I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Sta. Mesa, Manila. I have to say I owe a lot to my parents for I had the best childhood, enjoying the best of both worlds; a right mix of a sheltered upbringing in the most Filipino setting you can imagine at that time.
I grew up as a neighborhood celebrity I must say as my mom was the community doctor. People almost curtsied when they would see my siblings and me. They loved my mom who was not just a doctor but a gifted one. She took care of everyone and took care of them well.
Our neighborhood was not spared though from the messing up of Burnham's master plan. Sadly now it is chaos!
There are emission testing facilities, herds of tricycles, (before people walked) an even bigger herd of people (ugh) an ice delivery facility, mid-rise and ugly apartment buildings. When did it all start? When people stopped looking and caring which includes the city government down to our barangay.
My parents will have to leave our family home soon and though in my mind I want to cuff, put them in straight jackets and transport them to a better home and neighborhood myself tomorrow. I am sure to them the old Sta Mesa neighborhood is what they remember more. So it made me think of the little things I had growing up that made our neighborhood a good place then.
1. The Sky
I used to love looking up to the big, clear sky. My mom's clinic was a good 20 meters from our house and I would walk there oh, may be at least five times a day and 'pester' her. You know how kids are. During summer time there would be kites flying those skies. NO tall apartment buildings yet or peeping skyscrapers or flyovers just a big, clear blue sky!
2. Pebbled Sidewalks
If you look down on the other hand, is a sidewalk maybe 2 meters of pebbles and dirt. During rainy days, my challenge was not to get mud on my legs but I always did.
Actually we had no sidewalk and to this day we still don't. Now though it is just dirt, no more pebbles and it has narrowed down to barely a meter or none at all as cars and delivery trucks are parked every where now.
3. Aling Nene's Stall
Just a house away from our house is a stall made of wood and roofed with galvanized steel, Aling Nene's. In the mornings she sells cooked food and you'd see people sitting on benches eating around her small L-shaped stall. I remember her miswa with pork blood. Yeah, I know sounds gross but the blood was cubed like gelatin. But it was not just her miswa that I remember. You know it's summer when she starts selling halo-halo in the afternoons. I found it so cute how her ingredients were placed in enamel plates and kept in a homemade glass cabinet with wooden framing. I had the pleasure of leaning to eat my halo-halo slowly at my own pace. Each summer I would add an ingredient but my first favorites where the red sago and pinipig. =-)
Come Christmas time, she has puto bumbong. I think her puto bumbong is still the best next to Ampy's'
4. Si Ong
Before I get to my mom's clinic is where I usually, not usually ALWAYS bump into Mr. Ong. He is usually sitting there squat position. He would usually grab my hand and since I don't think he knows my name and he only knows me as his doctor's daughter, he calls me. "Baby." He engages me in a little small talk then I have to wriggle myself out of it because it is gonna take forever. So, "Bye, Mr. Ong!" RUN!!!!
5. Aling Minda' s Drugstore
Across the clinic is a drugstore owned by a childless couple. I only remember the wife's name, Minda.I knew they were desperate for a child and sometimes I would see Aling Minda wearing a maternity dress and I felt sad for her. But that was not my only issue with Aling Minda. As a kid, I loved Aspilets. Whenever I had spare change I would cross the street and buy Aspilets to nibble on. Aling Minda had no clue no one was sick. hehe!
6. Aling Payang and Her Slippers
I felt like a princess every time Lola Payang would measure my feet and make me choose from the leather swatches she had to make slippers. I remember them to fit so well.
Last I heard Lola Payang's and her family moved to Forbes Park and shifted their business to beauty products. No more slippers. =-P
7. Mang Totoy and His Paper Parols
Each year before before the Christmas season, We would take last year's parol or paper lantern and have Mang Totoy replace the Japanese paper and trimmings around it. Each year's parol was unique from the last. Thanks to Mang Totoy.
8. Aling Dolor's Bananaque and Camoteque
I can still smell it the mix of burning sugar and kerosene... This is what will slowly engulf you as you near the stall of Aling Dolor. She cooks bananaque and camoteque everyday. Aling Dolor is chubby, curly haired and had bad teeth. I was shocked to find out that she used to be a salesgirl in a department store, pretty in heels and all. She married Mang Carding our neighborhood carpenter who was a drunk which in my young mind explained why Aling Dolor lost her beauty and youth early.
9. Our Neighborhood Bakery
Perhaps my favorite and most frequented place in the whole neighborhood was the bakery. I grew up loving and eating monay, alembong, kababayan, putok, ensaymada etc. Come to think of it, my love for bread (and carbs) started on bakery bread.
I still remember the brown paper bag that the storekeepers twisted to close, the sound of it crumpling and the smell of freshly baked bread. Life was too sweet!
Wanna know more about these breads? Click here.
As a child, I dreaded fiestas in our neighborhood. Fiestas then meant blocked streets, lots of drunks and noise that lasted until wee hours of the morning. But I do like the Fiesta because of the way strangers were welcome to eat in our home. My parents usually hosted a party then and whoever comes even the old man selling brooms (who used to scare me) partakes of what we have prepared.
As I try to end this entry, in my heart I find not just the ten memorable people and things from my childhood that I just wrote about but also the rest of the people I met. We lived in a different world then, a totally different neighborhood. People were good, more honest, kinder. I close my eyes and pray they all have or had good lives. It was a time when people actually connected in the truest meaning of community. I can name so much more; Aling Susan the meat vendor in the wet market who used to give me tocino, Mang Nestor, our mailman, Kima, the Chinese grandmother who lived across us, our playmates Tin-tin, Ton-ton, Lala, Vangie and Rommel, my sister's playmates, Minye, Russel and Not-not. The list goes on and on.....