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How it was with us

A week ago, I saw a post on Facebook regarding an alumni reunion at Sta. Catalina College. Looking at it and its accompanying pictures unleashed a flood of memories. After all, I was in that school from kindergarten to high school graduation. I remembered my classmates, all gone now, especially Elong Sison, my best friend and phone pal who passed away a few years ago.

On one phone call, she told me, “Nena, why don’t you write about our past? About how it was for us?” “Why?” I inquired. “So that the younger generation may have an idea of our upbringing in the ’20s and ’30s.”

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This morning, with so many memories lingering in my mind, I’ll accede to her request.

Before its destruction during the bombing of Intramuros, the Colegio de Santa Catalina was a two-story wooden building that occupied practically a whole block, with its front on Anda Street and on its left side the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. Farther down was the Muralla which enclosed the Walled City.

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We were called colegialas and classified according to three categories: the internas, mostly from the provinces, who were boarders and went home only during vacations; the media-internas who stayed the whole day in school; and the externas, like me, who came for morning and afternoon classes. Spanish was the language spoken both in school and at home. If you spoke Tagalog in school, you would be fined.

Our morning session started at 7:30 and ended at 11 (with a recess of 20 minutes), followed by the recitation of the rosary in Spanish and the litany in Latin. During recess, some of us, with the portera’s permission, crossed the street to a small tienda that sold boiled ears of corn—one centavo for the small one and two centavos for the bigger one. Sison’s ice drop was likewise for one centavo for the regular and two centavos for the special. Pan de carne (a half pan de sal with ground pork and potatoes on top) went for three centavos. Soft drinks were Cosmos Orange and Sarsaparilla at three centavos. My daily allowance was five centavos in grade school and ten centavos in high school.

The afternoon session started at 2 and ended after our PE at 4:30. Sometimes as a treat, our teacher would make us climb up to the top of Muralla where we saw from up there the clear waters of the Pasig River and enjoyed the cool breeze from Manila Bay.

Our free day was Thursday, the middle of the week. We had two vacations, the two-week Christmas holidays and the two summer months, April and May, called Vacacion Grande.

Elementary schooling ended with grade 7 where we had a subject called “Good Manners and Right Conduct,” and in Spanish, “Urbanidad,” which emphasized refinement, politeness, and proper decorum.

On special occasions, veladas (stage presentations) were held, to which parents, family, and friends were invited. I was always elated when I was chosen to participate in the singing or dancing on stage. Music was provided by the piano or the phonograph. Likewise, there were yearly excursions to nearby places like Pansol, Los Baños, Antipolo. The farthest that I remember going to was the Central Azucarera de Tarlac when I was first year high school.

Sometimes, on a Sunday afternoon, my parents took me with them to the movies. There were two movie houses at the time, Lyric in Escolta and Ideal in Avenida Rizal. Tickets were at 30 centavos before 3 pm and 50 centavos after 5. All films were in black and white with no sound, until talkies came along. Merienda was at a Japanese eatery where halo-halo was at eight centavos, and mongo con hielo at five centavos. The next day would be Monday and so, back to school I would go.

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Beautiful memories of life as it was then.

* * *

Lourdes Syquia Bautista, 97, is a retired UST professor and has 12 children, 27 grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchildren.

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TAGS: 1920s, 1930s, Lourdes Syquia-Bautista, Sta. Catalina College
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