be complete then if it did not include Madam Magalad's voice. She was not only our lead singer but also conductor and metronome as she set the keys that would enable us adolescent boys to sing the high pitches without going "kiyok-kiyok" (like wild cockerels) with our vocal chords.

There are of course other choir singers in Dupax then (like Apu Ane Bastero and Juan Dinu). But somehow Madam Magalad's soprano(?) voice would rise distinctly over the other church cantores as immediately after the officiating priest exclaimed “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!" they rendered the truly glorious and heavenly
Gloria… in Excelsis Deo!
Gloria… in Excelsis Deo!

If there would be any semblance of competition then, it could only be the brightly twinkling star of Bethlehem "walking" (manlaar) towards the manger... while in the choir loft above the two gigantic columns at the entrance of the church, the Spanish national anthem is being played in deafening pitch by the combined forces of the rivals St. Vincent Orchestra and Eagle Swing Orchestra... and high above them all the unbroken bells in the kampanario (belfry) went tang-tang-tang!

Part of those bygone sounds and images inside the church, of course, were us kids attending the misa de gallo suddenly going awake, particularly the boys who immediately followed to church -- with unwashed faces, uncombed hair, still sleepy eyes and all -- any of the two orchestras as they went around the almost 8-shaped main road that looped around central Dupax playing Joy to the World or Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit in a recently done-away-with tradition in Dupax del Sur we called diana.

We would stay awake and would stay so until the mass is over or at least until the joyful pe-re-re-re... perep-perep-perep-perep... pe-re-re-re... perep-perep-pere! has stopped as the brightly shining bittuwon has reached the altar and Joseph and Mary and their entourage of shepherds complete with goats plus the three kings have reached the manger.

I hasten to add here that the apart from the huge "star" our eyes would be trasfixed on the belen that almost always had as backdrop a panoramic view of Bethlehem painted (on glued sheets of Manila paper or cement bags) by the Isinay artist Andres Bombongan who is now also gone.

Madam Magalad's Advice

In the late 1960s, it was still fashionable then for students to have slum books where one was asked by an owner to put in his/her hobbies, favorite motto, favorite actor and actress, ambition, etc. Some of them had Susan Roces, Amalia Fuentes, or just photos of red roses on the cover.

Not one to pass the opportunity of having mementos from friendly classmates, I bought this less riotous and definitely not of the artista-fanatic kind of booklet for one peso and fifty centavos. This one contained the same template asking autographs from people, including their photos (which in Dupax was next to impossible for students to have then, so the normal answer one would get was "see me in person"). And it had space at the bottom for remarks.

Towards graduation time (I think it was a break from Mrs. Magalad's rehearsing us with our graduation song "This is the long awaited day, this is the day we prayed to come..."), I suddenly thought it would be nice to have her sign my slum book. You know what she wrote in her characteristic long-hand?

"Remember journalism? You can do it!"

That single liner, along with memories of her maesom and besan ye reminders, became one of my guiding lights for a long, long time when I had to engage in some "emotions recollected in tranquility" even long, long after I left the portals of St. Mary's! -- charlz castro

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thank You, Lord, for Clean and Quiet Places Like My Hometown Dupax

My town mates may grumble about how so-called progress has been turtle-paced, if at all, in Dupax del Sur.  If I had my way, I like the way my birthplace is -- quiet, pastoral, unpolluted, far from the madding crowd.

Dalihan, Barangay Palobotan, Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya around 6am of Dec. 28, 2010

Indeed, now and then, one could hear somebody complain how far behind our town is compared to its neighbors.

We still don't have factories, bakeries, restaurants, drugstores, banks, souvenir shops, tourist inns, gasoline stations, bus terminals, and videoke bars to lure visitors and investors -- and to keep young Isinays and Ilocanos from seeking the so-called greener pastures in Manila, Hongkong, Japan, the Middle East, Europe, or America.

But who cares about factories, bakeries, restaurants...?

Who says that noisy, filthy, congested towns are better than the blue and sleepy hills, the clean and serene rivers, the sparkling ricefields that are verdant green one day and heavy with golden grains the next day?

Okay, go take a bath in your progress.

Go on and chew your banks and souvenir shops and gas stations and tourist inns.

Go feed your kids with your videoke bars and bus terminals.

Just leave my hometown alone.

Let me live where there are always sunny days and frequent rainbows and myriad stars at night.

Let me wake up mornings on a bed of hay and where smoke billows from a cogon-roofed hut. Let me continue to smell the aroma of boiling corn, roasted peanuts, or mudfish broiling on the dirt stove.

Let me listen to the laughter of children on their way to school a couple or so kilometers away. Let me hear the song of the pond by the road as a carabao swats the swarm of flies by its muddied tail.

Let me watch how the sun goes up, how it awakens the warbler and brings color to the fields as they get speckled moments later with men and women joyfully planting or harvesting rice.

Let me bathe on streams with cows munching dew-bathed grass on their banks. Let me try my luck at catching red dragonflies or stealing a leaf from the touch-me-not plant without causing it to close shop.

At noon, let me be with sparrows as they chase stubborn May beetles and katydids. Let me lay down on a cogon hut by the field and fall asleep with the song of cicadas and a solitary hawk circling high in the sky.

At twilight, let me regain my breath so I could say goodbye to the silhouette of wild ducks flying towards the sunset. After which let me hear the crackle of firewood cooking camote or beans on a black kettle.

Then allow me my ration of a steaming plate of rice and bagoong-dipped button tomatoes and steamed river fern. Allow me too my dose of black coffee half sweetened by homemade molasses.

Then before I say "Thank you, Lord, for another day" allow me to feast my eyes on the twinkling stars or a tree full of fireflies.-- CHARLZ CASTRO