By Pablo A. Tariman
When I think of summer, my thoughts inevitably turn to the island of my birth in Baras, Catanduanes.
Where I was born, I think of the high bright sun of barrio Tilod where the river ends where the sea begins. From the bridge, you see the silvery horizon of the wide Pacific Ocean.
Westward down from the barrio chapel, I see the school where my mother used to teach. While my mother was busy with school chores, I was usually entrusted to a gentle old lady I called Lola Cayang and her daughter I called Tia Lily. Growing up with them, I saw a second family I would seek out even as some of them would settle in Metro Manila. It was pure destiny that I found Tia Lily’s daughter on face book. Tia Lily has since then moved on and her daughter has settled in Canada.
So much memories of this barrio of my birth. Where the river begins is our mountain land we call Sogod and that part with the clearest stream I ever saw in my life we call Minacahon was where we used to take a bath, catch fresh shrimps and cook them with coconut milk with paco (fresh ferns). It was the summer we would pick up farm produce (corn, camote and other root crops) including abaca hemp from local farmhands. For giving them free use of the land, we divide farm produce two-way. Our share we transport to the town proper by sea using bamboo raft passing the shallow coastline.
In barrio Moning was where a grade school classmate lived and come fiesta time, he would invite me to his place where all you can see are abandoned nipa huts and endless rows of rice land. In one such abandoned nipa hut, young townmates do some merry making with some of them proudly showing off their newly “baptized” private parts in a triumphant show of their new state of manhood. One such young townmate would grow up a military general and in the early 80s, I read from the papers that he died from an encounter with Mindoro insurgents.
That rite of passage was memorable in the summer after grade school. First year high school found us in this battered building near a store that rented out Liwayway and Bulaklak magazines including local comics. Come recess time, male classmates would check bandage on their private parts in a secluded part of the school and where they thought nobody was watching. Until they heard girls giggling from another room.
Once healed, they’d go swimming naked in that river behind our school. At that time in the island, nobody thought of swimming in birthday suits as obscene. The sight came naturally as treading on the rice paddies back to the town proper.
I thought some summers in the island were highlighted by endless dancing some summer nights. The dancing hall near the sea had improvised fence and everybody was free to join. Like it or not, they reminded me of scenes from popular Fellini films.
In the late 50s, we lived in a house by the sea just near the house occupied by a woman who was a church singer. We presumed she was a widow because we never got to see her husband. But once a year, a daughter who looked like Marilyn Monroe would visit her for a short vacation. My then 9-year mind presumed she had a good-looking foreigner for a husband.
But one early morning before sunrise, the neighborhood was awakened by the voice of an angry woman shouting by the window of the church singer’s house. “Come here you Mary Magdalen you,” she roared with her lips trembling with anger. “You sing in the church every day and then you have the gall to sleep with my husband! How dare you!” This was followed by endless island expletives.
The poor lover, a police officer in our town, came out of the house and sheepishly escorted his wife out of the place.
But the early summer I would not forget was when my Uncle Joel (not his real name) figured in a love affair straight from the blockbuster Maryo J. de los Reyes film, The Other Woman.
The incident has since then long been forgotten and my late Aunt Charing (not her real name) has long since forgiven my late Uncle.
The 1950s letter – which went back to the sender for lack of anti-TB stamp – had the scorching passion of Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.”
Some excerpts: “My dear, I still have happy lingering memories of that meeting with its happiness that often ends up in loneliness for we are apart. You once asked when we will be together again. Well. I knew not when. I’m (sic) too waiting for that time to come.”
The letter came with a dolorous poem which read thus: “My heart in your hand, to fool it beware/ For till death you’ll always have it dear/ To nourish you with love forever and ever.”
As I recall this island episode, Shakespeare’s Juliet entreaty came to mind –
“My bounty is as deep as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”
In my ripe old age now, acceptance comes easy as Shakespeare once noted —
“Love is blind and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit.”