Memories: Happy Days of Childhood

Published by the Bohol Chronicle

Each of us I suppose, remembers the house where we spent the happy days of childhood. The secret nook where we played hide and seek with playmates from the neighborhood; the favorite window where we eagerly watched the passing parades and the religious processions during Holy Week. The kitchen where we furtively ate with the house help because we enjoyed eating with our hands without Papa and Mama imposing strict observance of correct table manners. 

There was the "labhanan" below the kitchen where big earthen jars filled with water were lined against the walls ready for the day's laundry. How we loved to splash around much to the consternation of Nang Ebiang our yaya who faithfully lived with us even during the war years and after, about 30 years to be exact.

What I would give to relive those days gone by and the memory of a house whose walls silently witnessed the laughter and the tears the dying moments of the elderly, and the welcome shrill of the newborn. The house that witnessed the early years of my growing up and later on the excitement of stepping on the threshold of womanhood, was built by my maternal grandfather Tatay Jose Buma-at sometime in the late 1800s. It was located in the middle of the small community fronting the main thoroughfare Libertad St., now CPG Avenue. It was bounded on one side by Lopez Jaena now Grupo St. In the beginning the roof was covered with nipa shingles. But as the town prospered the old roofing gave way to galvanized sheets. Big round crooked-shaped posts of "tugas" supported every corner of the building. The walls were made of smoothly shaven wooden boards. The main doors and the ones leading to the rooms were heavy and solid. There were no safety bolts then, but wooden contraptions which gave a sense of security to occupants inside.

The banisters leading up to the "entra-sala" were made of carved wood. The "entra-sala" was a small room a sort of vestibule to the living room on the right side; while on the left was a door leading to the "comedor" or dining room. The "entra-sala" was sparsely furnished with only a lounging chair called "canapé" and a bastonero in one corner where the men deposited their "bastons" or walking canes and their hats too. During that period, men wore hats and used walking canes wherever they went which lent them an air of respectability and dignity. 

The sala or living room was the central venue for the entertainment of visitors. The floors were made of narra, tugas, and bayong (black wood) which were laid out alternately giving the area a yellow and black domino effect. The ceiling was re-enforced with moldings and carved scrolls. It was painted with dainty blue flowers with vines and leaves bordering the edges. 

This was the handiwork of Iyo Ramon Borja, a well-known artist of those years. He was the grandfather of Enriqueta Borja Butalid now Head of the Center for Culture and the Arts for Bohol and Nene Borja Lungay, the equally renowned and talented lady artist of present times. Most salas like ours had a round table in the center with a porcelain jar as décor. Hanging from the ceiling above the round table was a "gasera", an oil lamp with milk-like glass shades. 

The carved furniture were made to order from the home factory of Iyo Pianoy Butalid. We had also a set of wicker chairs made by the inmates of the Bilibid Prison in Manila circa 1936. Families who had daughters taking piano lessons from Sr. Methodia of Saint Joseph's Academy or from the old piano teacher Iyo Minong who boarded with the parents of the late Rosario Pernia Dejaresco, Matriarch of DYRD & Bohol Chronicle, usually had a piano in their sala. An oil painting by a well-known local artist Benjamin Mendoza Calceta of Sitio Ubos, hang prominently above a half moon table called the "consola". Papa told us that Tio Benjamin's style was patterned after that of his favorite artist Fernando Amorsolo. It is no wonder then that he excelled in landscapes and rural settings.

An old gramophone or phonograph occupied a corner of the sala. Its cabinet was painted ecru. One had to operate it manually in order to let the "plaka" or record play one's favorite love songs. The popular recordings during those days were Ramona, Evangeline, Wonder Bar, Sonny Boy and many others.

Papa and Mama's sleeping quarter was the biggest among the five bedrooms. It had a four-poster bed with lace valance around the top. Papa's "escritorio" or writing desk displayed his year books from his student days in San Juan de Letran. Mama had her own table too, where she checked the test papers of her pupils from the Tagb. Central Elem. School and also wrote her lesson plan for the day. On her dresser could be seen a clutter of Mennen Talcum Powder, a box of Alexora face powder, a jar of Bella Aurora (for freckles), and two or three bottles of perfume like Florame, Orchidia and Louis XV. The most valuable item in their bedroom was the antique altar with the Sagrada Familia made of ivory placed on the top of an ebony-like tall chest. It was before this altar that the family including the helpers gathered for the evening prayers which included the Oracion., the Rosary, the Litanny, the Novena of Mama's favorite Saints celebrating their anniversary for each month. I remember with mirth Papa drowsing in his favorite "butaca" we called impolite chair during lengthy prayers until Mama would startle him with a gentle slap of her "abanico".

My sister Pasty and I shared a room which was situated at a vantage point overlooking the corner of Libertad St. and Lopez Jaena. We had the times of our lives peeping and listening through half-closed shutters whenever the two wives (a pure Chinese and a Boholana) of our neighbor a Chinese merchant threw invectives at each other in a cacophony of Mandarin and the vernacular. Most often we would be disturbed in the middle of the night by the boisterous screams of a drunken couple who rented a small room under the Oriental Studio, the only photo studio in town owned by Iyo Bian Concon. Our bedroom was a typical girls' room with curtains made of baronet silk. Our beds were simple not ornate. They were always covered during the day with crocheted bedspread per Mama's instruction. We also shared a commodious aparador for our clothes and a dresser for our vanity.

Tatay Jose's room was just behind the walls of the "entra-sala". We had to pass the comedor before we could enter his room. We were always awed whenever we glanced at a crossed swords displayed on the wall facing his bed. He proudly narrated to us that these deadly weapons saved his life during and after the Insurrecion (whatever it was). The altar with the Sagrada Familia, the rebolto of San Antonio, and the glittering silver of the Cherubims, was bigger than the one in Mama's room. An old trunk under the windows sill in the room always took the better of our curiosity, until Tatay warned us not to bother with the things inside because the memorabilia of his youthful sojourn before and after the Insurrecion were carefully stored in this trunk. I still recall the peculiar smell whenever we entered his room. It was a mixture of Sloan Leniment (used for rheumatic pains) and incense which he lighted whenever he did his devotion. Despite this musky aroma we learned to love Tatay's room. It was here that Mama brought us whenever we ran a fever. Tatay would gently apply his concoction of coconut oil, crushed head of the native sibuyas and the pungent leaves of the Herba Buena. Here we slept until the fever subsided. There were no antibiotics then, only the gentle ministration of a doting and loving grandfather.

The "comedor" or dining room was the center of formal sit-down dinners. Here ones gastronomic sensibilities were put to test during fiestas. Buffet or Dutch lunch was not yet put to practice by families belonging to the Old School. The long dining table could accommodate 14 diners, two on the Captain's chairs on both ends and 12 on both sides of the table. There was a "platero" which displayed a complete set of dinner wares. On top of the platero were various fruits of the season preserves made by our aunt Inse Manay, a Home Economics teacher. 

Another glass aparador showed different kinds of crystal wares used for wines and sorbetes. During dinner time, the comedor was lighted up by a Petromax because the electric bulbs gave out an eerie glow due to low voltage. I remember Iyo Balas our cook, who had a queer way of starting the days work by first imbibing a glass of Pedro Domique. Otherwise, his 8 course menu would not come up to Papa's satisfaction. How I loved to taste the Tocino del Cielo, the boracho, the dulce de macapuno and the original polvoron which when eaten just melted in your tongue and not embarrass you with powdery blotches around your mouth, like the commercial ones we have today.

A poet once wrote, "Where have all the flowers gone?" I might as well ask the same of our ancestral home. It was right after the Liberation when coming down from the hills of Carmen and Sierra Bullones we found to our grief that the house we treasured most was one of a few buildings blown to smithereens by the American Liberators. Mama was the most affected by the dearth of her birthplace. She believed that the desecration of our home could have been avoided because the Japanese officer who lived in it, had long fled to Leyte to join the Japanese forces there. It took quite a long time for her to reconcile with a close family friend who acted as guide or spotter for the American pilots who unloaded their deadly cargo over the helpless town. 

Even with such sad memories, life must go on no matter how many seasons have passed since then. But the memory of a beloved house and the people in it, still lingers in my mind and heart to be treasured forever until Someone up there will at last assign a room for me in the many mansions He promised to prepare for all of us to dwell for all Eternity.
Guillerma Mendoza-Simpao
This article was written through the friendly persuasion and sincere encouragement from the distinguished advocates for the Revival and Preservation of the Boholano Culture and the Arts. They have focused their dedication on the youth of today who have lost touch of the rich antiquities, customs, and traditions of our ancestors. Kudos to:
Mrs. Enriqueta B. Butalid
Head, Center for Culture and the Arts
This Province
Mr. Marianito Luspo
Cultural Officer
Holy Name University
Mrs. Nene B. Lungay
Par Excellance 
Mrs. Telly G. Ocampo
Officer and Organizer
BAHANDI (Baclayon Ancestral Home Association)