The class picture
The photo immediately brought back memories for me and reminded me of the immortal words of the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood: “Though nothing can bring back the hour, of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find, Strength in what remains behind… “
By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr.
Publisher & Editor
Asian Journal San Diego
The Original and First Asian Journal in America
Published in the November 4, 2006 issue of the Asian Journal San Diego
San Diego, California
November 4, 2006
One good thing about the Internet is the possibility of instant communication even among long-lost friends. This is very true in my case and as well as those of my classmates at the Arellano High School in Santa Cruz, Manila, Philippines. We graduated 42 years ago in 1964, yet, we were able to hook up with each other these days through a yahoo group site, Arellano1964@yahoogroups.com set up by two classmates.
How we were able to eventually to track down each other, all current members of the group, is another story. Suffice it to say that every day, or even every minute, we could communicate with each other, share our experiences and opinions, post pictures and even organize instant reunions whenever a classmate is visiting from out of town. Yes, we get in touch with each one even if we all come from the far-flung corners of the world. We have members in Australia, the Philippines, London, Canada, and in the various states of America like California, Virginia and others.
The Internet has indeed become one of the many wonders of the world, one we could hardly dream of when we left our good `ole alma mater in our teens.
Compared to the other high school classmates in the Philippines, however, our group’s interaction has much more to be desired. I always tell friends that here in San Diego, California, people from towns and cities in Zambales and Cavite stage reunions with their classmates in elementary school whenever they want to every year. This is because most of the men folk from these areas have joined the United States Navy due to these places’ proximity to the Subic Naval Base in Olongapo and the Sangley Naval Base in Cavite. These U.S. sailors were stationed and have settled here in San Diego with their families. Hence, town folk who were once classmates in elementary, and even neighbors, have together all been uprooted from their barrios in the Philippines and transplanted here in San Diego. Our case, however, is different. Our school is located in Manila. Most of its students come from different places of the big city. Hence, we immediately lost touch with each other once we received our high school diploma.
The other day, a classmate of mine from high school, Aristeo Fernando who is now based in Australia and who was also my classmate in elementary, posted in our group site our class picture in grade six. It was in sepia as color photos were unusual then. The photo immediately brought back memories for me and reminded me of the immortal words of the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood: “Though nothing can bring back the hour, of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find, Strength in what remains behind… ”
It was a blast from the past yet it spoke many words and many stories for me. It reminded me of our young, innocent years, when we were uncertain of the future yet full of expectations and hope. There I was, twelve years old, half-kneeling in the front row in my boy scout uniform together with my fellow boy scouts, Aristeo Fernando, Douglas Villanueva, Julio Ibarra, Augusto Abanilla and Cesar Ibanez. The rest of our classmates, together with our teacher, Miss Dalisay Domingo, sitting or standing in four rows at the back. Like me, Douglas and Cesar who became our class valedictorian, were sons of teachers at the school. Aristeo was beside me. He had become a classmate in high school and a neighbor in Quezon City. He went to the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture and is now based in Australia. About ten years after we graduated from high school, we bumped into each other in downtown Manila one rainy evening. He was driving his small Minica car and had become an office supply dealer. We had a few drinks at a beerhouse but only got in touch with each other again three decades later through the Internet. He claims to be the presenter of what he believes is God’s Calendar, which he calls the Aristean Calendar. Its name was derived from the fact that it is based on the Aristean Decimal Time as well as on what he thinks are Divine coincidences in his life: he was named Aristeo, his mother was named Gregoria (like the Gregorian Calendar) and his grandmother was named Julia (like the Julian Calendar). He is advocating his own religious ministry through his website the http://www.geocities.com/peacecrusader888/ .
Why I ended up at the Juan Sumulong Elementary School (which was named after a former revolutionary leader and senator from Rizal Province and located near Dimasalang Street in Manila) is another long story. My mother was teaching third grade there when we were growing up, and all my seven siblings except for the youngest, were alumni of the school. One of my earliest memories was when our cousin, Ka Odeng (Rodolfo Cipriano), brought me together with my other cousins who are of the same age, Rey (Reynaldo Cipriano), Pabling (Pablo Galang) and Baby (Teresita Cano), to register in grade one class in the school. Our maternal clan lived on the same Pepin Street near Dapitan, and we, cousins, looked after one another as family members. The four of us ended up in the same class. I remember that I was seated beside a girl classmate, Josefina Tugade with whom Rey and Pabling, even at the young age of seven, were infatuated. Rey and Pabling would mischievously sit on each side of Josefina until the teacher, Mrs. Ibanez, who was the mother of my classmate Cesar, would pull them away from our seat. Rey is now based in Las Vegas as a telephone repairman and Baby is still in the Philippines. Pabling died in his early twenties while Ka Odeng, like his father before him, passed away due to complications of his diabetes ailment a few years ago.
One rainy day in grade one, I found out that I was not that bright. There was a typhoon that day, and half of the pupils were absent. The teacher departed from her lesson plan and decided to keep us busy by asking us to draw one hundred red apples. We could leave the class as soon as we were done with the task. I used up at least ten pages of pad paper and took a long time drawing the apples. My seatmate, a girl, only used up one page and was able to finish and leave early. She achieved this feat by drawing small one hundred apples, while I drew large ones.
When I was in grade two, our family had moved from our Sampaloc house to an apartment on the second floor of our Printing Press business in Quiapo. I and my elder brother Salvador who is now the medical director of the Central Bank of the Philippines, would take the jeepney bound for Dimasalang in Quezon Blvd. in Quiapo up to Santander Street. “Kuyang (elder brother)” was in first year high school then at the Santander branch of the Arellano High School. I was too young to be left alone in the jeepney and get off a few blocks away on Aragon Street. Hence, I got off together with him and would walk a few blocks to my school along Andalucia Street.
That year, a complete solar eclipse transpired in Manila. We were sent home early, and at twelve noon, the moon covered the sun and cast its shadow on us. Complete darkness enveloped the city. Before that occurred, we already burned and darkened pieces of glasses to protect our eyes from the ray of the sun as we looked at the eclipse. When light came back a few minutes later, the roosters crowed believing that it was early morning.
I was already a cub scout then. One of my duties was to raise the flag during flag ceremonies. In the morning, another classmate and I would raise the flag as fast as we could. In the afternoon, we would bring it down slowly, in time for the end of the singing of the national anthem. Why was this so? As a young boy, I thought that you had to raise the flag as fast as possible because the “enemies” might invade and the flag should be up there whenever they did so. You bring it down slowly so that in case the “enemies” invade, you could bring it up again as fast as you could. Funny, how I thought then that a raised flag would protect one from invading forces.
I had my experience of “palakasan (pulling strings)” when I was in grade three. My teacher was Mrs. Eugenia Peret, a close friend of my mother who was teaching the class next door. One day, I was not able to bring my school project with which to work on during our Arts and Crafts Education period. Mrs. Peret asked me to go to my mother and borrow a project of one of her students so that she could spare me as she punished those without projects.
In grade four, I had a beautiful teacher, Mrs. Rosa Adriano. She claimed she was a young girl during the Japanese Occupation and to avoid being raped by the invading Japanese soldiers, she and her friends would put things on their faces to make them look ugly.
I don’t remember much my grade five years because I was in the same section as my classmates in grade six. As I looked at our grade six class picture, all the faces of my classmates looked familiar but I could remember the names of only a few of them. Cesar Ibanez, our class valedictorian, took up medicine at the University of Santo Tomas and is now a doctor based in Virginia. We were able to track him down as he happened to be a cousin of a high school classmate, Willy Briones, who is a member of our website. Cesar’s mother, my first grade teacher, I found out, passed away recently after suffering a stroke in their residence in Bacood, Sta. Mesa, Manila, (but not before I sent her a copy of an article about my family published in this newspaper). I was sure she remembered her colleague, my mother, and cherished their happy memories at the Juan Sumulong Elementary School. Who knows? She might have thought that even if I was dumb enough to draw those big apples that rainy day in 1956, I somehow made something of myself. And for a caring teacher with a low pay, that was rewarding enough.
One of our classmates in the picture, Mario Sanidad, was also my schoolmate at the Arellano and the University of the Philippines. He became a lawyer, but when he migrated to the United States, he had to take up a computer course and retired as a computer programmer of the Navy Federal Credit Union. We had a reunion with him three years ago when he was on a stopover in Los Angeles to join his family gathering that Christmas in the Philippines. He hardly participates in our yahoo group but I am able to communicate with him on the phone. I plan to meet him when we attend the graduation of my youngest daughter at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, where one of his kids also graduated, next year. Mario lives in the area.
Then there was this classmate, Conrado Sabater. He was at least two years older and a head taller than all of us. He became an editor of comic books. My close friend at that time was Ricardo Salonga. However, when we were at the same class at the Ateneo de Manila when I was taking my graduate course in communication, we were, for some reason, too shy to greet each other. The boy beside him in the class picture, has become a girl. Even at that age, Romeo Priscilla showed signs of being gay, not macho like his namesake, the young romantic lover of Juliet in William Shakespeare’s classic. In grade two, he was in another section, but he was bright enough that our teacher, Miss Valdez, “imported” him, just like the way Filipino teams import American players in local basketball leagues, and another student to join our class so that she could impress a visiting district supervisor as her class was undergoing a mandatory assessment.
Another classmate, Dominador Santos III, was the son of a General. They had a big house along Forbes Street near our school and we used to engage in swordplays, ala Three Musketeers, in its front yard after school hours. Carlito Chavez, on the other hand, was also a classmate in high school. We were seatmates when we were in grade three. He is a talented artist, and he used to draw comic books to keep us from being bored in class. He was a bright student, and because his family was poor, I do not know if he was able to finish college. If he did not, it was certainly a waste of talent. Jose Cosme was the handsomest in our class. We boys all envied him because he was the only one wearing a nice pair of cowboy boots, with pointed tip and sharp elevated heels.
Nora Bacani, on the other hand, was also a schoolmate in high school. She became a successful businesswoman, but we were told she died of cancer a few years ago. Then we had the class beauty, Hildegarda Dizon. She was the “pantasya ng bayan (fantasy of the people)” among the male pupils in our class long before Joyce Jimenez became one among the Filipino men folk. At least six classmates had openly expressed their affection for her, and theirs was an open rivalry that became common knowledge that resulted in a lot of teasing. A classmate was able to track her down in the Internet last year. She was supposed to be living in Los Angeles and perhaps had become a nurse in line with her declared ambition.
” I was about to call her,” one of her admirers told me, “but at the last minute I decided not to.”
“Why?” I asked him.
“I was worried that if I see her again, I might just be disappointed. She might already be fat or look old. I want to preserve her beautiful face in my memory,” replied this hopeless romantic.
In 1996, while in the Philippines for my Christmas vacation, I visited the School. Everything was different. Concrete ones replaced the wood buildings and the big lot beside which had what we thought a haunted house had become part of the school. The teachers were having a Christmas Party, and only one of them had remembered my mother. When I asked for the names and addresses of the members of our class, however, I was told that a fire had burned the lists from 1960 and down. The only way I could get them was to go to the Department of Education main office.
Juan Sumulong Elementary School, 1954 to 1960. Those were the days, those were the years, and those were the happy, but sometimes annoying memories. Our huge family car, a black 1949 model Dodge limousine with folding chairs in the middle, used to pick us up from school every afternoon. My mother bought it from a former Senator but it looked like a hearse. As the car moved forward, some of my classmates would follow and pretend to cry, like grieving people in a funeral. AJ
(The author will leave for the Philippines tomorrow, January 17, 2014 from his home in San Diego, California to participate in his high schools Golden (50thYear) Jubilee Homecoming and also meet with his elementary school classmates some of whom he has not seen since they graduated 54 years ago in 1960.)