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That old Spanish house

Manic in Manila

These days, I look around and everywhere I look I see people – with their gadgets, on their gadgets, holding their gadgets, doing something-or-other with their gadgets. The world is truly a different place, and I know I sound like an old fart, saying that, just now. “These here young whippersnappers…”

I see children on gadgets. CONSTANTLY on gadgets – glued to these, almost.

Then I am reminded of a time when life was less techie, simpler, and virtually gadget-free. I grew up in those times; a pudgy little kid in a big and beautiful, slightly creaky house.

I grew up in an old Spanish house, in the heart of old Spanish Manila. It had a big garden and no shortage of trees, nooks, crannies, “secret” crevices, and hiding places ever-so-perfect for a sneaky eight-year-old girl.

I once hid so well, for what seemed like hours on end. It was rather fun and amusing, watching all the adults go by, calling out for me. Until the pitch of their voices started to change. Then it stopped being fun. Too scared to show myself, I mustered my best and bravest “TAH-DAH!” before jumping out of my hiding place. It worked for two seconds. Hugs first, spanks shortly thereafter from the not-too-amused adults.

I climbed trees and skinned my knees. More than once. One time, on my way down from my favorite tree, I caught my leg on a rusty nail. The head left a long-ish, jagged cut on my inner thigh. I knew I had tetanus shots, so peroxide did the trick. I found a hammer in my Abuelito’s toolshed and attacked that traitorous nail con mucho gusto. No one messed with my favorite tree.

Sometimes, I would pack a sandwich and a book in a little satchel, climb all the way to the very top of the tree, which rested against the roof of the house, and have a picnic for one. Well, for two—the sun and I. If I got caught, there was trouble. BIG trouble. But I climbed again, anyway. These were my special dates with Mr. Golden Sun and his fabulous rays (I’m sure my favorite tree didn’t mind) and nothing could keep me away for long.

How I longed to be able climb all the way up at night too. Then I could gaze at the stars and the moon. But alas, my fearlessness had its limits.

The neighborhood kids and I played war games on sunny days. We fashioned guns from twigs and branches. I was the nurse. ALWAYS the nurse. Until I declared a war of my own, and demanded to be a general. On rainy days, we clogged all the garden’s drain holes and played water war games, with me as general. Dog poop sometimes floated by in our garden-cum-lake. We didn’t care much. It was our dog.

We fried crickets and ate them. EWWW, I know. We ate yummy things, too. We wolfed down Abuelita’s chocolate fudge cake, with ice-cold bottles of Pop Cola. Oh how we all loved Abuelita’s cake. I would yell from the kitchen window, as any good general would, “Michael, Kenny!!! There’s chocolate caaaaaaaaaaake!” and dutifully, the soldiers ran from across the street. We would sit around the kitchen table – Mike, Kenny, me, my brother Joey – and smile despite, more like BECAUSE OF, fudge-covered teeth.

Speaking of my brother… We once found a mouse, about to be executed by way of whack-a-sack. We rescued it, hid it in the tiger’s cage of our Fisher Price circus set, and fed it cheese. A week later, we were busted. MORE big trouble. Oh, and he – my brother, not the mouse – once jumped out of a still-moving car, while yelling “Superman!!!” This was almost as bad an idea as the time he “dove” into the cactus bush. We would don costumes, for no apparent reason, and live out our superhero fantasies to the hilt. Hours were spent wading in a plastic inflatable pool in the backyard; chasing Abuelito’s chickens; getting chased by Abuelito’s roosters.

I would ride my fiberglass Tiger skateboard, and do tic-tacs and other tricks. Again with the skinned knees. I carried that skateboard to school. Boy, how I loved it. My yaya (nanny) would scold me, in a grumbling manner: “Ayan! Gasgas na naman! Hindi ka na puede maging Miss Universe! (There! Another scrape! Now you can no longer be Ms. Universe!)” Meh. Miss Universe is overrated, anyways.

On most weekends, my cousins, Gerry and Tonichi, would come for sleepovers. Patintero (a Filipino game played on empty streets, involving a grid drawn on the ground, and two opposing teams of “taggers” or “its”, and “runners”) was the order of the day. At night, it was flashlight tag, hide-and-seek in the dark, and of course, ghost stories. Then we discovered my uncle’s stash of Playboy… Oh boy.

I hardly watched TV (except for Batman with Adam West, and the Hardy Boys). Did not have very many gadgets (my cassette player was all I needed, really). Had no computer (only offices did), no PS3, PSP, MP3, Xbox, Wii, whatever. I don’t even know if I got all those names right, just there. AND no social media! I connected with people, face to face, thanks very much!

I was rough and tumble. Tomboy-ish. Rambunctious. Naughty with just the right amount of nice. Learned to make do with what I had, and create or save up for what I didn’t have. Learned to play well with others. Most of the time, anyways.

I grew up in an old Spanish house, in the heart of old Spanish Manila. Life was quite simple, with neither too many frills, nor complications. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.