A walk in the past

By Jing Villamil

IN Coelho’s Alchemist, a boy talked to his heart, and it told him ditzy things like “most people see the world as a threatening place. And because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.” Zoom this perspective to the here and now: most people see a town as a threatening place, and because they do, the town turns out to be, indeed, a threatening place.

People can be so right. They can also be so very wrong.

Let a gypsy friend take you to when and where one of her many lives began, She was often lost, and once, she found herself in this town.

This town sharply angled away from the highway to and from the cities of the north and south. Like the big old towns of Pangasinan, its poblacion seemed to have been naturally zoned-out to accommodate a quiet walk in the park under fantastically huge ancient acacia trees. At the end of the walk was the old Catholic church, as the forefathers had cryptically laid it down. Alongside the main streets, there lingered still houses of prewar, wartime, postwar and the 60’s era, almost uniformly outsized with wide yards planted to a variety of trees and shrubs and bushes. Back and beyond the poblacion, there spread the endless fields – light green to yellowing, toasty browning where the sun glowered and the wind warmly hovered.

This setting was long before the recent infrastructural changes. So, the downtown and market area appeared straight out of Marlboro country! Boardwalks fronted the stores, restaurants, and other commercial establishments. Feet went ka-plonk ka-plonk its length, right round the main corner and on to the very end where the best brain-freezing halo-halo was served at the ground floor of an old, old house.

This was the town where the very sickly, very maligned, very misunderstood Carlos Sampayan Bulosan had his roots. Filipino by birth but American by choice, he made America laugh with his stories when laughter was a rare commodity, with The Laughter of My Father, The Tree of My Father (translated into Italian, Danish and Swedish), America is in the Heart, The Voices of Bataan, and others.

One can be forgiven the foolhardiness of seeing through rose-colored glasses, but to our gypsy friend, the people of this town seemed more children of the earth, yet children of the world. They knew where they came from, they knew where they stood, they knew where they were going thereon. The fathers of the fathers of their fathers were among those who had fueled the initial rush of pre- and postwar exodus, to the pineapple acres of Guam and Hawaii, to the orange and apple orchards of California.

Bulosan did not speak for himself alone. He wrote and spoke for the Filipinos who had chosen foreign citizenship over that with which they were born. One did not give up one’s old thick blood for new thin one, just for mere whimsical folly. One went through the whole tiring and draining transplanting/transfusion process, for three real tangible reasons – first, a secured life for one and one’s family; second, a more secured life for one and one’s family, and; third, a most secured life for one and one’s family.

Though, In the hearts of these transplanted, transfused Filipinos, thumped the echoes of a longing for home.

Maybe this explained the seeming “vastness” of this town as the gypsy perceived it at the time. Its vastness was not limited to this place, to the boundaries of time and space. Its vastness extended beyond the horizon, even beyond the permanence of resident visas. It went beyond shrugging off old loyalties and swearing in of new yokes.

They, who had left, never left at all. They were forever of this place. (AUTHOR’S NOTES: This is a revised piece of what was written 12 years ago. A reader had read it then and had requested a re-write with the return of Feelings, that her daughter may read it to her again. The lady can’t see in her old age. She can’t come home either. But she remembers this piece; she remembers this place.)

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