OVERVIEW: When does one recall first memories? When does one recall a complete clear graphic recollection of an event? At what age does the brain store the first memories of childhood that one can recall and retell? These are all intriguing questions but are not easy to answer. Many times one remembers a fleeting event,that is dangling, and seems to have no actual beginning and not anchored to a logical conclusion. The events float somewhere in the mind but do not seem to be tethered to anything, until they become anchored, and enter a recallable phase, like slides of events remembered initially singly then into a series until later they become a video of memories. Herein are laid some memories of my childhood, and more centrally the years of World War II, from 1939 to 1945. The two first years 1939 and 1940 when war came to the Pacific Rim I have no clear recollections. So my recollections probably started in 1941.
All I know, if in fact I knew then, was we did not stay put in one place but were always on the move. We were on the move because we were hiding and running away from something, from some force, or someone, and that I was very sickly, and it was always dark and the nights were long because there was no electricity. My parents were afraid, scared and uncertain. I felt the very fear and anxiety they had felt and these were transmitted to me, although I did not know exactly why. This made me more afraid, scared and anxious. I thought if I closed my eyes I would feel safe and less afraid. I kept trying this, but it did not helped. I must be about two and barely aware of what was happening but the fear was there. Despite the scarcity of food I was known to be a finicky eater, this despite the limited choice of resources available. I survived only on oat meal mixed with condensed milk and neither was readily available, not to mention the cost. This sole diet was probably what made me sickly, malnourished and prone to develop impetigo, initially limited on my legs but later involved my torso. I knew, I was a big problem to my parents, and everything was exacerbated by the fact, that we were in the middle of a World War.
Later it dawned on me that we were moving and were hiding from the Japanese occupiers because my father was wanted by them for his leadership role in the insipient Chinese Chamber of Commerce in our town. My father was the only Chinese who spoke English in the small Chinese community whose membership looked up to him as their leader.
SERIES OF MOVES: We evacuated initially from our town, San Fernando, the capital of the province of Pampanga to Maimpis, (which in the dialect meant THIN) a small barrio with my mother’s extended relatives who were mostly farmers, artisans and poor but had magnanimous hearts in welcoming and taking us in, despite having known that my father was wanted by the Japanese. Our stay there was brief, since word soon spread that the place was no longer a safe haven for Chinese because the Japanese were closing on in the area. A place outside Manila, whose name I do not recall was our next hiding place; but soon we moved again for the same reason, the place was no longer safe; we moved again to a third place called Morong, and when this was not safe we made a final move to Pasay,( which is now a city) an outskirt of Manila and where we lived until the war officially ended. To this date I do not know how we managed to move from point A to point B so many times, to so many places, which were by no means within a stone’s throw away of each other; there were no means of transportation, no vehicles, not even any horse drawn caretela, which was a poor but practical version of a wood carriage. There were two young women, named Sion (Asuncion) and later Gundi (Segundina), who stayed with us in Pasay. I knew that they were our helpers and took care of most of our daily needs and the house, but I had no inkling of their arrangement with my parents, since they had no visible resources as did my parents.
EARLY DAYS IN PASAY: I remembered my father left the house every morning carrying an old briefcase, and returned home in the afternoon. I looked forward to the afternoons when he came home, because he brought me the hole-punched paper ticket stubs he used for the Tranvia (electric run rails now in operation) which were the only means of transportation within the city. These were especial, I saved and collected them because I they a novelty, imagine a piece of paper with printed words and numbers, some words were even in red, which made them even more especial because they stood out. Sometimes I got two stubs, but most of the time one, for each day. These rail stubs, simple and unpretending as they were, kept me busy and interested in something, and in fact they may have served as the impetus for my penchant of collecting objects, an avocation I still enjoyed.
STAY IN PASAY: This must be at the middle or towards the end of 1941 when I started to see and remember events, but not necessarily understood them. My recollections of the period from 1941 to 1945, even the salient ones even as I type them, are likely in disjointed chronology but nonetheless were etched in my early memory. There is likely no chronicity. I must be about three, then four at the time but no one talked about birthdays or parties because no one celebrated them, and party was not even in our lexicon. I had no concepts of weeks, months or years until my father showed and explained to me the function of a calendar. Initially, all I knew was that each day passed on and each day seemed to be just a repeat of itself, which drifted into another day slowly but surely. Since there was no electricity and therefore no lights, it got dark early, we ate early, we slept early; and candles were used sparingly and for emergency reasons only; besides we were warned that they were not only fire hazard but a lit house attracted the attention of the Japanese occupiers. So we lived in black out at night time until the sun rose and announced a new day.
THE HOUSE AND THE YARDS: The house we rented had three small bedrooms and one common toilet and an old head shower that never worked, because it had no running water; there was a small living room, with no furniture except for a small tall, table with two upright chairs; a place to cook, and the front of the wooden house had a U-shaped area that served as an open veranda which led to the living room and the top of the U veranda descended to the main staircase which opened to the front and side yards; the back end of the yard was always muddy and murky because it drained the kitchen area. The veranda was my favorite space, because it was so open and I can see the extent of the neighborhood, a small general store across us, the yard and the trees.
I did not understand why we periodically had new people, introduced as neighbors in our house and they occupied the two other bedrooms, which were also not furnished, I guessed my parents were subletting the rooms but I did not know this for sure because I did not see money change hands, but then I was only a child. Most of our neighbors were Chinese, like us, were displaced by the war, except for the Crowley family who were Filipinos, but with a foreign surname.
About this time we received periodically live chickens from my grandmother who was safe in San Fernando. It took Apung Iro (Pedro), a devoted, reliable, and loyal helper of my parents three days travel by foot to reach Pasay. Every time he visited he brought us some produce usually small bags of rice, corn, pinocha, which were large bowl-shaped rocks of molasses, and sometimes unsweetened, unevenly hand-molded balls of ground cacao for beverage. Apung Iro, besides bringing the periodic produce that he mustered to carry was also the only lone bearer of news from the hometown, news that was eagerly awaited. The news centered mostly on the activities and movements of the Japanese occupiers, who they had retained, who was rumored to have been shot or executed, and much, much later news transitioned to the start of the local guerrilla resistance and their retreat to the mountains.
This was a good sign, my parents said.(This movement was the precursor of the Hukbalahaps,or HUKS for short, an anti-government insurrection group founded by Luis Taruc.) Apung Iro returned with news of how we were coping and prepared items for his next trip which was probably every two weeks. Since no one knew when the war will end my parents converted the front and side yards to a garden of seasonal produce. Apung Iro on subsequent trips brought seeds of corn, peanuts, and vegetables like tomatoes, bitter cucumber, squash, and all types of gourds and old yams with sprouted roots ready to be replanted. The visit of Apung Iro became more infrequent and unpredictable, because of stricter check points imposed by the Japanese. Decades later I found out that Apung Iro was also the one who introduced my parents.
THE YARDS, FRONT AND SIDE: The yard proved to be a manna for us not only because of the varieties of trees that were already in existence, but the swath of land that made-up the yards, proved to be a productive and rich venue for planting our rotational crops through the years.
Among the pre-existing fruit bearing trees, were two guava trees, one cashew, one mango, two banana trees and one pomelo. There was a tree, with no name that bear no fruits, which was near the front of the house that I used to climb and learned about larvae, pupae and chrysalis, only not by those names. I tried to catch dragonflies and praying mantis in that tree and occasionally chickadees in the late afternoons. l It was my to-go tree for playing and relaxation. The first three trees were the best fruit-yielding ones. The cashew was the only fruit that had a sole outside peat, if one included the pineapple which was also peat less internally, and its outer prickly cover is studded with hundred eyes that are its peats. Each cashew nut came from one gray color thickly husked peat of a single fruit which sits atop the bell-shaped yellow succulent juicy fruit when fully ripe.
We used to call the cashew fruit as a princess sitting on a chair during school class riddles competition, very much like a Spelling Bee contest. When fully ripe it is delicious but the juice from its succulent white flesh was notorious for the unwashable stain it left on clothings, in the pre-Clorox times. The whole fruit was edible from its thin yellow skin to its all white flesh inside. It hanged in a tree with the peat dangling downwards. Just conjure the number of fruits needed to fill a Costco filled jar with cashew nuts. The mango on the other hand, which is now a familiar supermarket item, was a favorite because of its taste. Sometimes we picked them green and marinate them to make a side dish. The variety we had was called pico, small, fleshy, not fibrous, almost orange in color, very sweet and had a smaller flat peat. The guavas are of the small variety but if allowed to ripe they had a subtle enticing subtle aroma and very flavorful when compared to the large hard green variety that are native to Mexico, Sometimes we picked them green, before we lose them to the birds that compete for them as food. I remembered one particular guava fruit that my mother and I watched every day for many days and planned a day to eventually pluck it. One shiny afternoon we decided it was time to pluck the now yellow guava fruit, we were surprised and disappointed that the fruit was already half-devoured by the birds. I was of course upset but my mother reassured me that there will other ones that will just be as good to pick and eat. The one pomelo tree in the yard, however did bear fruits but were very sour and bitter. Most of the fruits fell in the ground and were wasted. I guessed no one thought of turning them to juice. The two banana plants bore fruits but they were almost all peats encased and intersperse with very little flesh and were called “butulan” meaning all peats. It was cumbersome to tease out the minimal flesh with the tongue because the large black peats were mostly in the way. I never encountered this variety of bananas again. They may have gone extinct. We did use, however, the heart of at the end of the banana bunches for vegetables especially good when cooked with sinigang, a local sour flavored-style of soup.
I enjoyed the rotational harvesting of the produce of what we planted during the seasons: the ears of corn, the sweet potatoes or yams, called camotes, and especially the peanuts that were legumes and not really nuts, although this was how they were popularly known; they come in bundles when uprooted retaining remnants of clinging soil, that had to be shaken out before they were washed. They resembled funny-shaped bunch of grapes when freshly uprooted. There was a thrill of anticipation and excitement in loosening and manually hand digging the soil around the sweet potatoes. They surprised in their different shapes and sizes and were either red or of the white varieties. My mother always pointed me to the plants that had rich, abundant leaves and more developed ones, because they yielded the larger camotes. With peanuts one had to be ginger in loosening the soil and uproot them only afte one had a good hold on a bundle of stems of the plant otherwise some peanuts will be left in the soil. The corns were fun, as well, to harvest because one can visually select the size of corn ears, to be detached. Generally, the ones at the lower midsection of the plant had the largest ears, and this was where I aimed my selection. To be sure that they were ready to be plucked we sometimes slit the husk and see if the kernels were fully formed.
One afternoon, when I was by myself in the corn yard, I had a memorable but scary experience. Unexpectedly, and suddenly, a Japanese officer approached me through the front gate of the yard. I reflexively attempted to run away from him but could not move because of fear, and he was saying something that I did not understand; I felt reassured he meant me no harm, because all the while he wore a friendly smile and motioned to the rows of corn plants. He touched and pointed specifically to the brown flocks of hair that flowed from the ears of the corns. Somehow I understood that he wanted to clip some strands of corn hair and that this will not hurt the plants. He wanted these to make a brew like tea. Left with no real choice I must have nodded yes. He trimmed what he wanted with his pocket knife, when done, bowed and smiled away, which must be his quiet way to say “arigato gosai mas tah”. That was my first encounter with a Japanese officer, that closed and face-to-face; still somewhat scared, I related the incident to my parents who both warned me not be alone again in the yard. I knew he was an officer because of his boots and tightly fitted pants as well as the different cap he had on. I had seen Japanese soldiers marched and paraded during their exercises in the street from the veranda of our house and their outfits looked somewhat sloppier.
The tomatoes were easy to plant, easy to grow, and easy to pick when ready, because the plants were low and easy to access even by a child.
THE CHICKENS: The live chickens that were intended for our consumption, were temporarily quartered in the walk-in basement of the house. They were supposed to be slaughtered as needed but because of my persistent intervention they grew in number. Unplanned, we ended with a poultry of chickens. I became very much attached to them and I would always cry and fuss loudly if one was scheduled to be slaughtered. I remembered each chicken distinctly by their gender, plumage, and friendliness. Thus I assigned a distinct personality to each chicken. I looked forward each morning to let the flocks out into the yard where they grazed and moved around and fed them with kernels of dry corn, and palay, which was unhusked palay (also provided by my grandmother), twice a day. I did not know that chickens took showers. They would squat in an area where the soil was easily loosened, scratched the soil with their legs and with their wings spread the loosened soil all over their bodies. When done they shake out the soil and felt refreshed. At feeding time they flocked eagerly around me as soon as they hear the pitch of my voice and call. We had some neighbors, with two unmarried sisters who started their own small flocks of white Leg Horn breed of chickens which were all white feathered. When the two sisters gathered their flocks for feeding, I was surprised that my flock did not join their call. Whereas when I fed my flock my neighbors’ chickens invited themselves to the feeding and I had difficulty selectively shooing them away. Then I realized that my flock responded only to the pitch of my voice but not vice versa. When night settled they go back to their “home” compliantly like soldiers marching back to their quarters and I had yet to find one that did not come back at curfew time.
I learned a lot about chickens and raising them, mostly from my mother. According to her for every ten hens, one rooster is needed to fertilized the eggs. When the hen is ready to be fertilized she would squat near a rooster and stiffened her wings at a downwards angle and the rooster jumps on top of her, pinned her head down with his beak and makes quick back contact and it was all over. Sometimes the rooster goes around a coy hen in sputtered steps, with one of his wings spread downward until she agreed. While 10:1 gender ratio may be a true guideline but it may also my mother’s way of saying to me that some of the roosters are dispensable and I can decide which ones to let go. After agreeing anddeciding, those same nights I would be sobbing at bedtime, only we had no beds, because we all slept together in a thin buri mat under one common mosquito net. If the net was not properly secured I ended up with a lot of mosquito bites and interrupted sleep which did not seem to matter the next morning because I had the chickens to look after. Anyway what was important is the lives of the roosters were again spared, if temporarily. Looking back at it, I thought it was unfair to ask a boy of three or four to make a Sophie’s choice, but on the other hand food was needed and it was very scarce. For example my mother cooked rice rarely, but instead cooked congee or gruel which used less rice and more water. Speaking of water, this was pumped manually from the ground, carried a floor up with a bucket by way of the back stairs and was boiled before use. There was an empty topless gasoline drum next to the back staircase which was used as a reservoir for the the pumped water and which doubled-up to catch rainwater. This water was used for washing and bathing using empty cans while the newly pumped water was for cooking. One morning after bathing I came down with chicken pox, and I attributed this to the dirty water. I had fevers, the marks of chicken pox which became itchy after they dried up towards the second week. I survived thru a difficult week.
When we ran out of rice, which occurred more frequently, we ate instead camotes or corn on the cob for our meals. My mother also made peanuts soup, lightly sweetened instead of congee. Boiled peanuts were also substituted for meals. Food was rationed but I did not seem to notice this.
MONITORING THE CHICKENS THROUGH A HOLE ON THE FLOOR: I enjoyed very much taking care of my chickens and I became very excited when the mother hens laid eggs. We provided four or five straw baskets as nests, arranged in a row against a basement wall at a determined height for the hens to jump into when they were ready to lay their eggs. I learned how to count by keeping track of the number of eggs I collected from each mother hen and saved them separately and respectively for each hen.
A mother hen in one cycle laid from 14 to sixteen eggs, except for one hen which laid 18 eggs. When the mother hen laid the final egg in her cycle, she just stayed in her nest, became protective, and refused to look for food, which signal that we had to return all her eggs to her nest and she was ready to incubate them. The mother hen squats on the eggs and her wings stretched down so that she covered all of the collected eggs. The mother hen used the undersurface warmth of her body and her wings to go through the process of incubation. The incubation phase is 20 days plus or minus a day. I charted the days religiously for each hen. During this period the mother hen leaves the nest briefly every 3 or 4 days to feed herself. always in the daytime. I expedited this by providing bowls of kernels of corn and palay seeds and a bowl of water near her reach. The mother hen notably lose weight, the breast area became narrower and she felt lighter. This after all was hard labor and concurrently she underwent a forced diet. I watched the process of the egg laying, the incubation period and the hatching of the baby chicks, thru a hole on the floor of the living room that was right above their basket nests. I spent hours watching the whole process but the most exciting time arrived when the baby chicks hatch. This was a divine time! Sometimes the mother hen would peck on the shell to help a baby chick that was struggling to break the shell on its own. The larger hens do a better job incubating than the smaller size hens and this was borne out by the count of eggs that failed to hatch which can ranged from zero to three. When many eggs failed to hatched my mother always said that these were from the lazy mother hens. The unhatched eggs sounded hollow when shaken, this was how we knew they will not hatch. We cooked them hardboiled and were always tasty and resembled a poorly scrambled egg inside a shell. When the chicks freshly broke through their shells they were wet and their feathers lumped together. The mother hen helped them get dry by using her tongue gently over each one and it took about a day before the mother hen and her chicks were ready for the grand parade. The mother hen proudly paraded her chicks in the open for all to see. The chicks in their cotton-like, soft fluffy undeveloped outfits, which ranged in a rainbow of many pastel colors were now ready to be viewed. The baby chicks were really a delight to behold. At night time since they no longer had the use of the nest, the mother hen assumed an almost squat sleeping position, at a self-designated area with wings spread out and pressed downwards for the chicks get in and hide and shelter themselves in the warmth of her body and embracing wings. This was how they slept the night away.
A SAD TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE: One of the mother hens, the one I had referenced here that laid 18 eggs, but my mother wisely decided to use only 14 for incubation, because she thought this was too large a number for her to incubate, had 14 beautiful cuddly chicks with soft fluffy spotted furs, except for one which had a purely yellowish white cottony fine furs. As soon as they were out of the nest, the mother hen led her chicks proudly to the yard and started to show them how to peck for food. They walked closely pooled around the mother hen and followed her wherever she led them all the while using their newly discovered squeaky delightful chirps. Then I witnessed something aberrant and a totally unexpected happening. The mother hen was selectively pecking away one of the chicks, isolating it intentionally from the rest of her brood. Whereas all the other chicks were sheltered and protected by her when they moved around, grazed around the yard or when they pecked for their food, the lone chick was chased and shooed away from joining.
I mentioned earlier that our neighbors, with two unmarried daughters also started a flock of chickens of their own, and these were the white Leg Horn breed which had white plumage. This day year-old chick was ostracized by its own mother because it did not belong. The mother hen must have assumed that the white chick belonged to my neighbors’ flock. I took the unwanted chick away and literally adopted it as my especial pet. It followed me wherever I went. It stayed with me in the yard, inside the house and I fed it separately. At night time, I secretly inserted it under the wings of the mother hen where the other siblings were already sheltered to sleep and in the morning I retrieve it and go through the same routine of playing with it in the daytime and feeding it. The chick became attached to me as I was to it. It would follow me wherever I went, runs when I run, stops when I stop. Then something really terrible happened, my playmate Ester, one of the Crowley children and I were running inside the house and the chick was running with us in when Ester for no reason suddenly shut the door behind the chick and the door instantly crushed and broke the neck of my baby chick. The chick died, and I cried and cried and remained very upset and blamed Ester for killing my little chick. My mother did her best to calm me down but I was inconsolable. I was so devastated by the incident so that from that day on, I never talked to Ester again; such was the hurt and pain I felt over the loss of my baby chick.
Editorially, not until I was much, much older, in fact, after I was exposed to American literature, and later learned about the Civil Rights movement did I realized that chickens can also be as stupid as Man!
OUR CHANGING HOUSEMATES: Of the families that lived with us in the house that my parents leased I recall well only some specific individuals. There was only one non-Chinese family who stayed with us, and only briefly. The Crowleys, the father was addressed Mr. Crowley, I did not know why and I never knew what he did; his wife Aling Miting, the oldest daughter Sabing (Isabel), Ben, the only son, Virginia and Ester, the youngest. Ben would draw planes flying over the skies but mainly in “dog fights” ( a phrase I grew up describing two planes shooting at each other ) and the ones with a lone star shooting down the ones with the red sun. He would give them to me and I would keep them. I also remember that afternoon he surprised us, courtesy of his family, a pitcher of Coca Cola. That was the first time I tasted thid drink and I thought it was the most delicious thing I ever had. Sadly, I also remember Mr. Crowley walking listlessly in the early evenings, in the living room area, holding in his arms, the limpid body of his sick, gaunt daughter, Virginia. This image became a fixture in my mind. Virginia was sick for a while, and eventually she died. She was the first person I knew who died during the war. I later associated the image of the hapless, helpless body of Virginia and her father to the sad, pathetic mien of the Mother in the Pieta.
I remembered an older Chinese man, with thin rimmed glasses who passed himself as an herbalist, who got involved in the treatment and management of a large carbuncle that developed on the front of my chest wall. It was his opinion that the carbuncle be allowed to fully develop with the aid of a black sticky concoction covered with a film of cellophane. The black concoction was supposed to suck the pus out and drain it. It was inflamed and very painful especially to touch and I was also running fevers. The concoction did not do its job and so he said it had to be drained manually. He drained it by using his bare fingers to burst the carbuncle and it was so painful, I struggled, I yelled, I cried and had to be held down. I was on antimicrobials, sulfathiazole and sulfadiazine; the antibiotic of Alexander Fleming was discovered years before but it was yet to be commercially mass manufactured. I was on these antimicrobials most every time I had fevers and these may have resulted in my inability to retain potassium through my kidneys, because I used to chew the tablets and swallow them without water. Stupid as it now seemed, but I did.
I remembered vaguely the two unmarried daughters of another Chinese family, only because they were the ones who started their own flock of white Leg Horn breed of chickens. They never talked to me. I guessed because they were much older than I and did not want to bother with a child. I did not know what they did all day except for taking care of their chickens. The parents did not communicate much either.
AIR RAIDS AND AIR SHELTERS: The sounds of bombs exploding, the sights of angry red flames that lit the skies afterwards, and the number of planes being shut down increased in frequency as Apung Iro’s visits decreased and became rarer and rarer, until they completely stopped. The rumors chilling the air were pregnant with expectations that the Allied forces, mainly the Americans were already closing to land somewhere in the south, in the Philippines. My fear and dread of the sounds of bombs and specially the red skies intensified that I now cried most of the time. Because of these events my father decided to build an air raid shelter in one of the corners of the house basement. This was a rougly made wooden structure covered by thick layers of soil and with an entrance. When the sounds of bombs were heard we all quickly got into the shelter, which was forever dark and inside it smelt like rotten grass. Everyone eventually adjusted to the improvised shelter in its unscheduled use. The shelter was to protect as from the bombing and strayed shrapnel. I heard everyone pray and fear always prevailed while we hear the sounds of bombs, inside the shelter. We got out when my parents felt the bombings stopped and we resumed normalcy, if one can call it that. Then one time it happened that after the sounds of a bomb, this was followed by a sharp zinging noise with something piercing one of the inside walls of the shelter and later we found it was a form of round metal segment which nearly missed Sion.
My father, days later decided that we had to build a shelter outside the house because he learned that shelters within a house raised additional risk if the house was hit or it was burned down. So a large hole was dug for an underground shelter. It was framed at the rooftop which was covered by the soil that was dug out. The sides of the hole served as their own protective walls. So this was the shelter we used whenever there was an emergency. One big problem came up, when it rained the shelter got flooded and the deep soil which was mostly clay, did not quite absorb the water. Flooded or not we had to use it when we needed to be inside. There was one evening when the bombings were so intense and continual, and we were surrounded by four houses in our area that were all aflame; thus we were forced to leave all belongings, not that there was much, and escaped through the back fence out to anywhere but with no certain destination, The Japanese forces were burning down houses and buildings as they retreated. It was during this commotion that Gundi slipped into an improvised hole of an out-house without walls, which we never knew was there and she carried with her the odiferous foul stench for the duration that we were out of the house and in the company of other strangers who were in our group that also escaped. Under this dire and dangerous circumstances there were no options except to pray, and to hope for a miracle, more prayers.
The preceding events rendered me with pyrophobic for decades to come.
MAKING SHRIMP CHIPS: A new group of Chinese men opened a limited shrimp chip factory at a small warehouse next to where we lived. It was a laborious intense proposition, grinding the rice, making thin sheets out the result, then cutting these into layers of sheets then into playing card-size shaped stocks which had to be manually separated, laid onto a bamboo board with slit-spaces the size of a small table and raised at an angle under the sun for the raw chips to dry. The nice touch was in aligning the whole board with white rice chips everyone including me was paid five centavos per board. If you placed 10 zeros after a decimal and placed the number 5 after it, this is the value in today’s currency. We eagerly did this and this was the first time I was paid for my work. It was a great feeling and I felt proud. The chips were then cooked in boiling oil and the much bigger expanded was sold for 5 centavos each. My father used to take me with him when he sold the chips now contained in a large tin that he carted to the inner sanctum of the city. We came home with the empty tin to be replenished the following day, and my father was very happy when every chip sold. I was always hanging tightly to my father’s hand when we walked back because I was scared of the locals, specially the boys and girls who called us names and teased us with their own made up words. This made me make excuses that I did not feel well to accompany my father. I was sure he understood.
THE GUERRILAS: I have heard of the guerrillas and they were supposed to be the good guys who were fighting with the Americans against the Japanese to protect us civilians. Well, one late morning we were visited by a small group of men with their commander all brandishing rifles, hand guns, and machetes and knives. The commander spoke directly to the point of their mission to my mother and said that “our protectors” had been in battles with the Japanese and they were tired and hungry and they needed food. The food they had in mind was the one full grown pig that my mother received as a tiny piglet from her mother and my chickens. Some of these protectors were our neighbors. My mother started crying and in between her sobs she tried to dissuade the guerrillas from their intention but to no avail. This did not move the commander and his final offer was to leave to us all the innards of the pig and some of the chickens, my chickens, behind for us. The guerrillas were prepared and equipped with machetes and containers for their intended loot, and right in our yard which was closed to the basement the guerillas turned butchers slaughtered the growling, struggling pig that was held down in a make shift slab of wood as a table, which they also brought. Right there, they segmented the pig after it was cleaned, and distributed the parts among themselves. They did not butcher the chickens, but instead took them live and divided them among themselves. I never saw my mother cry so much and so pathetic. I was crying too. This was most traumatic to all of us and everyone was crying because we were so totally helpless and powerless. My chickens and the corn plants and the pig were safe with the Japanese occupiers but not with our brave protectors. But this too did pass.
BIRTH AND WAKE: My sister Elsie was born in 1942 so that made me four. On the day of her birth the uncle of my father died, he was 88 Iyears old, and the older brother of my grandfather who lived to be 96. My father and I traveled to the funeral mostly by foot. We had to wear black which I hated. This was the first wake I ever attended, prior to this I did not know what a wake was. At the wake everyone was in black and there were many attendees. For the first time I met many people I did not know who were related to me. I met all my father’s cousins for the first time and all their children some of them about my age. My relationship with some of my cousins became much closer as we got to know each other especially after the war. My father explained to me how I was related to almost everyone who was at the wake. A wake was a sad occasion and there were scheduled times to weep and wail, which I found puzzling. The older people were crying the young ones did not and I did not. I had never met my father’s uncle. The first wake did impact me because for the first time I realized that everyone had to go through the process in his/her own time. This thought lingered and bothered me for a long time.
Back to my sister, one quiet afternoon my mother left my sister who was asleep in her improvised little bed for me to watch. Make sure there were no flies or bugs that go near her bed she instructed. While watching her I thought I saw her move her lips. So I must have thought she was hungry. With the aid of a toothpick I was able to extract two guava seeds lodged between my teeth and I fed these to her. My mother came back and saw that she was moving her lips, as if she was chewing. My mother asked what did I do, and I explained to her what happened. I saw the alarm in her face, and she quickly opened my sister’s mouth and was able to retrieve the two guava seeds which fortunately she did not swallow. If she did locate the guava seeds, I would not know what would have happened. She gave me a soft scold and warned me not to do it again. She called it a mischief, and I guessed it was a mischief. I guessed admittedly it was a mischief.
END OF THE WAR: After Douglas McArthur landed in the beaches of Leyte with Carlos Romulo and another five-starred general, Japan surrendered and the war was over. Romulo was height impaired and was sandwiched between two tall generals when they landed at the beach; a reporter asked him how he felt walking in stride. between two tall imposing generals. Romulo answered “I felt like a dime between two nickels.”
Although the war was officially over in 1945, we did not move back to San Fernando, Pampanga, our hometown, until the early part of 1946. So here in I end my narrative of the war as experienced and seen in the eyes of a child.