For my first Nostalgic Marveling, it is only appropriate that I start from where it all began. When I saw this photo in my archives, childhood memories came rushing in. This is where I was born and lived until I was 11. I went to a public elementary school here, about 200 meters away from my grandfather's house. And wherever I am in the world, I think of this place when I think of home.
I started school when I was four. I do not think it was because I was especially smart. But I think my parents wanted me out of the house because I asked too many weird questions. I remember being obsessed with the indentation between our nose and our lips. I overheard an aunt (my mother's cousin) saying that people with deeper indentation are tamawo---fairies who inhabit anthills, they pretend to be humans, attend church but leave before the benediction. So I examined everybody I see at home, in the bus, at the market, church, even the neighbors. And I would ask my elders if they agree that the fish vendor or the tricycle driver is a tamawo---his or her indentation is much deeper than ours.
Kindergarten school was my whole world. I loved my school uniform---a blue jumper and pink blouse with puffed sleeves, lace socks and black shiny shoes. My bag was full of crayons, papers and pencils and ten pieces of pandesal with my favorite palaman--peanut butter or Milkmaid condensed milk. My grandfather didn’t want me to have pocket money to school, worried that I might cross the street to buy something and be run over by a bus. I savored each day I spent in kindergarten…it was my little personal launch to a life of knowing, of discovery.
From then on, I discovered books, comic books, magazines. I guess my siblings and I were lucky because we grew up in a house full of books and reading materials, where people debate and argue about anything and everything at the dinner table. My aunts and uncles are all opinionated, my grandfather was the ringleader. And even kids were encouraged to join their debates. The only quiet member of the family was my grandmother (she passed away last year at 96). A younger aunt would ask something about her physics assignment and everybody would tease her about how low her IQ is.
Then my grandfather would launch into his speech that we keep our interest in everything; that we’d be curious about how the natural world works and even if we know that a mystery may not be solved in our lifetime, we’ll try anyway. I don’t remember my grandfather's exact words but he was always passionate about not being afraid to walk your mind…that it is like the universe; it does not walk into a limit but it creates the space as it expands. He reminded all of us at the dinner table that we were all born with talents but what we do with them is yet undefined and will be our entire life’s work. He demanded that we seek where and how we can be most creative. To work hard and set our sights high but pay attention to the little things.
I learned from these debates that intelligence is only liberating if it frees yourself and perhaps others, of ignorance. If not, then it is just overbearing nuisance and therefore a curse, not just to me but to others. He wanted his children and grandchildren to work from a desire to discover and imagine how nature, in its many aspects, does its job of creation---one of the greatest pleasures of being human---worthy of any pursuit spanning entire lifetimes…or something to that effect. Now, I think all these maybe were a combination of my grandfather's, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman’s wisdom.
We were all in awe of my grandfather (we called him Lolo Toñing, he passed away more than 20 years ago). People admired as well as feared him. He had a volatile temper and didn’t mince his words for the sake of anybody’s feelings. We called him Bonifacio behind his back because he always carried a bolo knife around. I realized when I was a bit older that he used it in tending to his crops; he turned into a farmer of some sorts after his retirement. He was a voracious reader, a coffee drinker, a smoker and a great storyteller to us kids…of his adventures, black magic, World War II and his encounters with Japanese soldiers, among others. One unforgettable story was the mandragona tree in Spain---where you take its deepest roots, then burn it at a crossroad where blood was once shed, kill a baby in the middle of that crossroad and you will see the devil face to face, even talk to him. Not exactly a bedtime story for kids…but I enjoyed it. I loved the feeling of my little heart thundering under my chest.
Lolo Toñing would sit in his bamboo lounge chair after dinner and all of us kids would sit by the floor. Stories about aswangs (a generic term to all types of mythological creatures, ghost, witches, shape shifters, monsters) maranhig, santermo (St. Elmo's fire) were our nightly entertainment before going to bed---we had no TV. He told us about the kapre, a big black hairy creature smoking a huge cigar, and living in the old kapok tree at the backyard. During the full moon, I would nervously peep from the window hoping to see the kapre. I comforted myself and thought of it as our night guard, watching over us while we sleep.
One uncle entertained us with stories about Count Dracula, about Indians and cowboys complete with sound effects and props from our grandmother's kitchen. Another uncle taught us how to make interesting shadows on the wall using our hands, showed us how to eat oysters, and draw gunslingers. I learned about constellations from my grandmother. She also taught me my first big word when I was about 5---Diphtheria, after she saw me and my brother forcing a cat to look at the mid-day sun.
Things weren't perfect, not by far. And sometimes nostalgia makes me sad. But I believe that the stories from childhood set my sights on knowing and discovering so much more. I’m always curious and interested…haven’t lost the sense of wonder. I embrace the larger world with the march of my own mind.
"Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions."
~ Albert Einstein