Islander in the City | Pablo A. Tariman:


The only family home I remember was the one facing an islet in my hometown in Baras, Catanduanes.

I suppose that house stood in the late 50s before a strong typhoon completely wiped it away.

It is made of light materials with a roof made of nipa shingles and with bamboo floor in the living room. In the center which is also our dining area was an image of Our Lady of Salvation. I remember we had that holy image even when we moved to the capital town.

What was idyllic about that old house?

Well, it faces the Pacific Ocean with an islet we call Minabalay partly shielding us from storm surge. We get our drinking water by taking a boat to a water path full of mangroves and in this small place called Lini. That was the time our source of drinking water was a spring. It is a daily ritual – the boat ride to this spring by the hill — to get drinking water.

For washing dishes, we go to an artesian well near the church and near the school where I would recite Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios during a grade school graduation.

That school kept a lot of childhood memories for me. There was a school principal named Dionisio Tolledo (he was a former town executive) who kept on rooting for me come recognition days. I got good grade in English composition but fared badly in Math and gardening. There was no way I could be an honor student.

In my young mind, I could feel a good teacher and a very encouraging one. In his last act of encouragement, he made sure I played Jose Rizal in the grade school graduation and that’s the last I would remember of this gentle old man in my grade school days. One day after a strong typhoon, he visited what was left of our school and accidentally stepped on a rusty nail from a fallen post. He moved on soon after.

I missed his presence when I moved to the capital town only to find a high school principal who was his opposite. She looked stern any way you look at her and she looked like the equally stern and foreboding Miss Tapia in a popular TV show with lots of classroom episodes (the one who played her character recently passed away).

I didn’t like her the first time I saw her, and it was destined that there would be no love lost between the two of us until my last year in high school. I have loving memories of high school teachers, but that principal never left me anything I could cherish or learn a lesson from. Sad but true.

I do remember her tight fitting clothes, her high heels, the stern face and that absurd senior prom reminder that dancing partners should not be too close to each other. To ward off unnatural instincts, senior prom happened at 3 p.m. in the heat of a hot summer day.

Back to my hometown, there is no trace of what was once our house by the sea.

What remained was what was left of the house of our Uncle Ben and Tia Conching who sheltered us when our abode disappeared after a strong typhoon.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to make of that little land which is part of my childhood memories.

Dispose it, I told my sister-in-law and she insisted we should keep it even if there is no one there interested in building a new house.

Totally obliterated by typhoons, the house we used to have has been reduced to a landscape of memories I try to visit once in a great while.

The house represents my parents, my only brother, loving cousins and gentle townmates.

It is a reminder of the many typhoons we survived and a repository of memories of youth.

In one visit, I asked my grandchildren to play in that beach facing the islet.

They played in the sand, they picked up shells and stared in the wide open sea of my past.



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