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‘Hometown is where our story begins’

A Facebook post recently caught my attention: “Hometown is where our story begins.”

My story begins in San Jose, Nueva Ecija, where I was born and raised during the exciting 1940s and 1950s.

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San Jose was a fast-developing town toward the end of the 1930s and at the onset of the 1940s. Its vast uncleared land suitable for agriculture was attracting settlers from other towns in Nueva Ecija and neighboring provinces (according to Wikipedia).

My father told me that when World War II erupted on Dec. 8, 1941, San Jose turned into a huge evacuation center. Then, on Dec. 23, 1941, Japanese fighter planes bombarded San Jose’s main structures while Japanese soldiers stormed into town. The enemy attack left a number of people dead and part of the town in ruins.

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Because my mother then was eight months pregnant with me, my father decided to move her away from the hostilities. On Christmas Eve, he transported my mother and two older siblings in a  kalesa  to the safety of Porais, a barrio south of the poblacion where they celebrated Christmas and waited for my birth.

A month later, I was born in a time of war in Porais, San Jose, Nueva Ecija on Jan. 22, 1942.

I have dim memories of the war years. But I clearly remember that the war had already ended when my family went back to our old neighborhood in Ramos street, where I made fond memories of my childhood.

Then came my first classroom experience. Schools reopened in June 1946 and I sat as a 4-year-old saling-pusa in my sister Elena’s Grade 1, section 1 class under Ms Luisa Reyes, the most sought-after teacher then at San Jose Central School. And I am proud to say Lino Brocka was also a member of that class. (Brocka is the acclaimed movie director and National Artist for Film. He wrote and directed “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang,” an award-winning movie based on the life story of Kuala, San Jose’s faceless town character in the 1950s.)

Two years later, in 1948, I was sitting once again in Miss Reyes’ Grade 1, Section 1 class. No longer a saling-pusa but a proud Grade 1 pupil.

I completed elementary studies at San Jose Central School in 1954, and high school at the Catholic-run St. Joseph School in 1958.

I created the most cherished memories of my teenage years in St. Joseph: classroom mischief, first crush, first bike ride, dance parties and  barkada  escapades. And I will always remember the finest English teacher then at St. Joseph, who pounded into me the basics of grammar and composition: Mrs. Bernardina Salvador.

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In the 1950s, the people of San Jose resumed their war-interrupted lives and moved on with hope for a brighter future. With relative peace in place, the town continued to progress and local businesses started to flourish. Movie houses went up and commercial establishments mushroomed along the main highway, particularly across the public market.

The marketplace itself became a beehive of business activities on Sundays. Traders from nearby towns and barrios would come and sell newly picked fruits and fresh vegetables, live chickens and the latest catch of dalag, hito and other freshwater fish.

Available public transportation also helped San Jose’s rapid development in the ’50s. The Manila Railroad Company (Philippine National Railways today) operated its Tutuban to San Jose line daily, while its overland counterpart, the Luzon Bus Line, ran regular trips from San Jose to Manila and vice versa. Pantranco maintained a route to Pangasinan, while Rural Transit went all the way up to Isabela. Horse-driven kalesa ferried people around town, while  carabao-drawn kariton transported folks from the barrios to the poblacion.

I left San Jose in 1958 after high school to further pursue God’s plan for me elsewhere.

Today, 61 years later, San Jose is a bustling city, and feels different from the small town I knew before. But no matter, it is still the hometown where my story begins.

* * *

Danilo G. Mendiola, 77, also wrote “Coming home,” about the town of San Jose in the present time  (https://opinion.inquirer.net/41751/coming-home).

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TAGS: danilo g. mendiola, High Blood, hometown, Nueva Ecija, San Jose
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