Ten: My best pre-school memories
Those were the days when pre-school education was not as prevalent as it is today just yet. There would be a year or two where our parents would leave us to the custody of our grandparents. Our parents then will go back home for work. This would be the time when we are still young but old enough to be weaned from our parents. We are about four to six years old then. I remember them when they are leaving us telling they would not take long and they would go back right away. They tell that would just be away for a week. But a week then was equivalent of five months. We would see them back during Christmas break and much longer on summer season.
There would be days that we would miss our parents but young as we are we would easily divert our homesickness (if there was such in our vocabularies) to the different activities available for us to explore. The following were the best memories of my pre-school years:
Swimming by the river or at the sea – Actually, from the house, we have a good view of the sun setting by the sea. Our grandparent’s home was about 300 meters away to the river and about a kilometer to the sea. On a good day, we would sneak out and go the river nearby and take a plunge for about an hour or more. Or we could go farther and go to beach. There would be times that we will have the cows and carabaos freshen up also so we would join them in their bath time.
Cows and carabaos – On some certain days, we would be asked to pasture the cows on the fields so that they can eat more and fatten them. Our lola would wake us up early – that is before the sun shines – and have us take breakfast. After that we are ready to go. We would then get the cows and go to a place where they can graze fresh grass which would depend on certain situation, it could just be near or it can be so far. Since there are other farmers’ children doing the same, we would have to look for the best place first before others could look for that place. We have to look for a nearer place since the farther we go the longer our travel back to the house and back again on the afternoon. By four in the afternoon (or when the sun’s heat is no longer that hot), we would go back to where we left the animals not to get them back home but for us to lead and guide them to a place where they could eat more anywhere. We just have to make sure they are not eating anything poisonous or plants that are planted by the farmers. While the animals are grazing, we would also be looking for something to eat on trees around the area.
Fruit trees – Various fruit-bearing trees are planted around or nearby the house so if we see the fruits are ripe enough to eat, we just gather and savor them. There are mangoes, guavas, damortis, mansanilya, bananas around. If you farther there chicos, chesa, lomboy and a lot more fruits you can get for free. Just be reminded to ask permission from the owner. I remember there are a lot of times my lola and aunties would get angry when there are children would be getting mangoes from our backyard without permission. It doesn’t stop us from getting something to eat from the fields thinking we won’t be caught stealing one piece (of say corn, tomato, etc.) when there a lot of these produce are left.
Farming / Fishing – On seldom occassions, we would join our lolo who is a farmer, in the fields to help him in whatever he tells us to do. I remember myself joining in plowing the fields, planting, weeding grasses, harvesting among others. I even have the opportunity to have used a manually operated rice tresher before it became obsolete. Aside from farming, I also experienced join others on fishing – not the kind of fishing where you would just be sitting on the boat or on the edge of a riverbank and wait for your fishing rod to catch a fish. In our dad’s place, fishes are “cultured” in what they call as rama. These (ramas) are made up of tree branches and twigs put together in a river or pond thus making a makeshift shelter for fishes. These ramas can be harvested after say two to three months – just in time the “residents” big and fat enough to be served in the table. The fishing in rama is more aptly termed there as panagburak. I was bad in this exercise though as I never remembered catching big fishes everytime I join the activity. More often than not, panagburak happens when there is a big occassion in the house. It means celebration time.
Foods and delicasies – I remember then that no birthday celebration would be complete without the ever present tambo-tambong. Then in Christmas, tupig is served. Much more of the food, I remember that I always witness how these foods are prepared from scratch. See, celebrations there don’t start at eating the food that are served. Gathering and socialization starts as the food are prepared as everyone helps the hosts in the kitchen to do everything what is to be done until the dishes are served in the tables and until the dishes are cleaned up.
Of course, we all know the default dishes of every Ilokano’s table – dinengdeng or pinakbet. I have lots of them at that time. And then there is also mollases (we call it tagapulot or pulitipot) in a big biscuit can.
Playground – Most of the time, we only stay around the vicinity of the house but there are a lot of things to do there. Our playground is made up of nothing but dirt (fine soil) but we have our imagination to make the most of what we have. With our homemade cars in tow, we would play almost all day until we get tired of it. If we grow tired of playing in land, there is also a waterway near the house where we would play boat race and just anything we can think of doing in the water. Then there are also animals domesticated (chicken, dogs) we would harrass every now and then.
Beetles, bats and geckos – These creatures were very common in the place that everytime I see one or just mentioning them would . Actually, there are bats that inhabit beneath the the anahaw roofing in our grandparents’ house. By dusk, one by one these nocturnal animals would fly out from the roof to our delight. There are times that we even force them to get out even if it is not that dark yet. These would then go back by dawn to possible rest and sleep. Then there are the geckos who would make noise every now and then. There are two or three of them in different part of the house. And the beetles. The existence of them is seasonal but if they come out, there are a lot of them that we would play one or two of them while the others would be cooked fried and served eaten.
Household chores – Young as we are then, if we are not going to take care of the cows in the field, we are not spare of doing household works that we should accomplish before we are allowed to play somewhere. We would divide the parts among ourselves and we should clean the place (wipe out the dirts and scrub the wooden/bambo floor.) By late afternoon after taking the nap, we are tasked to water the plants in the garden. Also, when it’s about to get dark, we are scheduled to place the gas lamps all over the house to make the house not dark for us to move around.
No electricity and AM radio – During those times, electricity is just a dream in the barrio and so the most viable entertainment then would be to listen to the transistor radio. This is where I have learned to listen the news and commentaries and follow drama programs on AM radio. By eight o’clock when there are no gatherings in the plaza, all are already done with the day and should be sleeping. And if there activities and gatherings, there would be the realiable “Coleman” to lighten up the place.
Saturday is market day – The barrio can be classified as an island as it is surrounded by a long and wide but not so deep river. Somehow, this prevents the barrio people to go out. For one, nobody own any vehicle at that time. On Saturdays though, a jeepney would come in so the barrio people could go the the centro to buy their groceries and supplies for a week. The jeepney would come back by noon for another trip and go back again late afternoon. This means that one has to know the jeepney’s schedule or else you will end up waiting long or worse, you will completely miss the trip and just have to walk to the barrio. My lola would usually go to market on Saturdays and we would always wait for her to get back for our pasalubong – usually something to eat.
And there are more memories I just got to remember while doing the draft for this. The kariton. Plaza programs. Fireflies. A lot more. Sadly, the tradition of sending the young ones into the barrio stopped after the word “kinder” (and “nursery”) among children became popular. My two youngest brothers and all my cousins never had the chance to experience the best pre-school moments they could have experience. It has made us a better person even if we are a little late in starting our formal education.