Talavera (3): on the summers of my youth

 

Enjoying the cool water of my hometown's river with my young sons Rommel and RJThe best memories of my younger years in the province are mostly associated with summer.  At no other time of the year had I become more immersed with my physical environment and the time-honored culture and traditions of my folks than in summer.

I grew up in the farming town of Talavera at the heart of the landlocked province of Nueva Ecija during the 1960s.  Back then summer was the most anticipated time of the year for me because it meant a two-month break from school and the monotony of its daily rituals and routine.

The town’s river two blocks away from our old house in the neighborhood of Talento Street was a frequent and convenient “cooling off” destination for me at the time when leisure resorts like Crystal Wave, Tropical Garden, Venus and Sarmiento were still years into the future of my hometown.  The river then was wider and deeper than it is now and marine life still thrived on its clean and clear water.  Town people flocked to its cool and flowing water during summer for a refreshing dip or to launder clothes with the now iconic batya at palo-palo (galvanized tin laundry basin and wooden paddle for beating laundry).

On days when it was not too sunny and humid, I would ride my old McMillan bicycle and pedal my way to the interior barrio of Sibul, or San Ricardo, or Bantug where small bodies of inland water locally called sapa could be found in those days.  And there I would be, exploring the modest but unspoiled attractions of those water ponds, and fishing too with my home made yantok (rattan) fishing rod.  I don’t recall having caught anything from those fishing “expeditions”, but I’m certain that I always managed to stave off starvation with my emergency packed lunch of Ligo sardines from my mother’s sari-sari store.

Long and warm summer evenings were quite a challenge for me.  There was not much you could entertain yourself with or places you could hang around in those days when the limited supply of electricity from the town’s diesel-run power plant was confined to a small segment of the poblacion area and mostly to the homes of the more affluent residents of the town.  No television set, movie house, fastfood store, videoke house or any of the modern amenities of most homes and towns today.  Corny soap operas of the “Kuya Eddie” and “Tiya Dely” era on the battery-operated radio were the most entertainment you could get at night.  That is if you can consider shedding tears a form of entertainment.

Cabanatuan City some 15 kilometers south of the town, with its movie houses and entertainment spots, was invitingly close.  But then a two-hour or so in an air conditioned movie house and a steaming bowl of chicken mami (noodle soup) at the jeepney terminal in front of the old Josephine Theater (while waiting for a ride back) would set you back one peso, which was the equivalent of my entire school allowance for one week.

As I remember St. Isidore Parish Church in the late 1960sGood thing there was the old town plaza beside the St. Isidore Parish Church, which was more practical and affordable with a mere treat of Juicy Fruit chewing gum or Magnolia popsicle from the nearby store of Mang Duco Maliwat.  There was not much you could see there either, but there was light from several electric lamp posts.  And concrete benches too.

I hung around the place on countless summer evenings with my childhood friends and classmates Lito Aclan and Gil Santos, small talking and dreaming about the world outside the confines of our sleepy town.  Many years later Lito and Gil would immigrate to Canada and Australia respectively, fulfilling their childhood dreams, while I stayed around and built my small world in the concrete jungle called Manila.

The Semana Santa (Holy Week) was a welcome respite from unsuccessful fishing expeditions and idle evenings at the town plaza.  The week-long religious observance provided me with a variety of distractions from the doldrums of rural life, from the Senakulo (passion play) to Siete Palabras (Christ’s seven last words) to the Easter Sunday culmination of the Lenten week.

And then there were the dozens of kubols (temporary religious booths or sheds) of varied designs, sizes and opulence to visit and hang around, each one vying to be adjudged the most beautiful by the town organizers of kubol contest.  I wasn’t good at singing or chanting, but the pabasa (marathon chant reading of the narrative of Christ’s life, passion, death and resurrection) at the kubol was “the place to be” during the Lenten week for boys and girls my age who were starting to take interest on the delicate subject of “the birds and the bees.”  Not to mention that free meals and snacks were served day and night at the kubol by alternating neighborhood sponsors.

In the evening of Holy Wednesday or Good Friday people lined up on the street to watch the prusisyon ng mga poon (procession of religious statues), a Lenten spectacle where richly decorated and lighted carrozas (carriages) bearing life-size religious statues and dioramas depicting characters and key events in the passion of Christ were paraded through the major streets of the town.  At the head of the long procession (every year without fail) was a town nitwit named Garyong with his trusted silbato (whistle) and yantok stick, giving birth to the hometown humor “Pagkahaba-haba man ng prusisyon, si Garyong pa rin ang nasa unahan (literally: However long the procession is, Garyong will be at its head).”

Fil-Canadian Elsie Fajardo at the Mine's View Park in Baguio CityGroup excursions to Baguio City were common in our neighborhood during summer.  Usually organized by moonlighting bus drivers, the cost for the one-day tour of the pines city was five pesos (more than a day’s wage in those days) per person.  Every summer, when I could “wangle” ten pesos from my mother, I would join such tours and come home with a load of potted cactus plants which were sold by sidewalk vendors at Burnham Park and Mine’s View Park.

Before long I would be tending and propagating a sizeable collection of succulents in our backyard.  Collectors and lovers of the hardy desert plants would often drop by the house and pester me for buds or cuttings of the varieties of their fancy.

Baguio City then was less crowded and commercially developed than it is now; but greener, cooler and more fun to explore on foot.  Other favorite excursion destinations in those days were the beach resorts in the nearby province of Pangasinan, Tagaytay and its scenic view of Taal volcano and lake, Hinulugang Taktak in Antipolo and Pagsanjan Falls in Laguna.

Those summer excursions gave me the opportunity to see and experience many places outside the borders of my home province, long before educational tour was introduced into the country’s school system.

And then comes the fiesta (feast) month of May and its endless festivities and feastings.  Talavera celebrates its annual town fiesta on May 15 in honor of the town’s patron saint, St. Isidore The Laborer.  Each household spruces up the house, prepares an elaborate array of dishes fit for a king and welcomes both invited and uninvited guests to the house and the feast.

The town fiesta of my younger years featured nightly shows of amateur singing contests, sketch comedies, variety shows and zarzuelas (musical theater) at the town plaza for 15 consecutive nights.

Statue of St. Isidore the Farmer leading a carabao parade in Talavera, Nueva EcijaOur neighbor and elementary school utility Mang Pico Medina was the regular judge of those singing contests with his caldero (cast iron cooking pot) banging bell, long before the popular American Idol TV show hit the airwave.  When you heard his caldero banged you knew at once that a contestant was out of tune and thus eliminated from the contest.  And again, long before American Idol, the judging of the eventual winners from among the remaining contestants was done by universal acclaim of spectators.  The louder the claps and cheers of the audience the better the chances of winning the contest.

And then there was the travelling fun fair we still see today, with its mixture of attractions like carnival show, children’s rides, air rifle shooting, ring hoopla, food stalls and table gambling games called pula-puti and beto-beto.

To a rural lad in the mid-1960s like me, those nightly entertainment and attractions were a bonanza of fun and excitement.  There were of course friends and young girls to chat with at the Coleman-lighted makeshift stores of halo-halo (dessert of mixed sweetened fruits, milk and shaved ice), or at Mang Duco’s ice cream kiosk when my mother was generous with my spending money.

In the morning of fiesta day a long parade of richly ornated carabaos could be seen along the stretch of Quezon Street on its way to the St. Isidore Parish Church for the blessing of the beasts of burden by the town’s parish priest.  In the afternoon carabao races were held at the oval track of Talavera Provincial Hgh School (now Talavera National High School).  Those races were not exactly formula one car races, but equally as exciting to town folks as dozens of heavy hooves pounded the dirt track, leaving behind a heavy plume of dust, to the delight and wild cheers of spectators.

There was a contest too for the fattest carabao sponsored by the municipal government with a prize of araro (wooden plow) for the owner of the winning entry.  Our female carabao named taba or fat (to distinguish from our other male carabao named payat or thin) was a perennial winner in the contest.  My father, who worked during off-farming season as a master carpenter-maker of araro at the carceria (woodworking workshop) of Mang Pepe Matias, accumulated excess araros through the years that he freely gave away many of them to his relatives and friends.

Traditional marching brass bands with their colorful uniforms and attractive baton-wielding majorettes were a regular attraction of the town fiesta.  They never failed to attract an audience of onlookers as they marched and played martial tunes through the major streets of the town proper.

And yes, there was the iconic game of palosebo too, a traditional fiesta game that involves climbing a long and greased bamboo pole with one’s bare hands and feet to get the small flag on top of the pole in order to win prize money.  It was fun to watch the game as grease-smeared contestants struggled to climb the smooth and slippery bamboo pole for the prized small pennant at the top of the pole.

Consorting with a town beautyThere were other places to go and festivities to join during the month of May.  A barrio was celebrating its own fiesta somewhere in the town on many days of the month.  And I would receive invitations from relatives or classmates in big barrios like La Torre, Calipahan, San Pascual and Baloc.

Finally, the May festivities in those days would be incomplete without Flores de Mayo (May flower festival) and its highlight festival of Santacruzan, a religiously-themed beauty pageant featuring the community’s fairest maidens marching with their male consorts (or sitting on flowers-bedecked theme floats) in a procession through the town proper.  I had the pleasure of consorting with some of the town beauties before I entered college in Manila and took on odd summer jobs.

The first rain in May signals the beginning of the end of summer and the forthcoming onset of the monsoon season.  Soon I would be back to school and the monotony of its daily rituals and routine.  But not just yet!  Ahh, to be young and carefree and basking in the warm delights of summer.

Published 15 May 2014
Pasig City, PHILIPPINES
 

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Some Old Summer Photos

Family picnic at Campo Cuatro Park in Munoz, Nueva Ecija.

Summer picnic with some family members at the old Campo Cuatro Mountain Park in San Jose, Nueva Ecija (I’m the boy 2nd from the right of photo). 

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Skinny teeny bopper learning to ride a motor scooter on a summer break.

High school graduation day with my mother

High school graduation with my mother at Talavera Provincial High School, Talavera, Nueva Ecija.

Consorting with a town beauty

Consorting with a town maiden (the former Yvonne Ramon) during a Flores de Mayo festival in Talavera, Nueva Ecija.

Creased photo on my first year college student ID.

Creased photo on my student ID card.

Enjoying the cool water of my hometown's river with my young sons Rommel and RJ

Enjoying the cool water of my hometown river with my sons Rommel and RJ on a weekend summer visit to Talavera, Nueva Ecija.

As I remember St. Isidore Parish Church in the late 1960s

As I remember St. Isidore Parish Church in the mid-1960s (photo credit: Z-gallery).

Tour Spots Mentioned in the Article (recent photos)

Fil-Canadian Elsie Fajardo at Burnham Park in Baguio City

Fil-Canadian Elsie Fajardo at Burnham Park in Baguio City.

Fil-Canadian Elsie Fajardo at the Mine's View Park in Baguio City

Fil-Canadian Elsie Fajardo at Mine’s View Park in Baguio City.

Fil-Canadians Elsie Fajardo (right of photo) and Norma Dantes with a view of Taal volcano and lake in the background.

Fil-Canadians Elsie Fajardo (right of photo) and Norma Dantes in Tagaytay City, with a view of Taal volcano and lake in the background of photo.

Hinulugang Taktak National Park in Antipolo City.

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Pagsanjan Falls in Laguna Province

Pagsanjan Falls in Laguna Province (photo credit: Charlie Napa).

Hundred Islands in Alaminos, Pangsinan

A view of Hundred Islands in Alaminos, Pangasinan  (photo credit: traveltourpackages).

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Kubol

Photo of Kubol (temporary religious booth or shed) where the community Pabasa (marathon chant reading of the narrative of Christ’s life, passion, death and resurrection) is held during the Lenten Season (photo credit: Facebook account of Jojie Aranilla).

Senakulo

Photo of the Senakulo (passion play) during the Lenten Season (photo credit: traveltothephilippines).

Holy Week procession of saints

Holy Week procession in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Mar del Rosario and Facebook account of Alice de Guzman).

Banderitas in front of the St. Isidore Parish Church for the 2014 town fiesta in Talavera, Nueva Ecija

Banderitas in front of the St. Isidore Parish Church for the 2014 town fiesta in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Facebook account of Municipality of Talavera).

Crowd at 2014 fiesta show in Talavera, Nueva Ecija

Crowd at a 2014 fiesta show in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit:  Facebook account of Municipality of Talavera).

Statue of St. Isidore the Farmer leading a carabao parade in Talavera, Nueva Ecija

Town’s patron saint St. Isidore The Laborer leading a carabao parade in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Z-gallery).

Carabao parade in Talavera, Nueva Eciija

Carabao parade in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Z-gallery).

Carabao race in Talavera, Nueva Ecija

Carabao race in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Z-gallery).

Brass band parade in Talavera, Nueva Ecija

Brass band parade in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Z-gallery).

Traditional fiesta game of Palosebo

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Flores de Mayo

Flores de Mayo festival, a religiously-themed beauty pageant featuring the community’s fairest maidens marching with their male consorts in a procession through the town (photo credit: islandsofthephilippines).

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Municipal Hall of Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Cynthia Catacutan-Krisnan of Caliifornia, USA).

St. IsidoreThe Worker Parish Church

St. Isidore The Laborer Parish Church in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Facebook account of St. Isidore The Worker Parish).

Dr. Paulino J. Garcia  Memorial Hospital

Dr. Paulino J. Garcia Memorial Hospital in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Wikipedia).

Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology

Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology campus in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Wikipedia).

Talavera National High School

Talavera National High School, Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: TNHS Class 74 Foundation).

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Crystal Wave Resort & Hotel in Brgy. Dinarayat, Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Facebook account of Crystal Wave Resort).

Chowking branch store in Talavera

Chowking branch store in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Chowking Philippines website).

Tropical Garden Resort & Hotel

Tropical Garden Resort & Hotel in Brgy. San Pascual, Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Facebook account of Tropical Garden Resort).

Jolibee branch store in Talavera

Jolibee branch store in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Jolibee Philippines website).

Venus Resort in Talavera

Venus Resort in Brgy. Calipahan, Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Facebook account of Venus Resort).

Mang Inasal branch store in Talavera

Mang Inasal branch store in Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Facebook account of Crystal Wave Resort).

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Sarmiento Resort in Brgy. Poblacion Sur, Talavera, Nueva Ecija (photo credit: Facebook account of Sarmiento Resort).

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