It’s easy to locate the house I grew up in. It sits right next to the stately Morales ancestral mansion built by my paternal grandmother’s brother, Atty. Rafael Morales. There is another old house across this mansion, belonging to another relation, also a Morales, and also an attorney--Regalado Morales or Ingkong Raling. You simply use these two old houses to point to our residence along Sta. Ines. Back in the 60s, there was no name for our street—mails were simply addressed to our house number—No. 151.
Our 2-storey house, built in the 1950s is a study in contrast to the next-door Morales house, with its architectured lay-out and carefully planned rooms. Ours was family-designed, and it can be safely said that it was basically constructed from found objects. Our gate for instance, was recycled from an old aluminum airplane wing, to which a wheel had been fastened so that it could be rolled open or close. The perimeter of our thousand square-plus lot was fenced in by old steel-matting, reinforced with rows of San Francisco, jasmine, sampaguita, karakarikucha, guyabano and coconut trees.
The first floor, as I remember it, had shiny red cement floors that were assiduously scrubbed for hours with a bunot (coconut husk), or polished to a clear smooth finish with a lampaso (rags). The very first sala set of my memory were these woven rattan pieces that left marks on your butt after a few minutes of sitting on them. We had large, slide-open windows that opened to a pasamano. Here, on the wide, wooden ledge, I would often lie down to take my naps.
Our dining table was one of few formal pieces of furniture we had, but it did not have any matching chairs. Instead, we sat on batibots or used a long metal bench with a lawanit top. The kitchen, where my mother reigned supreme, was a soot-covered one-room affair, strewn with firewood, kitchen utensils and lined with old-fashioned kalans.
The upstair structure—where all our bedrooms were-- was all of wood, consisting of 2, maybe 3 rooms. We usually slept on mattresses laid out on the shiny wood-planked floor, falling asleep as we watched Far East Network cartoons on our Westinghouse 1950s TV. For the longest time though, we were infested with suldot (bedbugs) and these pests would lodge themselves in the floor crevices which made sleeping impossible—until we got beds.
It took some time getting used to double-decked beds. I shared mine with my elder brother, Gregg. For practical reasons, I occupied the lower berth—I was a bed wetter until age 11 (my mother used to put a big basin under my bed every night-very embarassing). One time my brother and I had our usual bedtime fight. I yanked at his arms and he came crashing down the upper deck with a bang.
There was one year I shared a room with my Ingkung Dando. This time, I stayed on the upper deck and my younger sister occupied the lower berth. From atop, I had a commanding, if not a funny view of my lolo as he slept soundly. You see, he snored in his sleep and his lips would pucker up , making hilarious noises that gave me unstoppable laughing fits.
When more babies came (we were 8 kids in all), our house grew with more room extensions in all directions, all engineered either by our carpenter or the mason. In the prosperous 70s, my parents had their share of small fortune when, together with their siblings, went into real estate development. True to the spirit of the nouveau riche, we went into a house-remodelling frenzy, applying the latest architectural and interior design craze as our house underwent expansion.
For instance, our walls were embellished with crazy-cut patterns of earth and brown hues. Foundation posts were whitewashed with crushed 7-Up bottles that sparkled in broad daylight. Our cement floors gave way to modern granolithic, in all its speckled glory. The ceilings were framed in scalloped, textured lawanit boards, painted mint green long before pastel shades came into vogue. Faux wood grain panels hid the stairs leading to our bedrooms. And the piece de resistance: flower beds, in the shape of cut-up logs, adorned the front of our house, an appropriate accent to the diamond ceramic façade.
To furnish the house, we ordered oh-so-moderne brown sofas and chairs with stiletto legs. Vinyl-covered, they made gentle hissing sounds when you sunk into them. These were matched with slightly-used red and white chairs, generously donated by our American tenants. And, for the first time, we had lamps for the side tables—one in green and one in cream!
Separating the living room from the dining area is a custom-made display cabinet that contained my Dad’s precious collection of Jim Beam bottles and decanters in all shapes and sizes, carefully amassed through the years from the neighborhood “magbobote’t dyaryo” (used bottle and newspaper dealer).The only artworks we kept were two framed watercolors of weeping willows (I think!) rendered on green cartolinas.
Finally, we could afford having our own bedrooms. Recognizing our individuality, our parents gave us leeway in room design and color selection. My father though, insisted that the rooms should have transoms for better air circulation, which weren’t at all to my liking as these did not make the rooms very private. I chose to have my room painted in avocado green but the painter messed up and the final outcome was more like the color of kamias.
Oh, how I loved that house on 151 Sta. Ines St.
It had multiple personalities not unlike those of the dozen or so residents that inhabit the place. It had much space—to hide in, thrive in. Around it, more space for fun and play, for youthful imaginations to run wild. I was around 7 or 8 when my brother and cousin connived to form a club—3 M, we called ourselves (Magnificent 3!). The karakarikucha tree in the front yard became our outpost, while the backyard, hidden from adult’s prying eyes, became the site of our private headquarters which we built from stone blocks, one stone at a time.
Directly across our house was a cavernous kamalig owned by my Morales relatives, unused for years and left to decay. Nightly, only the incessant calls of the “tuko” would be heard from this dark, dingy dungeon-like structure. My lolo’s idea of discipline was to lock up erring grandchildren here. The unspeakable terror that lurked behind the massive doors was very much real, as my younger brother Momel once proved it when he annoyed my Ingkung with his endless crying. Until now, I have not the courage to step inside this kamalig, the chamber of horrors of our childhood.
My father’s old yaya, Ati Bo and her family, were rewarded by my Ingkung with a house of their own behind our residence. Made of nipa, sawali and bamboo, their house looked like a bigger version of my sister Celynne’s “bale-balayan” which she got as a birthday present from Ingkung. When she grew up, her “bale-balayan” (play house) became our favorite playhouse where we would play kurang-kurangan (play kitchen) and practiced our housekeeping duties like buffing the bamboo floors with banana leaves. The coming of more househelps signalled the end of our private happy moments as they took residence in our little nipa house.
Behind Ati Bo’s house, past a little rear gate lies another forbidden land—a gently sloping ravine that leads to the sapa (creek). Overgrown with bamboo, cogon, ferns and giant gabi plants, we would do our Tarzan yells as we rappeled down the slope. In this mosquito-infested area, amidst the thorny brambles and thickets and the nuno sa punso, we once built a tree house, affording a quiet vantage point where one could listen for hours to the sounds of creaking, rustling bamboo. Past the barbed wire fence, one comes finally to the white sand sapa (stream). Here, we washed our feet, caught tadpoles, collected butterflies and ate dagis-pakwan (edible wild fruits). Here too, directly opposite us, you can see the goings-on in the houses along the street: people walking to and fro, tricycles coming and going, children like us, playing. It’s a virtual wonderland out there, serene, relaxing, uncomplicated, and the only thing that could wake us up from our youthful reverie would be a call, or more precisely, a threatening scream from those adults in our house.
That would send us rushing home in a minute.