Remembering the ‘tip’ my father gave me

PURPLE SHADES - Letty Jacinto-Lopez (The Philippine Star) - June 20, 2020 - 12:00am

My friend, Portia Leuterio, sent me a card that read: “Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time you’ve got.”

True. And so, we try and make the most of it by sharing heartwarming stories. Another card I received did just that. The second card contained photos of local bank notes that were in circulation, the only English Series I’m told, from 1949 to 1969 — the age of Baby Boomers.

Just imagine, even the sukli (small change) was minted in paper, in bright colors of purple, red, green and blue.

The only denomination that was struck in coins was the barya or that small, flat, round piece of copper metal. Do you remember using barya to flick it up in the air or as pawns in makeshift board games?

At home, my father followed a strict morning routine. By 8:45 a.m., he’d be ready to leave the house for a full day’s work. With my two other siblings, I’d stand at the bottom of the stairs to make sure I didn’t miss his departure. The moment he saw us looking like angels who couldn’t harm a fly, and smelling like Heno de Pravia cologne, he’d smile pleasingly and say, “For you, for you, and for you,” handing us our daily tip of 20 centavos each.

Oh, boy! My eyes grew big like marbles (jolens). I was rich! This note had a positive effect on me (pun not intended). I was on top of the world. I could look at any mogul with my nose up in the air, sashaying as if I’d just closed the biggest deal of the century. It was like buying a row of accessories in Binondo or an art deco building in downtown Escolta. I could make a grand entrance into the “fanciest” address called Botica Boie (a drugstore), sit on a soda fountain stool and order the biggest ice cream float with a dollop of chocolate syrup on top. That was me dreaming big over my 20-centavo bonanza.

How far can I trade or what can I exchange for these sukli notes?

During my high-school years (1959-1963), five centavos could buy you a bottle of local root beer (the sarsaparilla), two ice drops (popsicles) or five pieces of chewy candy called tira-tira.  If you grew tired of canteen food, you could sneak past sentry guards to reach your suki  — the ambulant peddlers — and their mouth-drooling boiled saba for five centavos a pair, or the tasty charcoal-grilled pork barbecue sold at 10 centavos per stick.

Ten centavos could also get you a jeepney ride from España Extension to the Quezon City Welcome Circle or Rotonda, passing Quezon Institute and through the little residential pockets in the vicinity of St. Luke’s Hospital, the Ysmael Steel Plant site, Christ the King Church and the Sierra Mirada Homes behind the long stretch of Araneta Avenue. Just one purple 10-centavo note could literally take you for a (long) ride.

Fast-forward to 1964 and the English Series had been demonetized and replaced by bigger notes of P1, P20, P50, and a cool, finger-snapping P100.

Incredible! The humble peso could still fetch a tidy haul. You could buy imported shoestring potatoes, a bag of popcorn, and a bar of Hershey's chocolates. If you collected comics, the magazine stands sold “Classics Illustrated” for P0.25 to P1. A movie ticket in the most exclusive seat of the cinema called “Loge” was sold for P3.20 — you'd be cordoned off from the balcony section, which sold for P2.80. Of course, I couldn't afford the movie ticket without my father.

Turning 18 was an exciting milestone that every ingénue dreamed of. What was the package menu for a coming-out party? Shrimp cocktail as appetizer, cream of asparagus soup, a choice between classic baked chicken or broiled fillet of lapu-lapu in lemon-butter sauce, fresh house salad, and a triple medley of leche flan, ube jam and macapuno for dessert. Hot English tea or brewed coffee with mint cookies on the side was served after dinner. How much did the whole enchilada cost?  P3.50 per head.

Then the ’70s came around. I worked for a foreign company engaged in the industrial sale of petroleum. The company employed a hip and animated group of sales and marketing managers who called on their top accounts daily. One such manager opened his wallet and showed me a secret flap where he kept a new, crisp P50 note.

“This is my emergency,” he whispered.

“And how far will that take you?” I whispered back.

“This will pay for a full tank of gasoline for my car, two loge movie tickets, dinner for two at Madrid (fine-dining Spanish cuisine) and, after dropping off my girlfriend, there would be enough for a bottle of lager with a foot-long hotdog as a night cap. I can return in my secret flap whatever loose bills are left until I’m able to replenish it, back to P50, again.”

Whoa! Fifty pesos was Ali Baba's goldmine.

As for my friend who was reeling from a broken heart, she fixed it via shopping therapy. “I'm going to Rustan's and treat myself to this imported silk voile peasant blouse from the House of Dior,” she announced.

The cool and summery blouse lifted her spirits, enough to declare, “Tada, this is the new me saying toodle-oo to love.”

“Good golly," I blurted out. "How much did you pay?” She grinned, “Seventy-five pesos.”

Centavo notes were souvenirs of the past. Even the smaller peso notes were eventually struck in coins. Inflation has eaten up into our unit of currency. We’ve lost our purchasing power. Coins weigh heavy in the purse and they are of little — if any — value at all.  Except maybe to flick your memory on and make you smile. Maybe.

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