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Rural life (1st of a series)

I am a child of the soil.

            Although I was studying my elementary grades at the Lopez Elementary School (LES) of Lopez town in Quezon Province in the Philippines in the early 1960s, I saw to it that I went to our farm every weekend in the outskirt approximately six (6) kilometers from the center of the town. The farm I am referring to wasn’t the common idea of a farm owned by agribusiness entrepreneurs these days like your typical Esperanza Farms in Lucban, Quezon owned by couple Zsa Zsa Padilla and Conrad Onglao or the farm in Afonso, Cavite of Francis Pangilinan, one of the senators of the country and Sharon Cuneta, a Filipina actress billed as Megastar or any manicured sprawls of greens and earth—fenced property or properly delineated pieces of land with, simply, boundary stones or developed sites with amenities suitable for farm tourism etc.

            Of course, a spot is an attraction especially in the countryside even with no artificial trimmings like a man-made river or lake just endowments of bucolic origins.

            I had two barrios to go to during my youth. One was Banabahin (from the word banaba—a kind of tree which from the botanical table would classify as Lagerstroemia speciosa, also known as Crape Myrtle) Ibaba (directional south). According to old folks, it was named as such because banaba trees abound in the area. The other one was Buenavista or Tigas (hard), a local name however unique if not amusing adapted by the residents from an originator of any source to identify the place for many years until it was officially assigned a name. These two barrios were adjacent with each other. These were the estates to my maternal family.

            I also had another barrio called Ilayang Ilog (Southern River) to my paternal family but I seldom went there except for special occasions like summer when folks would celebrate holidays—ecclesiastical or religious or local government activity—the merry month of May, one of them the observance of the holy day of San Isidro de Labrador (St. Isidore Labrador), the patron saint of farmers to offer thanksgiving for abundant agricultural harvests or to pray or to beseech for enough rains for the coming wet and planting season. I will reserve this story for another day.  

            During that time, they were called barrios because there weren’t barangays yet until the Marcos regime geopolitically changed the landscape of the local governments.

            Although verdant, our farm in Tigas was the typical rural setting we lived in—a nipa (a kind of palm) hut atop a slope with fruit trees like mango, avocado, chico, guava, pomelo (which we called lukban or lucban, a kind of citrus fruit), cashew, cacao etc. planted around the house. We also had pineapple (bearing fruits even out of season) and other shrubs and herbs. We had carabaos (buffalos) that were usually the so-called beasts of burden in plowing the rice fields. We had many young buffalos when its mother carabao would give birth.

            Unfortunately, we didn’t have cattle because I think my father couldn’t afford one because it was more expensive than carabao. I wanted a cow because I thought it was more privileged to have one. I could be tolerant, though, because we could only have animals we could afford. Aside from hogs whose meat was too ordinary, we would feast on carabao meat especially on special occasions like Mayflower festival where each family or their affinities (although most barrio citizens were cousins—vividly described as isang pisa (one squeeze) in the barrio would be especially assigned to a particular clan annually rotated to host a party for merrymaking on harvest time.

            The rivers where I frequently tagged along with my dad were to fish on fresh waters or gather (kimpi) or (talangka as I would be familiar with its name in the city) small native crabs from the holes mostly in the riverbanks. During rainy days, though, the most fascinating aqua harvest was the adyuko (the smallest of the tiniest river crabs) heavily laden on leaves floating in the riversides. It was mostly cooked in coconut milk with edible ferns. It was really to die for.

            In Banabahin Ibaba, meanwhile, my grandparents would always be the purveyors of the planting of the latest rare seedlings and other unusual plants they got from friends from other towns. At the time champaca (now I would Google it up and it says it’s a magnolia champaca known in English as champak, a large evergreen tree in the family of Magnoliacease) wasn’t as common unlike ilang-ilang (also known as ylang-ylang, a specie of the cananga odorata). It seemed like we were cut above the rest because we had an uncommon flower tree people would ask and wonder where the hell my grandfather and grandmother got them. When it bore flowers, it would be an exclusive picking from select kith and kin some would feel hurting for being outside the pickers.

            At the time, my old folks were the first ones to have bought Hill Bros of oatmeal and coffee from Lucena City at the time we pronounced it plainly hilbros, and not the correct American trademark diction of Hill Brothers where and when US imperial rule was at its height of acculturation even in the remotest barrio of the Philippines. Oh! My old folks would not throw away empty Hill Bros cans but would gather them as collectors’ items or turned them to sewing kits.

            My adoptive grandma and grandpa (my mom was an adopted daughter because they were childless but her adoptive dad was a first cousin of her real mom) were disciplinarians. In the town or in the barrio, we were trained to be courteous and God-fearing. My lolo (grandpa) who we called ama wouldn’t want to hear us cry loud or else he would give us a dressing down. In the barrio, they owned a lot of land properties although some of them were sold before they died and still some were bequeathed to my mother. My old folks were average people in many facets but they were relatively high in their spirits especially filial piety. (To be continued)   

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