2021 is the Year of the Metal Ox which is an inauspicious or boring year. Nonetheless, since the ox is an animal that “delivers dedicated consistent labor,” it is deemed to be a lucky year.
Someone had earlier written that the worst Christmas was in 1941 which was the start of World War 2 and for us, the beginning of the Japanese Occupation. The following New Year was likewise the same.
I remember my mother picking me, a 10-year-old fifth grader, and my sister,7, from school on December 8, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But it was two days after Christmas when we evacuated to a farm some 50 kilometers from where we lived. Macabito was a rustic barrio in Malasiqui, located two km from the poblacion road. To reach the place, we had to ride in a carabao sled. For three months we lived in a nipa house located near a sugar cane mill and a vast sugar cane field owned by a relative.
Self-sufficiency which marked our life during the four-year Japanese period started in our evacuation center where, surrounded by an ideal homestead – fruit and coconut trees, vegetables, a chicken coop, pig pen, and rice granary, where we were provided adequate sustenance throughout our stay. And a safe haven, away from the indiscriminate bombing and shelling in Dagupan.
It was an ideal playground for me and my two sisters (Lynn and the youngest, Lydia), as we spent most of the time outdoors – climbing fruit trees, discovering the various varieties of sugarcane, and discovering my poetic soul during solitary hours spent in my favorite nook. Recall of this episode has been aided by notes from a diary and conversation with my sister Lynn who has a mind like a steel trap.
We helped our parents with household chores such as carrying water from a deep well, cleaning house and yard, picking fruits and veggies, helping grandma prepare rice cakes in her “gilingan” (a round device for grinding rice), brooms from coconut sticks, and floor scrubber from coconut husks. We discovered the 10 uses of the coconut, and our first lesson as well in sustainable living!
To augment food resources from the backyard, my grandma would venture out to the town market once every two weeks where she bartered raw sugar, eggs, and fruits for fresh and dried fish and other essentials. Mother’s daily fare for us consisted of rice, eggs cooked in a variety of ways – fried, scrambled with onions or tomatoes, chicken tinola or adobo, veggies (eggplant, ampalaya, patola, beans, kangkong, malunggay, katuray etc). Fruits, we had aplenty –bananas, mangoes, santol, papaya, pineapple, and camote. But with a family of six, and growing children with hearty appetites, my mother had to be creative and frugal. Like having a chicken last for three meals, dividing a mango into four, or sharing a banana.
This is what I remembered of our New Year fare in 1942. Roasted chickens on charcoal, mixed fruits (papaya, bananas, young coconut). My father made butter from eggs and coconut oil, which we had with rice cakes instead of queso de bola and bread. And chocolate drink from cocoa obtained in the barter trade as well. Mother ensured we had round fruits for good luck. So we helped gather what we could from the yard – santol, cereza (small cherries), guava, chico, pomegranate. To these, she added her fruit preserves.
We left our evacuation place early March with heavy hearts. It did not only provide a refuge but also experiences that we can look back to with awe and gratitude. As we reflect on those years, we realize that although war had caused everyone suffering and anxiety, it had its own rewards and lessons especially for the young. That we can be self-sufficient and reliant. That our country is endowed with a wealth of resources, many of which are still untapped.
We found that our house in town had been heavily shelled upon return. . School opened soon after under a new system and curricula where all subjects, books, readings on Western culture and history were replaced with Nippongo and history and culture of Japan. No television or newspaper; only radio which was heavily censored. No movies too. Fortunately, an enterprising townmate translated a local story in Pangasinan language into a play where my sister Lynn played a part.This was shown in movie houses and in several towns in the province.
But before MacArthur returned, we found our house heavily shelled. Thank God, we were able to get into the air-raid shelter.My gratitude too for a life spared after a shrapnel brushed my ear on my way to the shelter. The War years were a trying period as we lost several hundreds of our town mates during the shelling. t But it taught us many positive values – the meaning of frugality and resourcefulness, resilience and empathy, as well as discipline.
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I shared a warm friendship with Domini Torrevillas for over four decades of togetherness -during special family celebrations and many professional events. I was ninang during the wedding of her only son Andoy. We had Bible studies together. We tried to be present during periods of need for comfort. She was one of the courageous women journalists who had taken much risk by writing about the horrors of martial law. Her column in the Philippine Star was widely read because, it focused not only on serious national issues, but also on people within her wide circle, and written with great insight. She was truly a “people journalist” – able to listen, connect, and empathize. Many will miss Domini and her advocacies. Hers was a rich and fruitful life, well spent by inspiring many with hope about the future. . Farewell, my friend, until we meet again.
My email, [email protected]