MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/24 April) – As a child and early teener, I spent many summers in Lolo’s farm, which is roughly five kilometers away from home. Five kilometers may not be far. But in those days that we had to hike and the fact that the town center looked so different from the barrio where Lolo lived, the distance was more psychological than physical. And, boy, it was more fun then, although I don’t want to compare with the contemporary idea of what a fun summer should be.
Father’s and Mother’s fathers had passed away before I entered school. Lolo was actually the husband of the sister of my mother’s mother. Like my maternal Lola’s family, he hailed from Camiguin, and I presume they had known each other and married before moving to Buenavista, Agusan del Norte where they settled in a barrio called Talo-ao, a place where there were more coconut trees than people.
Coconuts and other trees surrounded Lolo’s house, providing shade that tamed the summer heat and natural music from their leaves that swayed with the winds, not to mention the tamsi, pirok-pirok, manatad, kuratsya and other birds that perched on them. There’s wisdom indeed in the adage that says “the most beautiful things in life are free.”
During those times that I stayed in Talo-ao, I tried hard not to become a spoiled apo. With other cousins who lived in Lolo’s house, I would rise by four in the morning to attend to the animals. We would take the carabaos from the grazing area to the creek to keep them cool the whole day. Then we’d pick kangkong and grate coconuts for the pigs. There was no need to feed the chickens, there was plenty of food for them around – grass, insects and grains that were spilled on the ground.
But we seldom got to eat poultry meat even if Lolo had many chickens. He reserved most of them for special occasions and for workers who plowed and prepared his farm for planting. We often had vegetables and dabong (bamboo shoots) cooked with coconut milk.
Native fruits were abundant – and free. Berries called lomboy and sirale as well as mango and arabana (guyabano) grew anywhere around. There were a few buwahan (lanzones). Oh yes, we had our fill of fresh young coconuts.
If we wanted meat, we caught wild ducks called gakit and large birds called kruwakwak and karab with traps or slingshots. Since these birds like to feed in rice paddies, we would place the traps among the rice plants. They taste even better than chickens.
One time however I felt remorse upon seeing Cousin Julie carry a nest containing the eggs of a karab he had just killed with a slingshot.
Sometimes we turned to fishing in the creek for haloan, pantat, gurami and puyo. There was kasili (eel) too, but I wasn’t lucky enough to catch one. The night before each fishing trip we would catch frogs in the rice paddies for baits. Cousin Eddie said frogs are better baits because their movement attracts the fish. Yes, we didn’t kill the frogs, though we tortured those poor creatures nonetheless. We pierced the hooks across the lowermost part of their backs. The fish would normally try to swallow the bait from behind. And whenever they did, the frogs got away and the fish took their place.
Fortunately, we did not have to be sadistic with the frogs all the time. We sometimes caught fish through limas or draining a shallow portion of the pond beside Lolo’s rice field. As the water level went down, the fish would leap into the air, bringing laughter and excitement to all of us. But Cousin Eddie, the most superstitious in the gang, was always quick to remind us not to make so much noise “kay naay balite sa duol” (there’s a balite tree nearby).
Of course, I was quite superstitious too and afraid of the spirits that are said to inhabit a balite tree. That’s why my hair always stood each time I passed that balite tree alone. I coped with the fear by making the sign of the cross and reciting The Lord’s Prayer.
There were times too that that balite became a source of joy instead of fear. I remember the few nights that thousands of fireflies circled the tree, a scene that again elicited another lecture from superstition guru Eddie. “Basta ra ba naay aninipot naay nagpuyo nga dili ingon nato.” (If there are fireflies, it means there are beings who are unlike us.)
Many summers have past since Lolo had passed away. But I’ll always remember the simple joys of living with him.
Someday, I’d like to go back to Lolo’s farm and see if the creek still teems with fish, if the birds still frolic in the fields, and if the fireflies still cover the balite tree on enchanted nights. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)