Summers long past
In this sweltering heat, the most obvious topic is summer. Summer in the 1930s—a decade called “peacetime,” a term coined after World War II. And truly there was peace.
There were no killings and policemen carried no guns. Apparently, their main task was to stand on busy street corners, help the children and the elderly to cross, and direct traffic. There were no street signs at the time and traffic was light—no pedicabs, jeepneys, motorcycles and intercity buses, only the street car (tranvia), few cars, calesas, carromatas, carretelas and pushcarts. The city was clean, with camineros in their white shirts and red pants cleaning the streets, and with no plastic, garbage was collected regularly and easily disposed of.
Because of the heat, and with no air-conditioning yet, most government offices closed at 1 pm. Many establishments had noon breaks until 2 p.m. Siestas seemed to be the order of the day.
To us students, summer started with the end of the school year by mid-March and ended with the opening of classes in the first week of June. This was called vacacion grande.
There were no summer classes at the elementary and high school levels. Those who failed had to repeat the whole school year (they were called repeaters). At the university level, summer classes were held only for those who failed the semester (they were called Octoberians).
Students from the provinces returned to their hometowns and brought classmates and friends with them. We city residents went to Luneta Park in the afternoons. Luneta was beautifully landscaped, with tall trees, green hedges and all kinds of flowers. There were benches where we sat and had a clear view of the sea. (There was no Quirino Grandstand yet.) And ships were docked at Pier 7, the longest pier in Asia. We walked up and down Dewey (now Roxas) Boulevard, sat on the giant boulders that separated it from the sea, and watched the famous beautiful sunset of Manila Bay. When my aunts were generous, we had merienda at the imposing Manila Hotel.
Oh, how happy was I in Manila, and proud of my city. Wasn’t she called the “Pearl of the Orient”?
In May, all roads led to Antipolo for pilgrimages to Nuestra Señora de Paz y Buen Viaje, Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage.
As early as January, I accompanied my mother to Antipolo to look for a house to rent. Toward the end of April, my father sent our car to the taller for a checkup in preparation for our ascent. Since Antipolo is on top of a hill, and the road was narrow and steep, driving there was considered dangerous. By the first week of May, we were already settled.
The usual routine was early-morning Mass, since fasting was from midnight. The Mass was in Latin, with no homilies, and with the priest facing the altar. After breakfast we went to the market where everything was fresh. There was no refrigeration yet at the time. My mother’s favorite menu was sinigang na kandule and ginisang upo. We bought assorted fruits: singkamas, duhat, siniguelas, bananas, kamachile and mangoes (both green and ripe).
After lunch, a big mat and pillows were laid on the bamboo floor of the sala and everybody was required to take a nap. Merienda was usually suman at mangga, or kakanin from the maglalako who went from house to house. Then we proceeded to the church for the 5 p.m. rosary and novena.
After the devotions, we lined up in the corridor by the side of the church up the stairs leading to the back of the altar to kiss the hem of the Blessed Mother’s skirt.
Processions with marching bands were held on Sunday afternoons and at the end of every novena.
When relatives came to visit, we brought them for swimming and picnics to Hinulugang Taktak with its lush, clean and cool falls. The fare was always chicken pork and liver adobo, pinakbet, green mangoes with bagoong and fragrant Milagrosa rice wrapped in banana leaves.
I enjoyed all these activities so that I felt sad when the rains would start toward the end of the month. It signaled the end of summer and my vacacion grande.
Despite its heat and humidity, perhaps because of these memories, to me the season of summer is lovely. As is the summer of every person’s life.
Lourdes S. Bautista (firstname.lastname@example.org), 93, is a retired professor of the University of Santo Tomas, and a widow with 12 children, 27 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.
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