Thursday, March 25, 2010

*186. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CLASS OF '69?

.HEADS OF THE CLASS. The Class of 1969, Grade VI, Section 1, of Mabalacat Elementary School. Friends, playmates and classmates all. Class Adviser: Mrs. Eleuteria Paquia. Dated 1969.

This month, April ushers in the end of another schoolyear, marked with the usual graduations, commencement exercises, mandatory class photo sessions and farewell parties. I am reminded of my own elementary graduation back in 1969, 41 years ago to be exact, from the town’s biggest public school, Mabalacat Elementary School. I found myself leafing through my old albums where I managed to dig up this official graduation picture of the Class of ’69, my very own batch.

This was taken just hours before the graduation rites, so you could just imagine the stress of coming to the school early in your crisp, white trubenized shirt, waiting for your turn to be shot, being extra careful not to crumple your fine graduation outfit. This was taken in an old wooden wing at the back of our school, which was not exactly photogenic as one can see—but it had a series of steps on which we could conveniently stand in rows, pose for the photographer and say cheese.

We were all herded to this site by our class adviser, Mrs. Eleuteria Paquia (+), one of my favorite teachers, and our Science teacher, Mrs. Lourdes Espanta. The Top Ten graduates of the premiere Grade 6 Section 1 class had the honor of sitting in front. I could no longer remember the exact placements of my honor classmates which included, from left to right—Alice Angeles, Rosalinda Feliciano, Perpetua Romero, me (I ranked 7th), Paul Candelaria (Salutatorian), Elvira Almazar (Valedictorian), Danilo Soliman (4th), Redentor Galura (5th), Elizabeth Tuazon, and the last, Annabelle Dayrit.

I scanned the faces on this photo and I could make out one of our sergeant-at-arms Loida Dizon (second row, 3rd girl from the left). Next to Loida is Nida Castro, the girl with a mod coiffed hair. On the same row, I see Thelma Manalang (8th girl from left) who amazed me with her perfect self-taught American diction. Aurora Tulabut, the 10th girl from left, I know quite well, as she was the daughter of our tenant, Tatang Ano, who doubled as our barber.

The tiny girl on the 3rd row is Remedios Macaspac, who lived at the end of our street in Sta. Ines. Fate decreed that she was to have a short life, as she died not long after 1969, of leukemia.

On the 4th row, I see Rene Tiongquico standing at extreme right. The tallest boy on this row, fourth from right is our other sergeant-at-arms, Erie Ong, the son of the town’s chief of police. I see a lot of familiar faces in the last row; my neighbor and my uncle, Roxann Morales stands 2nd from left, while Lowell Sanguyu ( one of my rowdier classmates; his mother taught in the same school), Maurino Datu, Rodolfo Ramos and Ramon Atencion are the 4 boys right smack in the middle. Danilo Palo is the last kid on this row, one of the bigger, but soft-spoken boys in class.

The details of our graduation ceremony itself are kind of sketchy. I do remember that the overused graduation music, “Triumphal March” was played again and again till kingdom come. And I also recall you had exactly less than five minutes onstage to receive your bond paper diploma from the principal, get a handshake and smile again for the cameras. You got more stage time (like I did) if you were an honor student as it meant getting a ribbon with a handwritten (or typewritten) notation of your rank.

I would cross paths again with some of my male classmates soon after our 1969 graduation. Bapang Roxann, Danny Soliman, Rudy Ramos and Reddy Galura became my high schoolmates at Sacred Heart Seminary in Angeles City. We even attempted to do a reunion party of some sorts, a few years into high school—I think we held it at Lowell’s place—but eventually, time and distance would blur and sever our once-close relationships.

But I always had my ear on the ground for any news about my band of school friends. Forty one years down the road, with some help from technology and social networking, I have gotten news from some of them, a lot now scattered abroad with their families, children and grandchildren, living generally quiet, happy lives.

I know Reddy Galura became a successful trader in the Philippines but gave it all up to start anew in America for the sake of his bright children, continuing his business there and seeing it flourish again. “Rock” Datu left early for the U.S. and is settled in South California, an active member of a MabalaqueƱo community association there. I was also told that our salutatorian, Paul Candelaria worked in Japan for years and is now also settled in the U.S. of A.—just like Alice Angeles, Annabelle Dayrit and Erie Ong.

Like me, there are those who stayed on in the Philippines like Bapang Roxann, a longtime banker and now a director of Don Teodoro V. Santos Institute, the former Mabalacat Institute. Also a banker based in Pangasinan is Dan Palo. Lowell joined the U.S. Navy, but chose to go back to the Philippines after his U.S. stint and is now into real estate brokerage.

Our other honor graduate and one of my good friends, Danny Soliman, also lives here and I last met him and his wonderful family in the funeral of a common family friend just a few years ago—of all places. In another recent funeral wake, Nida Castro re-introduced herself to me, and I was surprised to know we were common relatives of the person lying in state. On the other hand, Froilan Galang chose to enter politics and is running as a re-electionist councilor of the town this May.

Every All Saints Day, I would sit by our family plot which was strategically located next to the cemetery gate—and here, I would scan the incoming crowd for familiar faces. This way, I have managed to renew my acquaintance with a few classmates from the past like Aurora Tulabut and Ramon Atencion, whose brother Regal, is also a friend to my other younger brothers. Through facebook, a social networking site, Loida Dizon (now Luna) managed to track me down, telling me she now lives in the U.S. with her children. We promised to meet up when she comes home this 2nd week of April 2010.

But whatever became of the rest? Where is Rene Tiongquico? Eleanor Dizon? Teresa Quiambao? Arnold Castro? Boy Pineda? Alejandro? Edgar Bondoc? Marilou? I may have forgotten their names, but not their faces. After all, in the not-so-distant past, we were more than just classmates—we were kindred souls in search of a dream yet to be fully defined--which, vaguely, was to learn, to earn our wings and fly. Together, we drew encouragement, support and inspiration from each other in that little elementary school that we walked to next to the municipio, every day, for six long years. That’s a long time to just forget and throw away.

This April, I will be seeing you again, my dear classmates, in the faces of today's fresh graduates whose aspirations and attitudes mirror our own, brimming with optimism, yet not sure exactly as to how we will reach our goals. But hopefully, just like many of us, they too shall arrive at their destination safe and sound. In the kingdom of children and in an age of innocence, the future never looked so good.

(UPDATES: Eleanor Dizon (now Perlman) found me on facebook recently and is based in TX. Rey Tolentino is in California. I met Rene Tiongquico finally in a relative's wake this August 24, 2010. Arnold Castro and Paulino "Boy" Pineda have passed away and are sadly missed. )

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Greetings, Mr. Alex Castro! As I settled this early morning in my office, I thought of my 10 month old son's upcoming 1st birthday. On July 16, he will be a year old and his aunt would have turned 54. By now, you are probably wondering which character I am and where in the heck is the relevancy of my posted comment? You mentioned a "tiny girl from the 3rd row" - Remedios Macaspac. I am her youngest brother, Ressurreccion...named after being born on Sunday of her passing away. I would like to sincerely express gratitude for posting the graduation photo. I don't remember seeing this particular one and I would definitely print this posting to show it to my father of 81 years. Dakal a salamat pu!

Sincerely,
LT Macaspac, R.J., USN, MPH

alex r. castro said...

Rex:
I was very heartened to get your comment; I havefew memories of Remedios, but the little I know of her are vivid enough for me to recall. Like I do know you live a few houses away from our place in Sta. Ines. She was a small, frail, unassuming girl who was always quick to smile; there were one or two instances when she and I would go home together. She was simple and shy, and would rather stay in the background, but she was amiable esp. to her "ka-barrio"--which was me. I remember your Sta. Ines house had a porch of some sorts, and when I would pass by, I would see her cleaning or sweeping the porch and she would stop to wave at me. I really never knew what happened to Remedios, except one day, I was told by a classmate of her demise. It seemed she left this world as she arrived, quietly, unassumingly--and I will always remember your sister for that. I may not have been very close to her, but just by knowing her, she enriched my young life. My best to you, your family and your father.

Anonymous said...

Being the youngest with age gap of 5 years from the next, I grew up pretty much alone in Sta. Ines. I only heard stories of my sister. The experienced joys, loneliness, and tempered curiosity shaped my adolescence and very well into who and where I am today. I vividly remember the old house and fond of that porch and foilage that complemented the surroundings. Your writings depicted the exact memory...the way I remember Mabalacat. Somehow, your writing flair combined with such historical accuracy makes me yearn to visit home. Its been 20 years for me since last. On my way to work today, I got a surprise call from Lucita (Bei)Dela Cruz, daughter of Apung Dalas and I believe a neighbor of yours. Perhaps a mere coincidence, mig-istorya yah about Mabalacat - the latest and greatest and all. Of course, along with the offer to bakasyon with complementary room downstairs. She is the ever generous and infinitely accomodating friend. She was my kakyalung and kaklase as a kid. I mentioned your writings and musings about our hometown. I will definitely forward your link through FaceBook if its ok with you. In passing and anecdoctal comments from some, Mabalacat is somewhat different now. With the vanishing Kapampangans in our neighborhood, I want them to know that someone is preserving the heritage that Mabalacat once was - the way we knew the town. Again, Dakal A Salamat for the wonderful writings and wishing your family well and God Bless.

alex r. castro said...

Yes, I do know the de la Cruzes quite well as they were also family friends. When my parents went to Manila and leave us alone, Apu Centi and wife would check on us. Fred is my kumpare. Bei is a friend of my younger brother. They were also our playmates growing up. I was away from the country for years and when I came back, I decided to write a book about Mabt. and its local history, which is now out of print. I can't believe there are a lot of people still out there who yearn to read about the "good old days". I hope you have a chnace to read it one day.

Anonymous said...

Will do!

Anonymous said...

tnx alex for posting our class 69 graduation picture..i was really amazed while reading your article and i thought of giving you a salute for having a vivid memory after 41 years...really i enjoyed reading it while looking at our picture and its nice reminiscing those good old days..its just a pity that there were already four (4) of our classmates who already departed..(lito alejandro, remedios macaspac, arnold castro and paul pineda)..let us revive our class and let us be one in making our reunion "A DREAM COME TRUE".

Bro. BIEN said...

Alex, I already have your latest book, ARO KATIMYAS DA, which I brought with me to Atlanta together with the order of Bro. REDENTOR DELA CRUZ, which i mailed to him via USMAIL in Florida. Now I must have you book about Mabalacat, Where can I buy one or two?
I'm here now in Angeles on vacation.

Bro. BIEN said...

Alex, I already have your latest book, ARO KATIMYAS DA, which I brought with me to Atlanta together with the order of Bro. REDENTOR DELA CRUZ, which i mailed to him via USMAIL in Florida. Now I must have you book about Mabalacat, Where can I buy one or two?
I'm here now in Angeles on vacation.

alex r. castro said...

Musta ko pu, Sir Bien? Ita pung 1st book ku ita--"Scenes from a Bordertown and Other Views", but unfortunately, it is out of print, published in 2006 pa.