Anakan of my girlhood
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - July 9, 2019 - 12:00am

It’s been more than 70 years since my family left Anakan, a sitio then, now called barangay, of Gingoog City. A week ago, my husband and I drove to the place, in my sentimental desire to retrace my gilded past, gilded for my innocence, for my fun-loving and curious nature. 

The Anakan of my youth was gone, obliterated by time and development.

My world then was circumscribed, aware only of one road – when there must have been three or more roads. The road I knew began from the national highway, caressed for a few kilometers towards the administration building of Anakan Lumber Company, and past that, to the wharf where barges chugged in to haul logs felled from forests above to Manila. My father, an assistant manager of the company, was assigned a large house, and it was here that I saw some of life’s goings on.

I would sit on the stairs, struggling to have a bite of my younger sister Abigail’s lollipop (which she allowed so reluctantly, with the warning, “just a quick lick”. In early mornings, Mama, an insatiable gardener would be weeding her orchid lilies, later roses and African daisies. From the stairs one afternoon, I heard laughter in the street, and saw brightly-rouged and lips ticked women clinging to the arms of American soldiers, and singing, “I like banana because it has no bones.” I picked up the lyrics and tune, but Mama said for me to stop, although she never explained why.

 There were two huge bedrooms – one for Mama and Papa, and the other for us five kids (there would be nine of us after a few years), and at a corner, a cousin and her husband, who made strange noises at night but I did not know what. Months later, she gave birth to a girl.

I think I loved living in that house, as I would sit by the window looking at people passing by, and at the backstairs eating avocado fallen from a tree in the yard. There was a large portrait of Jesus on a wall, placed there by Mama, who started our breakfasts with a long prayer and a reading from the Upper Room. Later in the day, she would pick nits from my hair, this she enjoyed doing in spite of my squirming to be free to play marbles with my sister and brother under the house.

Mama and Papa would set out in early morning for a walk, and they were always laughing, I remember. They had been classmates in the elementary grades in Masbate, but developed their romance in Manila where she taught took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and taught at a kindergarten school, and Papa finished his accountancy course at Jose Rizal Colleges. Papa was employed in an Elizalde Company in Manila which sent him to far away Mindanao to work as an assistant manager at its Anakan Lumber Company. It was in Anakan, after a year, that I was born. A family picture shows Mama and Papa, my brother and sister at the piano, and me, in a chair, looking so smug and happy. I love this picture. 

A nice memory is that of us children of company employees catching candies thrown down from the office window of the general manager, a Mr. Walter. After the catch-as-you-can session, we would collect dulce maria, growing wildly on the wayside. 

Within sight of the administration building was the wharf, where we kid swam in where the river joined the sea, unmindful of the possibility of the logs tied to the banks breaking loose, and crushing us to death. But we did mind thinking about a man running on the deck and a pulley breaking loose, hitting the man and cutting off his head, and he was still running headless.

On Saturday evenings, there would be shown a black-and-white movie in the open space before the administration building. The movie that stuck in my mind was “Tarzan,” and from it I memorized the song that begins, “Moonlight and shadow, and you in my arms …”

I was brave and independent, walking on the road alone at night, from my lola’s sari-sari store to our house. Walking in isolated roads at night, light or no light, is not advisable these days in most places, for the harm lurking in the dark. In one such walk, I passed by a boxing ring, and from afar, I saw a boxer falling to the floor. I thought he was dead; I ran away, and since that time, I believe that boxing is not a good sport as the protagonists’ intention is to could kill a person.

Mama was my First-Grade teacher, and I inherited her lack of fondness of arithmetic, but also, her desire (frustrated though it was) to be a writer. She thought I had the making of the realization of her dream, as I started to read anything that  my hands can lay on – comic books, scraps of magazines used as wrappers of fried fish ; this became a problem when it was hard sending me off to do an errand because I had my face stuck in a paper or something. Actually, I learned to read when I saw a friend, Minda Pallugna (who later became the multi-awarded principal of Grace Christian School in Manila), read the advertisement, “Cooking is fun, try this one,” in a Bisaya magazine. I memorized that, and promptly, upon reaching home, I held up the magazine and proudly read to my mother the line, “Cooking is fun, try this one.” Mama was delighted. From that time, she promoted me to reciting poems at school programs in place of acting as Mary in Christmas pageants. Mama had this funny practice of keeping the baby mannequin atop heraparador so I would not play with it and break it before the next Christmas play. (She too, loved making preserves of fruits and placed them in big jars – but they were only for display, not for us to eat.)

Like my character mother, I had illusions of grandeur. I auditioned for a dancing part for a barrio fiesta, but was rejected. I found out that instead of gracefully moving my wrists, I twirled my fingers like a crab’s claws.

All these recollections, happy and funny, made me want to see the Anakan of my childhood. Last week I found not a single structure of old. You bet; 70-year-old houses would not last. The road towards the pier was stony, and the wharf was no more, as the lumber company had folded up. The administration building was gone. I saw no house of ours. There are now a couple of paved roads, a national high school, a big Catholic church, some concrete houses, lots of small sari-sari stores. The barangay has tripled its population, and one side of its added extension along the Odiongan river bank, has mostly bedraggled houses, its inhabitants dependent on fishing. The sitio, whose life blood was the lumber company, had become a ghost town when the company was closed down. By then our family had moved to Masbate where we lived for two years, with Papa running his own lumber-dealing business. But that’s another story.

I’m glad I have these memories – of a happy childhood in a place called Anakan.

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