I’ve previously posted an excerpt from my memoir-in-progress, about the year I spent in Bacolod City when I was eight years old. Here’s another portion from that section:
I loved it in the province. I lived in Lola Bennett’s sprawling bungalow in Taculing, close to where the airport used to be, on a hacienda planted to tubo as far as the horizon. This was during the late 1970s but even by present standards that house would look fresh and contemporary. Constructed in a gated area behind high walls across the road from her tubohan, it stuck out from its surroundings like a crystal in the mud.
The house was built in the center of a large pond, slightly raised on cement pillars above the knee-high level of the water. There was a bridge one had to cross to get over the water to the front door and I thought that was extremely interesting and stylish. I have not seen such a house before or since. Orange-colored carp swam in the pond; this was decades before raising koi became fashionable. After dinner Lola Bennett, silver-haired but still vigorous in her early 60s then, would take a piece of sliced bread and go out for her “daily exercise” as she termed it. We would walk several times around the house, tearing bits of bread off and casting them into the water for the carp. The fish would follow us around, and the water would boil frenziedly with their activity as they fought over the bread.
Lolo Maeng was Lola Bennett’s second husband; he married her when she was a widow, when they were middle-aged; they had no children of their own. I was the child Lolo never had. On Saturdays he would take me to a clinic in the city for my hormone growth shots that a doctor in Manila prescribed because I was short for my age. He’d drive his snappy little red-and-cream Renault 14 himself, going very fast down the dusty backroads with the windows down and the breeze blowing our hair back, his salt-and-pepper and cut military-style, mine trimmed like a boy’s. (I was not allowed to grow my hair long until I was in college.) “Do you think we’re driving too fast?” Lolo would ask. All I could ever answer was a frozen grin. He would laugh and step on the gas even harder, making me tighten my grip on the leather seat. There were no seatbelts back then. He would only slow down when we reached the city where the streets were crammed with people and jeeps.
After I got my shot, Lolo would stop by a suki for roasted peanuts. Sometimes we would halt at Lopue’s bookstore and he would buy me the latest Nancy Drew mystery and a Stabilo Boss highlighter. The highlighters only came in yellow and were a newfangled thing. I’d shade the o’s in my Nancy Drews as I read along and the sunshiny dots spangling the pages would show me how many pages were left to read. The Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries were all hard-bound, as most of my other books were, the majority of them belonging to my mother; the only paperbacks I had were Enid Blyton stories.
Back home after a trip Lolo Maeng would take a large strainer and shake out all the salt from the peanuts and refill his garapon (an empty old jar of Nescafe coffee) that he kept in a cupboard in the “clean kitchen” of the house. (Food was cooked by kusineras in an outbuilding which housed the “dirty” kitchen and maids’ quarters. It was also where the ironing was done, with a weighty cast-iron plancha filled with glowing charcoal that I was absolutely forbidden to touch.) I was the only person allowed to share Lolo’s peanuts, and that made me feel special and loved. Come to think of it, maybe Lola just didn’t like peanuts at all.