TURNING POINT: Coming Home: Of Roots and Wings

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/ 01 June) — Having roots and wings are two most important legacies parents may leave to their children.

Roots refer to the shared values and memories that make and strengthen a home where one always feels to belong and finds shelter and comfort from the vicissitudes of life.

Wings, on the other hand, comprise the nurture, guidance and discipline – on how the young are raised by their elders that inspires confidence to dream dreams, to fly with their dreams and break away from the limiting circumstances of home. Children who grew up in an atmosphere of love, respect and trust will always cherish every opportunity of coming back home no matter how far they may have flown away from the nest, so to speak.

I was home last week to the place of my birth to attend a back-to-back reunion with the families of my late parents. I was accompanied by my wife, my eldest daughter and my youngest son in the journey to my hometown in Hinunangan, Southern Leyte.

The first of the family gatherings was held for three days in the farming village where my mother and her siblings were born.

Only an 83-year-old sister, my aunt, who is already memory-challenged, has remained of the seven siblings. But their descendants have grown aplenty almost like the proverbial sand. Some, who were scattered from far and away in search of greener pastures, also came home for the reunion after years of separation. We thus had a big crowd. The three-day fellowship of kin and neighbors was nostalgic, festive and fun-filled all at the same time.

The reunion, on the other hand, with my cousins and their issues on my father side was not as big and widely attended. It was, in the first place, unplanned and was simply an afterthought and a side activity to a grand reunion of a big clan, that is, of the descendants of the brothers and sisters of my paternal grandfather. It was, nonetheless, intimate, lively and a joyous gathering of cousins and nieces who met mostly for the first time, rallying around a lone surviving aunt. The remaining matriarch is the 84-year old youngest sister of my father. Except for her left eye that was damaged in a cataract surgery six years ago, my aunt is healthy and still exceptionally sharp, beautiful and lovely.

I am among the older cousins on the side of my mother and my father. In time past not very long ago, everybody called me by my name. Last week, however, everyone either called me Lolo, Tatay, Uncle, Tio, and Manong. Ah, how time flies and changes things.

Reminiscing the past with my cousins while strolling on the seashore and along the brook and the rice paddies where we once roamed as kids tugged my heart with deep longing and a little gnawing pain of loss.

My parents migrated to Mindanao when I was still a child. But when I was already of school age, my father would now and then deposit me and my younger brother in the homes of my maternal and paternal grandparents, uncles and aunts to spend summer vacation with them.

The families of my mother side were mainstream Protestants of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) denomination. They were farmers who put vigorously into practice the protestant ethic that stresses and integrates in their calling the virtue of hard work, thrift, diligence and honest service to God and society.

At 4 in the morning everyone in the household would already be awake to prepare for household chores and fieldwork. But nothing could be started and no one would leave the house without first participating in the morning devotion of Bible reading and commentary, memory verses, hymns singing and prayers. We kids would struggle from the inertia of sleep, crawl and rise from our sleeping mats to join this most demanding dawn-time activity. The morning devotion would end almost always at such time when the chicken jumped to the ground from their roost.

After the morning devotion, the kids rushed to their respective tasks. The older girls would either help the mother prepare breakfast or wash the laundry in the brook. The older boys were assigned to feed the pigs, the chicken and the ducks. The younger ones were to scrub the floor and sweep the grounds.

All should be in the dining table neat and clean at 7 in the morning.

After breakfast, the older boys would gather firewood or do some errands in the ricefield. Watching the palay dry under the sun and securing the grains from the range chicken were often delegated to the younger boys. Otherwise, if we didn’t dry palay, we boys were free to play or roam around to our heart’s desire, to collect guavas, ferns, bamboo shoots, or fish or swim in the brook.

A nap of some two hours was compulsory after lunchtime for us kids to grow, accordingly, faster and taller. An aunt was there with a stick to enforce the rules.

Everybody must have already washed or taken his second bath for the day and in his clean evening or sleeping clothes before attending dinner. All must be in bed at 8 in the evening. Without electricity and electronic gadgets then, there was nothing much to do in the dark except to sleep.

All work activities, except the feeding of the animals, ceased on Sundays. Everyone must prepare and go to church which was some 2.5 km away, a walk of some 1.5 hours across slippery rice paddies. I remember that when I was much younger and was unable yet to walk the distance, one of my uncles would carry me and a cousin to church inside a big rattan basket or backpack.

After about a month in the farm, an uncle or aunt would deliver me and my brother to my paternal grandparents in another village near the seashore some 3 km away to complete our summer break.

My paternal relatives were die-hard members of Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), my grandfather being member of the Katipunan at a very young age. Yet on Sundays, Oyong – that’s how we called our grandfather- would drop us at the UCCP church on his way to his church. My aunt would also enroll us and my cousins in the UCCP-managed summer daily vacation church school in the place. At mealtime, even in my tender age, I was always requested to say the grace.

The lifestyle of my relatives near the sea was different. There was no morning devotion to nudge us out from our slumber. We could sleep as we wished until mealtime. We were rather carefree. The only responsibility frequently assigned us was to watch and keep the chicken and the pigs from the palay that was dried under the sun. Otherwise, we had so much time to play with the neighborhood kids. But it was also mandatory for us to take a nap after lunchtime and to have already washed or bathed and changed into our evening or sleeping clothes before dinnertime.

Oyong was a farmer and a fisher by the side. Joining him in collecting his fish traps (timing and bobo) was the most exciting event in our summer vacation. The ride in a small boat where you can touch the sea with your tiny fingers was awesome. The wriggling fish and the bewildered crabs inside the traps mesmerized and astonished me to no end. And the frequent swim in the beach was unparalleled of childhood joys.

That was long time ago and many of the people I loved and the things I adored were already gone. Yet they left an indelible mark in my being and had, in fact, made me what I am now – what I believe, what I value, what I do, and what I continue to cherish in life. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., was a research and extension worker, professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental. He was a British Council fellow and trained in 1994 at Sheffield University, United Kingdom, on Participatory Planning and Environmentally Responsible Development. Upon retirement, he served as national consultant to the ADB-DENR project on integrated coastal resource management. He is the immediate past president of the MSU Alumni Association)