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Summer games

As I was reading Michael Tan’s “Summer slide” (Pinoy Kasi, 3/13/19), scenes from my childhood summer breaks came to mind.

Back then — mid ’50s to early ’60s — when our link to the outside world consisted only of the weekly Philippines Free Press, the Manila Bulletin (a day late) and a transistor radio, I was in a truly rural setting.

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At home, we were assigned chores. Mine was running errands, washing the dishes after supper and filling up a medium-size earthen jar with drinking water from a neighbor’s faucet, and an earthen vat with water from our well for cleaning and washing purposes.

The whole school year, except weekends and late afternoons, we could hardly squeeze in time for play. Hence, we looked forward to summer breaks to play to our hearts’ content. Indeed, summer was games galore for us.

Our street then was unpaved and only a few vehicles, usually bicycles, passed that way, so we were blessed with a very accessible playground. We could easily have the numbers — the “quorum” — to start a game, as families in our neighborhood were big.

Among our favorite outdoor games were: tubi-tubian (patintero), jack-en-poy (tumbang preso), katsoy (sipa), relikayan (dodgeball), barateran (modified softball with just two bases), bagol (using coconut shells) and pikot (a local version of hopscotch). In most of these games, winning meant having a “slave” or “slaves” to do tasks related to the game played.

A very amusing treat for us was a ride in the pakapang, a sled-like conveyance drawn by a carabao. As summer used to be harvest time for palay, the pakapang was used by farmers to transport palay from the farms to the landowners’ and farmers’ houses in town.

The sight of a pakapang on our street filled us with excitement. Whatever game we were playing would be put on hold. As soon as the pakapang was emptied of its load, we would all get onto it for a ride on its way back to the farm.

How we relished the ride! Upon reaching the part near a big breadfruit tree whose branches seemed to form a canopy, we would shout “Whoa!” to signal the end of our ride and for the farmer to make the carabao stop. We would all say “Salamat” upon getting off. We would then dash off back to base, about 600 meters, each one trying to be acclaimed the fastest.  Still panting, we would make our way to the faucet for a drink.  Then back to our game after arguing on where we had left off.

Came the hula-hoop craze in the late ’50s. How we envied kids with colorful hoops! But nobody among us could have one. A bright idea came when we spotted a neighbor’s worn-out bilao or nigo (winnowing tray) atop a heap of trash. We found out that beneath the rattan strips wound around the circular handle were three layers of bamboo strips about two inches wide, which could be fashioned into our dream toy.

With the help of a playmate’s father, who used a thin nylon cord he had long hidden, our hula hoop came to be. Of course, our playmate from whose family the winnowing tray came and whose father did the crafting was recognized as its owner.

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All the other games were put on standby as the hula hoop was the “in” thing for all of us.  We had lots of fun as we learned to sway with it, shifting its location from the index finger to the neck, waist, hips and knees and back.

But the prized toy had only a brief sojourn with us.  Coming home from perhaps a round of  tuba  with his buddies, our playmate’s father, the hoop maker himself, found us quarreling over whose turn it was with the toy. Without uttering a word, he took hold of it and, in a jiffy, snapped it in two. We were all silent as tears streamed down our cheeks.

Our games, though, weren’t all physical.  When it rained, we played indoors: sungka, balay-balay or eskwelahan. In sungka, we mastered doing the “rumpas,” whereby the first player would “harvest” all the “taya.” In balay-balay, we would cook and eat sliced bananas, camote and cassava, which were aplenty in our households then. It was in our eskwelahan where I learned shortcut multiplication tricks taught by the older ones among us.

Soon the summer break would be over, and we would all be excited to get back to school.  “Summer slide” wasn’t thought of yet; neither were there summer lessons in the community then. We kids might have “slid” a bit, especially in English, but having had our fill of games, we were recharged, replete with experiences we could write or talk about in our language classes.

I pray that I don’t get too old. But if I were to live to my dotage, my bargain would be that snippets of these playful summers be replayed in my mind. A second childhood indeed! And a very happy one.

* * *

Ruby L. Leander, 71, is a retired teacher of Sorsogon State College.

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