Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Neighborhood I Grew Up In

I remember my friend saying when I asked her how her visit to her former boss' house in Malabon went. She said  "I could not believe how close the houses were to each other".  That was what made the most impression to her. It is actually an accurate description of the particular neighborhood where her former boss' lived which was not far from my grandmother Nanang Pina's house where I grew up in.

No fences divided one house from the other.  No cookie cutter houses like in a subdivision.  Some were huge while others were small and humble.  Others had vintage architecture, others modern and while some were make shift.

I would start with the house directly beside my grandmother's house since the occupants, two unmarried sisters, became close friends of my mother. The house was modern looking from the outside and what particularly impressive was the huge backyard that faced the Malabon River. It was paved and wide with a sort of a fence with pillars which had flower pots at the top. I remember Aling Trining, one of the two sisters, in her long ankle length house dress, watering these plants.  She was tall with an angular, slender over all look about her. She had long dark hair and always wore red lipstick and had long nails painted blood red. She was a toned down version of Elvira one of the characters in the TV show, The Monsters, except she was not at all scary but dignified and friendly.

The two sisters lived on the second floor of that spacious house.  One of the windows of their house faced one of those on the second floor of my grandmother's house where my family lived.  This window of theirs had a suspended addition sticking out that looked like a huge wooden dish rack where Aling Toneng, the other sister, would dry their dishes.  I do not now remember  if it had a faucet but I can recall Aling Toneng hanging glasses on the pointed edges of this rack.

A day did not pass by without my mother looking out of the window facing that of Aling Toneng's with the dish rack to see if the latter was there. If she was, they would talk and laugh with their conversations consisting of little happenings, perhaps even gossips, but always punctuated by my mother's boisterous laughter.

This house also had the clinic of the wife of the two sisters' brother on its first floor.  The doctor was a quiet lady and the only time I got in contact with her family was when they matched me with one of her sons.  This son tried to woo me when I was working at a research center engaged in determining DDT in human fat samples.  He brought me several fat samples he obtained from his mother who took them from the abdomen of people she operated on.

Right across from this house with the clinic and the huge backyard, was a small house owned by Mang Edong with his barber shop in front of it. He was our family barber who also cut my sister's and my hair. Our hair cut featured bangs and came above our ears. Sleek and straight.  The only thing that made it feminine were the ribbons my mother put on our hair for special occasion. He loved to greet our family when we arrived at his shop with "Here comes the sapsap!"  Sapsap is a really flat fish and he compared us to it since he found our noses to be flat which was oh so true unlike his more aquiline nose.

Beside his house was a huge "bahay na bato' or house made of stone.  It belonged to a family with several young siblings which consisted of all girls and one boy.  It looked like a little castle with baroque features and little narrow windows that you see in fairy tales.

An older single lady, the aunt of the siblings, also lived there. She and the whole family had fair skin and hair that was more brown than black.  They are what we referred to in the Philippines as mestizas or half breeds with a large amount of Spanish blood.  I found out that one of my uncles courted this aunt. I heard the story that they used to throw flying kisses from across the street since her house was just in front from where my uncle who lived then with my grandmother was staying.

A street separates this house made of stone from the house of the secretary of the fish sauce company my grandmother and her family owned. The house had wide windows and had those iron grills seen in most houses in the Philippines for protection from robbers.  I remember the secretary having several sisters. One had a name I always dreamed of using for my daughter's name, Liwayway or Eway for short. By the way I never got to fulfill this dream. You could just imagine how grateful my daughters are.

Across from the secretary's house was a house that belonged to Aling Maria and one of her son's family. It had a sari sari store or convenience store in front of it. This type of small stores selling everything from candy, toys, and hot savory merienda or afternoon fare are in almost every street in the neighborhoods in the Philippines. They are decorated by hanging candies and toys to entice customers to shop.

Aling Maria's store was a typical one and it had a couple of stools in front.  I remember particularly her daughter in law Tina preparing pork menudo or the Filipino version of sloppy joes on two pieces of white bread for afternoon snacks.  I loved them.

Aling Maria, after her afternoon bath, usually paid my grandmother a visit. In fact she would come with her hair down and still wet which she would then comb as she listened to my grandmother's opinions of everything that was happening in the world that day.

At the back of the factory was Aling Poleng's humble house.  She was married to one of the workers in the factory.  If I remember right he was in charge of something to do with chimneys.  She had several children one of which was a playmate, Tessie.  I remember being envious of her pencil box which I had to coax my mother to buy for me.

The neighborhood with the tightly close houses I grew up in was vibrant with the variety in the type of houses and the people who lived in them. It was the epitome of inclusiveness. It forms the warm colorful backdrop of the memories that I weave every time I recall my happy childhood spent in my Nanang Pina's house.

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