The way we were


Dr. Florangel Rosario-Braid

With rising prices of commodities especially onions, which had skyrocketed during the recent holidays, I recall times during the mid-50’s and early 60’s, known as the period when the Philippine economy was at its healthiest. Among Asian neighbors, we were only next to Japan. This was when the country had just been rehabilitated from the ravages of World War II. As I noted in the memoirs I am now writing, I recalled times when I could buy a pair of good ladies’ shoes at four pesos and have a dress sewn by a modista, for ₱1.50 to ₱2. And that included the price of the cloth. My starting salary as a high school teacher was ₱175 a month and that paid for my board and lodging, and miscellaneous expenses. I still had a savings of ₱50 to send home. A lawyer friend said his starting salary at a law firm was ₱250, a jeepney ride was 10 centavos, a shot of whiskey, ₱1.10, a steak at Swiss Inn was ₱3.20. So ₱20 on a date inclusive of taxi fare was more than adequate.

I have asked a good friend, Lin Acacia Flores, a multi-awarded short story writer, if she could share some of her early memories, and she did oblige with the following essay.

“As I write this, red onions are selling for ₱650 a kilo. Prices are high, but people are shocked particularly by the cost of the onions. There was a time when onions cost 65 centavos a kilo. That was in the 1950’s when the Philippines had almost fully recovered from the ravages of World War II. The peso was 34.96 to the US dollar; there must have been some alarm at rising prices which prompted then President Elpidio Quirino to issue Executive Order 331, fixing ceiling prices of food.

Beef without bones (retail was ₱3 a kilo), with bones (₱1.30 a kilo). Pork prices were the same as beef.
Back to the executive order: Fish was divided in four categories. First class included Lapu-Lapu, at ₱2 a kilo. Salmon was considered second class and priced at ₱1.75. Among the third-class fish was ayungin sold for ₱1 a kilo. Fourth class lavajita, 80 centavos.

Garlic was ₱1.20 a kilo, potatoes were ₱1.55, and onions, as mentioned earlier, ₱0.65 a kilo.

Considering that the minimum daily wage of an ordinary employee was ₱4, people did have to budget.
I could ride a bus home from school to home for 10 centavos. If I had to bring my little sister home from school with me, I would hail a Yellow Taxi. The flag down rate was 15 centavos and another 10 for every kilometer.

Mom also sewed my dresses. Cheap RTW was unknown. If one wanted to be well dressed, the neighborhood seamstress or modista would be visited. Mom even sewed the petticoat for my teenage party skirts, which, following the fashion at that time, accented my waist tightly, then ballooned to unbelievable fullness at three inches below my knees. Nylon stiffeners were unheard of then, so petticoats were stiffened with starch which didn’t last for four party hours, or with abaca between two layers of cotton cloth but the abaca was itchy just the same. Fathers didn’t mind paying for the many yards of cloth for these big skirts because they kept the boys from dancing cheek-to-cheek with their precious daughters. Pants (pedal pushers) for young women were introduced for the first time, making the conservatives predict that the end of the world was near.

Parents in our time were strict, especially with their daughters. We were told to be ladylike, no loud laughter or talk. If a boy dated a girl, he had to pay for three movie tickets and three dinners because the girl had to bring a chaperone.

What I remember about school shoes was that they had to be black, and I was warned they had to last the whole school year. So, when I was in grade school up to high school and brought to Gregg Shoe Store and tried on a pair, Mom asked if I could wiggle my toes, meaning there was enough space for my feet to grow during the year. On the first day of the school term, my classmates and I would covertly look at one another’s new shoes, new uniforms, and new school bags.

Bottled water was unheard of then. We slaked our thirst from the school drinking fountain, or water straight from the faucet. And we didn’t get sick from that. Coca Cola then came into the picture, and we bought that from a dispenser, ignoring the warnings that it would make us infertile.

We did all our research from books in the school library, from heavy encyclopedias. All our math problems were solved on paper and in our brains. Calculators and computers were still two generations in the future. My generation believes we taxed our minds more at that time, than our grandchildren now who find answers in Google in an instant, who carry laptops and cellphones as if they were part of their anatomies.

I think, however, that they have to learn much more than we did, on a more complicated mindset.
Simple, down to earth, that was the way we were. “When onions were 65 centavos a kilo.”

My email, [email protected]