Mabalacat, my hometown in Pampanga, derived its name from the tree locally called Balakat (Ziziphus talanai). Many years ago, there must have been many of these trees in our town for them to have such a name.
However, there are only two Balakat trees that I know and that I grew up with in Mabalacat. These are the two that have been retained, I was told, of the many that were planted along the patio fence of Our Lady of Divine Grace Parish Church. These two Balakat trees stand regal in front of the main entrance of the church.
One of the Mabalacat rituals observed when visitors go to our church for the first time, especially families with their babies to be baptized, is to take a minute’s rest in the Balakat tree’s shade to acquire some earthly blessings, so the elders believed.
I have fond memories of these Balakat trees by the church patio. As kids, we often passed by this area on our way home from school. We would often climb this tree but not go too high from the ground.
There was one incident, however, that put a stop to my Balakat-tree climbing days. I must have been in Grade 5. After classes were dismissed, my classmates and I stopped at the patio for a more ambitious climb. Dividing ourselves into two groups, one group climbed the church tower and the other went up the Balakat tree. Climbing the Balakat tree was more challenging, of course, because this time we had to get to the highest branch. I did the tree and climbed all the way up.
Once I was comfortably settled on the highest branch that I could reach, we waved our hands to my classmates who were in the church tower. Between peals of laughter, we made the people below know of our feat by shouting and waving at them. They waved back, some awed, some surprised, others surely envious.
Then our parish priest, Fr. Magtoto, stood below and did not wave back! Ordering us to get off the tree and the tower, he gave us a scolding that involved his escorting each one of us to our homes and further disciplining us in front of our moms. That ended my tree-climbing career—never again would I climb our Balakat tree!
Recalling this, my heart is filled with joyful memories. I share this with my children now as we relax in the shade of the Balakat tree or play badminton at the patio.