2004/01/10

Our Timeless Stories

Time boggles the mind.

When we were in high school, in the second half of the 70’s, the “old timers” would tell us stories of how life was during their time. They said they heard mass in Latin. They toured the city, walking in their black cassock--and for the minors was it americana? We never paid much attention to those stories which we thought happened a long, long time ago--that is, twenty years ago.

In year 2005, we celebrated our twentieth year since our college graduation. Twenty long years! And we cannot understand why the young ones would not pay attention to our stories and in fact find it easy to disregard them. For them it happened a long, long time ago. Yet, for us, it seemed to be just a few years ago.

That is how mind-boggling time is.

At this juncture in our lives, we look at the past and feel how fast it all flew by. And as we look forward, anxiety clouds our heart as we think of the things we still need to accomplish and the miles we need to go before we sleep. For we know that like the past, the future will be as quick.
Our perplexity with time should all the more be the reason for sharing them--and sharing them quick! They are treasures that we can bequeath to those who come after us.

Our stories may not appeal to those who do not share our experiences. But let us continue sharing them, nonetheless. For they are stories of finding one’s bearing in this life’s journey, of growing up, of making mistakes, of making amends, of finding meaning and vocation, of finding joy in life, of friendship, of making lifelong decisions, and most importantly of all--it is a story of hope. And in due time, people will realize the depth of our experiences and the lessons contained therein.

Our stories are like tiny dots on the tapestry of time. They affirm our existence. So let us continue telling them through this blog, and hopefully other people can likewise savor the profundity of our simple, mundane stories--ah, as they would with a glassful of cold beer. (nox arcamo)

2004/01/08

The Music of my Life

I was retrieving my old personal files when I came across a crumpled paper that looked familiar to me. I realized it was the certificate I got in 1982 as the Musician of the Year. It was an award I received more than two decades ago--something that had slipped my memory. As I read the certificate, flashback of those events occurred. In what seemed like a fast-paced rewind, memories were brought to my mind until an image settled, surprisingly, on my being a member of the seminary choir. I recall these four instances.

In Second Year High School. The first time I was selected to the seminary choir was during our sophomore year in high school where I was one of the “tiples” of the Jeduthun Ensemble. It was my first exposure of a choral group. I was so proud then for the honor and privilege of being chosen to represent IHMS. Wearing the blue jumper paired with a white shirt, which was one of the concert costumes, was a kind of status symbol then. Among the repertoire were “Pipit”, “My Knapsack on My Back”, “Sa Kabukiran” and “Handel’s Alleluia”--songs that up to now have nostalgic effect on me. The first concert we had was at the Bohol Cultural Center. Then another one was held in Inabanga.

In Fourth Year High School. Again I was selected to join the choir when we were in senior high school. It was a mixed choir composed of high school seminarians and students from Holy Spirit School, the only exclusive school for girls in Tagbilaran. We were to join in the province-wide choral competition. Oh, every music practice was something we always looked forward to! Meeting our female counterpart was always an adrenalin-pumping experience. Even those who were non-members were as excited as we were, for it was one of those rare occasions when we could see and mingle with girls of our age. For those who were too shy to socialize, they were pleased enough to watch those lovely ladies from a distance. But those who were not contented with seeing from a distance satisfied their yearnings by looking up from dark, musty nooks at those goddesses perched high on the pedestal.

The team up of the two schools was thought to be formidable. But overconfidence ate us up for we performed poorly during competition day. We were only third among five contestants. Had we won the first prize we would represent the province in the regional level, and then in the national level. We all felt so down. We ended our team up with an outing at the then pristine Hinagdanan Cave where I saved one of the girls from drowning.

In First Year College. The dream of competing in the national level, however, surfaced again when we were college freshmen. It was at this time that a special choir was formed to compete in the regional competition--collegiate level. Deep selection was made from among the student body of the college department. Only selected individuals were asked to audition. From among those who auditioned were chosen the choir members. I was again so lucky to be selected as tenor. I felt so honored. The practices were rigid and frequent. Smokers were strictly told to abstain from smoking for the entire duration of the contest preparation. We were told not to drink cold water. Salabat was the prescribed drink. There were early morning activities when we would do our vocalization at Taloto Beach, dipping our body in the cold sea water. We spent so much time and energy practicing. Ten repertoires including the contest piece were prepared.

During the day of the contest we thought we were the sure winner because other contestants backed out leaving us as the sole contestant in our category. But the euphoria was short-lived because the judges (who were, by the way, all from imperial Manila) announced that we only got the second prize. Second to no one, in particular. The experience of dawn faded quickly as twilight darkened our feelings. It was a decision that until now I cannot understand. From hindsight, I think the decision was anomalous. For where in the world can a contestant be second placer in a contest participated in by only one contestant? By sheer default, we should have placed first. I have now the impression that it was deliberately done. Manila must have been intimidated. The Bohol Sanghimig choir had won the national competition thrice already. Probably they couldn’t believe that another choral group from an unknown school could sing so well. A potential threat. Yes, I would say we sang well. But then we had to come to terms with our frustration. We consoled ourselves by saying to one another that we did not lose but were simply cheated. (Months later, the choir of the head judge lost to a UST choir led and composed mostly of--guess who?--Boholano seminarians. Ah, sweet justice.)

In Third Year College. The last choir I joined was again the Jeduthun Choir. It was for a concert. It was held at the then Divine Word College gym. I was chosen to sing the solo part of the song “We Are The Champions” popularized by The Queen.

The same choir performed on February 2, 1983 during the CVRAA cultural night presentation at the Bohol Cultural Center. It was a whooping success. We rendered songs that pleased the crowd for the hilarity. We seemed so confident on stage. Our smiles were genuine and even innocent. In fact we were enjoying the crowd, too. The delegates from other provinces were entertained especially with our moving finale. They asked for an encore. We received hearty greeting and handshakes afterwards.

It was the last time I joined a choral group.

I miss being part of a choral group. I miss the music practices. I miss the fun of exercising the vocal chord by intoning “Ma-Me-Mi-Mo-Mu.” There may be frustrations for not being able to win in the competition, but over and above I felt a sense of fulfillment because I--and I believe the feeling was also shared by many--sang not only to win but simply to satisfy my desire for the love of music. As I put my award back in my old personal file, I felt like singing old songs again--songs I learned while I was at the IHMS.

I may not be in the mold of Arnold or TQ, as far as music is concerned, but I know IHMS has taught me not only to read musical notes and sing songs but more importantly to follow rightly the rhythm of everyday life. Thanks IHMS! (soc)

2004/01/05

Bloody Valentines in 1983

It was Feb 13, 1983, Sunday, a day before the much anticipated Valentines Day. It was also a bad day for us college seminarians--it turned out to be. We were deprived of our regular afternoon outing, just because of an egg. A hard-boiled egg! 

Remember that incident? Somebody took the hard-boiled egg from the plate of an absent seminarian before grace was said. The Prefect of Discipline wanted to know who took it. But nobody confessed. So the entire body was punished. “No outing this afternoon,” Fr Migs declared. I could still remember that voice as my world crumbled.

But we had our way of coping. In psychology, it was called sublimation. We joked and banked on sublimation to rationalize what we were about to do. 

With an air gun, we scour the surrounding for stray chicken. There were around 7 of us who we tried to coax the chicken to flee from the coop. 

What a grand time it was chasing chicks. We hunted them with stones and air gun. We caught a couple without firing the gun, by trapping them and grabbing their neck. Just like that. But I remember Bobong aiming the gun with one hand. The muzzle was 2 inches from the trapped chicken’s temple. The chicken didn’t stand a chance. 

All in all there were 3 chickens that were hastily dispatched, expertly cleaned and dressed by Ingents. These were washed with water from a couple of coca cola bottles.

We built a fire among the shrubs and like pre-historic cannibals feasting on a game, we dined our Valentines outing way. (nox arcamo)

“Yayo” Was How We Were Called

I was one of the two “Yayo” in the history of IHMS high school. The other one was Issac from Valencia. He is now a doctor, and the last I heard of him he was connected with the Cebu Institute of Medicine as Professor in Anesthesiology.

Why were we called “yayo”? It all started this way.

During our high school days in Taloto, Isaac and I were fascinated with airplanes and bombs. We spent our vacant times flipping over volumes of encyclopedias and other references in the library. We read about Alfred Nobel and nitroglycerin, aerodynamics and propulsion. Isaac was more intellectually equipped than me, but my fascination and imagination about those things were as intense as his.

On weekdays and free days, we would walk to the airport passing through the barbwire-fence of the seminary and into the field. Cutting across a cornfield we exited through a piggery, owned by who-knows-who, we didn’t care. From the piggery, we crossed the Tagbilaran-Taloto road, which looked more like a dirt road, and then into another patch of land to finally reach the end of the airport’s runway. We did this walk in the middle of the day, dauntless to the scorching heat of the sun, the spiky tips of the cogon leaves, and makahiya grasses.

When the plane arrived at 11:50 AM, we were there--ready. When it landed the sound of the turbo-prop engine would seem to drown the whole environment of life and the enormity of its aluminum-colored fuselage seemed to embody the whole of my dreams and ambitions since I was a boy. We usually stood outside the barbwire perimeter fence at the runway’s edge as the giant machine, thundering in front of our face, rushed like a bull charging the earth below. Everything happened in just a few seconds, and yet it would leave us speechless and mesmerized for the next 30 minutes, as we contemplated on the magic of modern technology. More often, we would find not only our hands gripping the rusty barbwire but even our mouths unconsciously biting it, too. Isaac was always the first to laugh at me for doing it, although more than once he also did that.

What about the bombs? Yes, we used to scrape powder from the pospuro (guitar was our preferred brand, because it was drier than the other brands) and mixed it with the igniter to create this homemade firecracker called lubintador. One day, Jones scraped a good amount of powder, almost the size of a ping-pong ball. Together, we placed it in a tin can and compacted it with clay. First we thought of detonating it in the kalibunan, just beyond the football field. But as we prepared a hole in the ground, one of use noticed the downspout (metal pipe) at the side of the high school building, which ran from the roof down to the gutter below the school building.

It was Jones who started the conversation and shifted our attention from the “hole in the ground” to the metal pipe, “McAbs, adto nato ibutang ning lubintador sa baba (lower part) sa tubo unya diha nato pabuthon.”

Isaac, applying his aptitude in physics affirmed the idea saying, “Bitaw. Ang tubo maoy magsilbing (long) barrel. Mag build-up na ug pressure. Kusog jud na’g butu.”

Enthusiastically, the three of us walked back to the building and prepared the lubintador to be placed at the end of the pipe near the ground. We were so engrossed with our project that we never tried to trace where the other end of the pipe was or what was adjacent to the pipe. It was only later after the blast when we discovered that it was attached to the back wall of the Dean’s Office. The distance between the lubintador and the chair of the Dean was less than three feet. The Dean during that time was the brawny Fr. “Borax” Cajes, who was notorious for being strict and stern.

It was around 3:00 in the afternoon. Fr Borax just came down from his room still wobbly from a restful siesta. He was rocking quietly at his big springy chair, massaging his forehead while staring blankly at the ceiling. He must have been enjoying the quiet and solitude inside his office. Fred, the Registrar, was ruffling at some files, at the corner of the office. They were totally unaware of a devious plan that was afoot. Likewise, neither were we conscious too of the fact that we were setting a bomb so close to the Dean’s office. Our whole attention was focused on detonating the lubintador inside that metal pipe. For us it was “the thing” that our hearts desired. And we were anxious to know how big the detonation and the sound would be.

After we ignited the fuse, we ran quickly to the kalubihan, a safe distance but near enough for us to see the flickering fuse. All our hearts and soul, attention and consciousness were perpetually fixed on the burning fuse. Today, as I recall that particular instance, I feel as if it we were in a time warp. Time stood still momentarily. Even the wind and the clouds seemed to pause, and like us were waiting anxiously as the fuse was steadily being consumed by the flame. It was a momentary eternity experienced by one who is at the edge of nirvana.

My eyes quickly shifted focus between the lower end of the metal spout where the lubintador was and its upper end that was perpendicularly protruding at the roof of the building. Then, the burning fuse was gone. From the outside there was no flame. There was a pause that seemed like eternity. There was a sudden flash, and then in a split second, it was followed by a big, thunderous sound. KABLAMMM--sending shock waves through the pipe. Within the next millisecond, the pressure building within the pipe’s chamber weakened its metallic strength and the pipe gave way to the expanding energy of the lubintador. The metal pipe crumbled, with the cracking noise adding a sinister crescendo to the thunderous vibration of the detonation. The bang was huge--bursting the pent-up desires within our breasts to a resounding climax as we patted each other in victory.

Indeed, the blast was strong, well enough to throw the big burly Fr Borax of his chair. According to his own account, he felt being thrown up to the ceiling. Fred, on the other hand, scrambled to the floor mumbling the names of saints together with a sign of the cross as the files he was holding scattered everywhere.

As quickly as the blast faded, the physical shock translated into psycho-emotional shock. Jones, Isaac and I were jumping joyously and by then we were already at the kiosk (that stage at the back of the high school building). Our hands were raised to the sky, feeling that ecstatic “rush” for having successfully detonated the lubintador--something that was more than what we expected.

Indeed what was more than we expected was embodied in the person of Fr Borax who came rushing from that little door at the back. He was a raging bull--nostrils seething and his big bagtak (now looking even much bigger) stumping towards us. Fred was behind him. Nang Feliza and Utan came out from the kitchen, all horrified. At that point, we regained our wits and the feeling of elation fizzled out. Our laughter morphed into an awkward line of smile on our lips.

Fr Borax, in his anger, appeared like a giant glaring down at us. Jones, who was always quick on his feet, was nowhere to be found, leaving me and Isaac against a formidable enemy. Fr Borax was furious, his face flushed like his tiger-painted buggy car. Isaac and I, the two smallest boys in the class, looked even smaller than the hobbits of Lord of the Rings. The priest in his emotional state assumed the rage of a tiger, and with his deep guttural voice shouted in great fury: “MGA LITSENG YAAAAA ...” he could not complete the cuss word. Some seminarians had gathered in curiosity at the scene. He was conscious of their presence. So torn between his seething rage and his urge to temper it, he finally said, “ ... YAAA ... YAYO! Mo! LUHOD mong duha. Hapit ko mamatay sa KALISANG!”

When he left, Joseph B--the one with a perpetual smirk on his face and served like a court jester in the Boraxian kingdom--came to us, jeering, “Mga yaaayo mong duha.

The word “yayo” stuck.

Throughout our high school days, during our free days, Isaac and I became the two “yayo” who busied ourselves on playful and imaginative things, while our classmates occupied themselves in the pursuit of girls in Tagbilaran. They would come home to the seminary on a Sunday afternoon with stories of their adolescent exploits. But for Isaac and me, we always stayed within the seminary compound--contented with the imaginations, dreams and visions that boys like us weaved as we crossed the threshold to manhood. (chris)

2004/01/03

View of Elley Hill from my Window

On my final year in IHMS in 1984, I was occupying room #3 in Dorm A. It was a narrow and elongated room on the second floor formed by the angle of the protruding fa├žade of the main building. It was the only room with two sets of windows, the front window facing the residence of Nong Banong and the side window facing the wooded area leading to the grotto. The front window extends right down to the floor.

And where the floor almost touches the glass panel there was a space enough for my hand to pop in. It was a good hiding place underneath the floor. I even found a ball pen inscribed with the word, “Doblas”. I placed it back, for the future occupants to discover and wonder. I wonder if it is still there.

Below the window was the road that led to the main gates. There was a steel light post near the mushroom-shaped waiting shed. It was in my line of sight, and in fact served as a good shooting target whenever I wanted to unwind with my tirador or slingshot. A sharp clang would echo on direct hit. I was not a bad shooter, I remember.

Also from my window, I had a good, unobstructed view of Elley Hill in Ubujan district. I used to set my bed right beside the window so that I could see the stars when I closed my eyes at night. And I swear several dreams were formed during those moments when “lights off” forced everyone to bed.

I enjoyed sitting on the window sill. I remember that day, October 16, 1983. It was a Sunday, the start of semesteral break. The seminarians were excited to leave for home. I wasn’t. It was past 1:00 PM when everything was calm and quiet, except for the sound of a tricycle and the shouting of some kids from a distance. Most seminarians had already left. Tomasito and Stephen would not be coming back next semester. I felt bad for Stephen. He was advised to take regency. An innocent juvenile prank must have led the administration to decide against him. I felt sorry for Tomasito. A different future seemed to unravel in front of him that day. It would be different from what he had hoped.

That evening, only Soc, Val, MarJals and I were left in Dorm A. Around 9:45 PM, everything was still. A piano could be heard from Nong Banong’s place across the street. There was a social gathering going on I supposed. There was occasional laughter. I listened to the music as I watched the stars from my window.

Room #2, which was a lot bigger, was occupied by McAbs. It used to be occupied by Jones who meticulously spun the available space with silvery cobwebs and even experimented with giant mosquitoes. What took Jones months of painstaking work took seconds for Ping to destroy using only a tukog. McAbs was a lot more conventional compared to the other occupants of that room. But I cannot forget that time when I received a huge analog clock with two external bells. It ticked so loudly at night when everything else outside was quiet. McAbs had nightmares hearing the ticking of my clock He was imagining strange Hitchcockian creatures and at one point was even frightened by his own hand that rested on his neck. He wanted me to get rid of that clock. But I didn’t want to since it had an air of antiquity attached to it. And I liked things old. Besides I didn’t have another clock to use. The compromise we reached was for me to keep that clock literally under wraps--under my clothes!--at night.

A thin ply wood separated our rooms. I used to climb the wall whenever I was almost finished with my can of San Miguel Beer. And McAbs would laugh and rant, “Lauga kayo o. Di pa gyud manghatag. Aku na na ‘na bi! Aku na!” And I would let him curse the night away as I quaffed the last drop of warm beer.

On the other side of my room was MarJals. He was eternally quiet. With his sloth-like movement, I wouldn’t know if he was present in his room or not. I would only be jolted by his own sudden interruption of his deep thought, “Gents, naa ka bay notes sa Philosophy? Wa ko makakopya ganiha. Pahuwam.” Ingents who occupied the room opposite MarJalswould simply answer in his usual somewhat-Cebuano-like accent, “Wala sad gani ko.”

Ingents seems to have acquired MarJals' penchant for talking aloud in the middle of his musings. And I recall that incident in the Dorm A lavatory. It was sometime in December of 1983--the air was cool and the scent of the season was in the air. Ingents was quietly washing his clothes that early afternoon during siesta time. I was carrying a guitar, nagging Ingents to stop what he was doing so that we could start practicing Christmas carols. He wanted to finish just a couple of clothes. So I waited for him, strumming and humming a few notes, and once in a while nagging him, while he nonchalantly meditated on his dirty clothes.

Then all of a sudden, the big burly Fr Migs appeared in the lavatory doorway, frowning. I froze. Ingents went about his task, not knowing what was happening. “Wala pa gani time. Gipukaw mo na ba sila?” he blurted out in the middle of his thought.

Fr Migs looked stern and angry, having caught me red handed breaking silence during siesta time. “Unsang orasa naman?” he asked. But I couldn’t answer him. I was shocked. I also wanted to tell Ingents to keep his mouth shut, “Gents, Gents …” But he didn’t hear me, “Lawgaw man sad ka kayo, Nox. Nganong ako man lang intawon ang imong gisamuksamuk?

Then from out of nowhere, McAbs appeared squinting and with a towel around his neck. He just woke up from siesta. Since Fr Migs was blocking the way, he said, “Excuse me”, and proceeded to squeeze in between Fr Migs and the doorway jamb. The right side of his face hit the side of the door jamb in the process, creating a sound that seemed to reverberate in the lavatory. I laughed so loudly and uncontrollably. Ingents not knowing what was happening tried to reprimand me for it was siesta time, “Hilum diha masakpan ka gain ni Fr Migs”. McAbs, not knowing what hit him, was apologetic,”Ay, sorry”.

The eternally-stoic Fr Migs was trying to suppress a laughter as he turned away not bothering to wait for my reply. I was laughing out loud as I explained what had just happened. McAbs saved the afternoon for us. We would have been reprimanded and punished had he not appeared at the right McAbs! Ha…ha…ha…

Room #1, which was directly in front of Dorm A’s main entrance, was occupied by Soc who, if I remember it correctly, served as the beadle. But my recollection of Soc’s room cannot take away the image of Jeffrey lying on the bed--laughing his heart out at a joke while rubbing the corner of his nose.

It was a wonderful time of my life. I didn’t know stress. There was no pressure from school.

That was how I recalled those days when I used to look out long and hard from my window and I would see the solitary mound of Elley Hill. It was so beautiful, so majestic, smooth and quiet. But I knew it was only from a distance. I was aware that it was steep, grassy, and full of rocks and crags. I should know for Jeffrey and I did scaled that hill in search of a hermit. (But that’s another story.)

Strangely though, that was how I perceived my future. It looked so exciting, so beautiful, and so full of possibilities. But deep inside, I was intimidated by imperial Manila. I knew then that it wouldn’t be an easy journey from thereon.

I spent much time brooding on those hills. I guess I made my decision there on the window sill to take the Jesuit entrance test in Banawa Retreat House. God knows how many times my resolve was strengthened when I quieted myself down and looked out through that window. That view had always reassured me that life is a continuum, that its final goal is not in this world, and that everything is ephemeral, including failure and sadness. I guess I still carry that window with me, long after I had left IHMS. (nox arcamo)