Take for instance, this Castro-Morales family picture of ours taken on 4 October 1959 to celebrate the joint birthday and baptismal party of my Ingkung Dando and my younger brother Ronald. Under the canopy of a narra tree in the sprawling courtyard of Don Rafael Morales’s mansion (my Ingkung’s brother-in-law and next-door neighbor), the whole clan gathered for this souvenir photo shoot. As Morales relatives, we’ve always had access to this grand house, long vacated by Ingkung Paeng’s family, and here, especially during summers, we used to race down the long stairway or play piku or tambubung on the spacious, cemented grounds.
I don’t even recall posing for this picture, but there I am, right smack at the center, two years old going on three, looking a wee bit glum, with my Ingkung Dando’s two hands over my chest. Was he restraining me from bolting out of my pose? Or was he propping me up after tiring myself out from all the running and chasing with my cousins? I wonder. What I do now remember is my snazzy polo shirt, sewn by Ma. It’s the same pale blue shirt I wore to my first formal portrait sitting, with sea lion prints and floppy white collars.
My Ingkung, all of 65 years, is beaming in this picture, perhaps at the thought that he has raised his 4 children well. From an escribano in the municipio earning 30 pesos a month to a landowner, he had indeed, come a long way. All his children were settled and independent: Mang Elsie had a thriving canteen in Herran, Tatang Titong was running a Shell station in Balibago, Tatang Matt was a highly-regarded university professor in Baguio, and my own father Dong was helping manage the sugarcane lands. Ingkung stayed with us in our Sta. Ines house for the rest of his life, and for awhile became my room mate. He had a big antique cabinet where he kept all those polo shirts and pairs of white pants which he favored wearing with his two-toned shoes. A close scrutiny of the photo shows him wearing a wide band gold ring that I remember had a unique grapevine design. With a hat and a walking cane in hand, he would cut a smart, dashing figure when he went strolling to church. For sure though, my Ingkung would have been happier if Apung Tiri were still around (she passed on 7 years earlier) so they could sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labors, including their 14 grandchildren shown here.
And where have all the people in this picture gone?
Apparently it seems, the ties that bound the family have become looser through the years, with some lives scattered, some claimed by time. Only daughter of my Ingkung, and the eldest—Mang Elsie (that’s her, seated to his left), is the only one around today, with my father and his two brothers having departed earlier, almost in quick succession. My super-achiever cousin and college classmate Marlene Sheryl (on the lap of Mang Auring Castro-Samson, extreme right), was but a young mother when she passed away in 1984, at age 24, a most sad, unfortunate day for the family. First cousins Cynthia (wife of Atty. Eddie Rivera) and Beng (now California-based), were my eternal prom dates in high school while their brother Alvin was the third of our secret triumvirate kiddie club called 3-M (for Magnificent!), that included me and my brother Gregg. Ronald, the 3-week old baptismal celebrant, would grow up to be a bank manager and a father of a gaggle of 4 giggly girls. And yes, he now wears Ingkung’s grapevine ring, albeit a little worn with age. My Mom would still give birth to 4 more children, the youngest being Froilan. He was barely a month old when my Ingkung Dando departed this earthly life in December of ‘68.
Pictures do paint a thousand words, and so much more. They compose memorable portrait references of people we have known, siblings we grew up with, of fathers and grandfathers, and of forebears we now miss and honor. They just don’t document life events but they capture the nuances of close familial relationships, by illuminating what time has dimmed. Look closely: you are sure to find significance in a frozen moment, be it in the hint of a smile…a beaming face..or a mother’s tight embrace.
So go ahead, open your family album and explore further the experience of learning from pictures, of retracing the past and discovering in that faded, dog-eared photograph the key to something in your mind’s eye that are vague and hazy; places, images and events that have been forgotten, ignored or taken for granted. Then perhaps, you can unravel the magic of memory.
(15 June 2002)