Old houses remind me of my childhood at my grandmother’s house in Valladolid. It was an old Spanish house with a huge ballroom, big rooms with antique chairs, and wide windows overlooking the highway. I remember the echoes in that old house...the lingering traces of laughter, of my aunts playing mahjong on weekends, of my grandmother singing Besame Mucho, of fading footsteps, and the chatter of women-weavers on the ground floor.
"Hablon are hand-loomed textiles woven by women in Western Visayas who have the tradition of weaving for more than 150 years. Hablon fabrics come in muted colors and sometimes combined by silk threads."
The hablon-weavers were headed by an old woman, Tia Tonia, who fascinated me and my sister because of her bright red lips and black teeth. We watched Tia Tonia prepare her nganga (mama in Ilonggo), the ingredients of which were kept in a knotted hanky hidden under her chemise, delighted by the ritual. One afternoon, she taught me and my sister how to put together just the right amount of bonga (fruit of areca palm, a green-colored nut), buyo (leaf of betel piper vine) and a dash of lime to chew on and produce a blood-red juice that we gleefully spit out---checking who has the most vivid red spittle. Sharing betel chew with the women after the afternoon siesta was our bonding time---my sister and I felt like grown-ups!
...aside from assuaging hunger pangs, betel-chewing is believed to strengthen the teeth and gums. The Spanish chronicler Pigafetta, describing the customs of the islanders in the 16th century , wrote that “it is very cooling to the heart, and if they ceased to use it they would die.” The betel nut tradition once bound together Filipinos from the Cordilleras to Sulu. ~ from "Hidden in the Heart"
Everyday, there was a fiesta atmosphere in that house, with relatives and friends coming and going, guests at every meal. As a child of 8, there was always some corner in that house to be explored, to hideout and build my kingdoms of make-believe. The front staircase was my favorite place--- a grand 13-step staircase. Sitting on the steps, I would watch people come and go and listen to snippets of conversations; or listen in to afternoon soaps from a transistor radio the weavers were avidly tuned in to.
The old house was a landmark that people would tell the bus driver where to get off. “Sa balay daku lang,” the conductor would yell at the driver, and the bus stopped in front of my grandmother’s house. Balay daku means big house. I would climb in my grandmother’s big chair by the window, count the buses that stopped by, and sometimes wave at some stranger who smiled from the bus window.
I miss that old house, with its cracked paint of yellow and green, latticed windows, and creaking doors. It was torn down when I was 13. When I see an old house, I always wonder about its history...the people who lived there and those who left their scent and footprints.
Posted for Nostalgic Marveling