I was born in the late ‘60s and all I remember of that era is my maternal uncle (Eugenio “Boy” Ledesma Lacson) playing The Carpenters over and over again on his humongous turntable-stereo setup that took up the entire back wall of their apartment.
The ‘70s were my stomping grounds as a child. We lived on the third floor of a building in Manila (Apt 3-B, Villanueva Apartments, 2653 Conchu St., Vito Cruz, to be exact). At the ground floor, in a little unit under the stairs, lived the katiwala, Addy, who only looked curmudgeonly but had the proverbial heart of gold. She was always kind to me and my sister Aileen and was a good friend of our yaya, Violeta Vinuya. Addy remained a spinster the six years we lived there, and she crocheted incessantly – doilies, bedspreads, skirts.
It was a middle-class neighborhood. There was a sari-sari store at the corner where I bought Manor House chocolate-and-peanut bars for sixty centavos. They also had Sergs chocolate, Choc-Nut, Ricoa Curly tops, Chippy, and “family-size” Pepsi in glass bottles for ninety centavos. My father (Valentino Araneta Ortuoste) was seriously annoyed the day he sent me there with one peso and I came back with the empty bottle – the price of the beverage had been raised to P1.15.
Sibs Richard and Karen Carpenter had a successful singing career well into the ’70s; Chippy used to be packaged in plastic bottles, while the packaging of Choc-Nut and Curly Tops don’t seem to have changed.
That store had glass showcases and it was run by the man who owned the entire building, which had the store on the ground floor and their living quarters on the second. I forget his name now, but sometimes his daughter would mind the store.
Nearby was a humbler hole-in-the-wall that sold chalk for five centavos (for marking piko and patintero lines), plastic balloons, striped green-and-white paper balls that you blew up through a hole in the bottom, and Tarzan bubblegum. I can still taste the sugary burst of flavor released with just one chew. They were wrapped in purple, green, and other colors, which is why I liked them – I am easily attracted by color – and the fact that they cost only twenty-five centavos each.
Across the street lived “the Thailanders” – students who came and went, were very quiet, smiled a lot, and kept to themselves. Sometimes my dad would have lunch or dinner with them. He never told us what they talked about.
We spent most of our time playing with the neighborhood kids. Next door was a sizeable property that boasted a large, albeit old, home with many rooms, and a swing set. The bespectacled Alan and his kid sister lived there, and being the owners of the playground, he was the ringleader of our games.
A block or so away was the dentist’s clinic, run by Dra. Teresita Feliciano. Even back then, she was formidable but kind. We saw her whenever we had toothaches and often she would fill our cavities or do extractions without payment, just listing our debts on a tab. To this day I believe we owe her money. Whenever we moaned during a procedure, she would calmly say, “Are you singing again?” Because she did potentially nerve-wracking and painful procedures with complete matter-of-factness, I grew up unafraid of the dentists’ chair, unlike some contemporaries who were terrorized by insensitive dentists.
It was a simpler, quieter time for children. We played in streets that were safe, child molesters unknown, blissfully unaware of how the Marcoses ruled from Malacañang Palace with iron fists, committing human rights’ violations under his martial law and triggering the First Quarter Storm.
Intramuros, symbol of Manila; the Marcos family – you either loved ‘em or hated ‘em; vintage LP album
Flooded streets were the norm; we often waded home through waist-deep waters with schoolbags held aloft. Potholes pocked the streets but hey, that was okay, as not a lot of people owned cars anyway. A jeepney ride was thirty centavos, but my sister and I took the taxi to school – four pesos from Vito Cruz to Pasay City Academy at Donada Street, near the Manila Sanitarium.
From the radio blared The Hotdogs, Sampaguita, and Tom Jones. On his turntable, my dad played classical music – Tsaichovsky’s “1812 Overture”, Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”, Ravel’s “Bolero”. He loved Sinatra and Nat King Cole. I never saw any rock or dance music in his collection, which I found odd, considering that he began his broadcasting career as a radio disc jockey.
My sister and I had more pedestrian tastes – 45′s of The Panda People warbling “Chirpa-Cheep-Cheep” , “Read-Alongs” with their accompanying storybooks (“This is the story of Aladdin. Turn the page when you hear <chimes>. Let’s begin now…”), Voltes V and Daimos soundtrack singles.
Name these ’70s icons…
I had a childhood that was more sheltered than most. My educated parents, from socially-prominent families that had lost their fortunes over the years (land-owning politicos and Muslim royalty in Cotabato on my dad’s side, sugarcane-raising hacienderos on my mom’s side), raised us to read voraciously, enjoy music and art, and speak English at home. Neither of them being Tagalog speakers, they decided on English as a lingua franca for us children.
But my sister and I did learn to speak Ilonggo through osmosis, listening to my mom and yaya chatter away about relatives whose identities were shrouded in code: “si Agurang,” (the old one), or “si Agi” (the gay man), as my mom, seated on a miniature chair in the kitchen, painted her toenails pink while Nanay Viol cooked champorado or arroz caldo for merienda.
Memoirs are hard to write. Sometimes the memories are vague and indistinct; writing about them, I wonder how much actually happened and how many of the blanks were filled in by my imagination. I have four decades of memories; it will be a while before I’m done dredging them up and exposing them, not only to you readers but to myself, bringing them up out of the dark recesses into the light for close examination.