Thursday, 23 April 2020

Farewell, My Home

I have grown up in the shadows of Mt. Matutum, looming imposingly in the horizon while I played hide and seek with my younger siblings and visiting cousins in the vast playground of our childhood, through a maze of corn stalks with the sound of livestock in the background.

My parents were tenants of a farm owned by distant relations and for the first eight years of my life, my home was an iconic Filipino stilt house, with walls made of bamboo mats and a thatched nipa roof, which extended gradually until we had cemented flooring that felt cold to our little feet but felt better than the dry dusty soil that surrounded our humble abode.

Before they had me, my parents were well-read intellectuals who had excellent prospects for their future until personal circumstances got them trapped in a cycle of poverty. But my father loves to tell a tale of how when I was a preschooler I have asked him, "Is this all we're going to be?" which prompted him to go back to night school to become a teacher and eventually a school head.

When both my parents secured a public teaching job, we moved up a notch on the social ladder by securing a residence in one of the earliest housing developments that would turn agricultural lands close to the city centre into sprawling family homes: Sarangani Homes Phase 1, the neighbourhood that built me.

Our house was a duplex in a narrow unpaved street with open sewage and no regular garbage collection. In the many years we have lived there, it would take different forms, extended in all sides, little by little, when extra money becomes available, which wasn't often. We had two bedrooms in the back extension but one of them was used as a storage and the other I shared with my younger sister. Like most traditional families, my parents and younger brother would sleep in a folded mat in the open space that doubled as a living room and a dining area.

Throughout my youth, I have often wished for a different home, one with a roof that doesn't leak during the rainy season, with windows that don't get covered in thick dust and plastered walls where I could stick pretty posters, in a neighborhood without mice playing by themselves freely in the open sewage.

When I was growing up, I nursed a deep desire to escape the house that to me represented a tree that despite my parent's hard toil, couldn't bear fruit because the weeds surrounding them had eaten away the nutrients before the leaves can grow. I resented the weeds that kept our family from moving forward.
My mother has a treasure glass display of our academic achievements in the wall of our house.
My sister called me detached, perhaps she was right. For most of my teenage years, I have locked myself up in my room to do nothing but studying. For all intents and purposes, except for the first two years of my adolescent life when I gave my parents grief, I had been nothing but the perfect child who would do them proud in my academic studies and co-curricular activities, as evidenced by the trophies and medals that my mother carefully collected in a glass display along with my siblings'. I have decided that my hard work will not be like that of my parents so when I left home to embrace the bigger world, I never looked back.

But when we look at the past as if it's nothing then what becomes of our memories?

Of the many summers that my younger siblings and I would make ice lollies and set up a stall at the bottom of the road to sell to neighbourhood kids. Of the Christmas carols we sang with our friends around the subdivision for pocket money. Of the times I have spent hanging out at my best friend Aubrey's house only a few blocks away until both our parents would come home. Of the neighbors who have become like family, whose personal business, including financial difficulties have become ours but whose good fortunes we have also shared.

Because despite the shabbiness of our surroundings our home had always been filled with warmth and laughter and love that have turned us into well-rounded individuals with successful careers and many travel stories.

When both my parents retired last year, they have decided to move away from the city to a farm where they could grow vegetables in the garden and feed livestock that freely roam around. When Isaac first went into the kitchen, he looked at the part of the wall that has not completely been covered by coconut lumber and declared "This house is broken." My parents, unlike me, would perhaps always prefer a traditional Filipino house and many years later I realised that there was nothing wrong with that.
Isaac said: "This house is broken". But because of the open wall, Santa was able to get in last Christmas.

I said my final goodbye to Sarangani Homes on our visit last Christmas. The neighborhood has aged, the houses now looked smaller than I could remember, the streets have become narrower. Few of our old neighbors are still around but a lot more have moved on. For John it was a surreal visit, a peek to a part of myself we have not shared in what always felt like a lifetime we have been together.

"What did it feel like when you finally left?"

It was not a question he had asked of me but of my mother and for which she had been very grateful for because nobody has thought to ask her. For while it was to me an escape, for my mother it meant leaving behind the cherished memories she has lurking in every corner of that little house, of her three children who have now flown the nest, to far off places she can only pin on the map she keeps on the wall with our photos as any proud parent would.

It was only then that I realised what leaving that house meant for all of us. That there will no longer be a place we could call 'our family home', one that would flood us with happy recollections in the rare times that we would visit.

But perhaps home is more than a house of memories. It is a place where we are loved and it will always be with us.

1 comment:

  1. you will always be in my memories just like i am in yours...��


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