(Hometown: San Juan, Metro Manila)
We had a basketball court in our driveway, where my dad and his brothers exercised. My father went on to play point guard for the 7-Up team that won the 1955 MICAA championship (now the PBA, Philippine Basketball Association). His contemporaries included Caloy Loyzaga, Ning Ramos and Baby Dalupan. Also occasionally dropping by was a neighbor-kid they dubbed Erap. His real name was Joseph Ejercito (he changed his last name to Estrada when he became an action movie actor).
Erap would commandeer my Lolo’s old clinic/pharmacy as his campaign headquarters when he launched his flamboyant political career. I‘ve always wondered what he did with Lolo’s ceramic swirling-water cuspidors…
Lolo Berong was a pulmonologist (UP College of Medicine, early 1900s), a lung specialist, so we grew up inured to the phlegmy world of hacking and spitting. Lola Genia (Lolo’s baby sister, also a UP alum- pharmacy) managed the drug-cum-sari-sari store. My being the eldest grandkid had many plusses. I was always free to grab a thirst-quenching bottle of Coke from the icebox, savoring the snap/fizz each time I popped open a bottle.
I am certain the distinctive aromatics wafting from Lola’s apothecary bottles and the antiseptic hygienic flavors of Lolo’s clinic must have (subliminally) influenced my subsequent career choice.
Lolo’s X-ray machine survived the bombing of Manila at the close of the Great War. He had a thriving practice and took personal responsivity for his procedures. He eschewed protective lead aprons or gloves and eventually developed bone cancer, beginning with his exposed fingers. Treatment was amputation, which did not seem to affect his work, or lifestyle.
I recall him expertly maneuvering his black ’50 Buick, clasping the power steering knob with his three (remaining) digits. When one of his backyard hogs’ squealing turned into a coughing fit, he dragged the poor beast to his X-ray machine.
To get to the second floor living quarters, we had to ascend a grand winding wooden staircase (ala “Gone with the Wind”) and be greeted by Lolo’s portrait.
His eyes followed you no matter where you hid in the long corridor and spacious sala. A floor to ceiling inlaid mirror greeted you, for that last-minute coif or slip adjustment.
The salon had overstuffed cushions on sturdy rattan furniture. An adjoining patio showcased Lola Silay’s (Berong’s second wife, Lola Serya, bore him seven children, which led to terminal cancer by age 40) bougainvillea collection. The master suite boasted a bathtub that was also our (the grandkids) “swimming pool.” The rest of the family was spread out over five bedrooms and three baths. We kids had a secret passageway from the botica to our mezzanine hideout and ladders to the main floor. There was a third-story level that had more bedrooms (and more hiding places). Tito Mario’s photography darkroom was up there. A toilet was concealed under the stairwell.
The dining room table could sit twenty folks (fertility has never been a problem with this tribe). Many moons later, we carved up the table into folding footstools as our memento. Mealtimes were raucous, until Lolo’s entrance--he demanded decorum. Then all hell broke loose again when he vanished after dessert (diabetes IS the family problem). He had a library stacked with the obligatory encyclopedia, his medical texts and his Reader’s Digest collection. Lola had her kitchen and, of course, the “dirty” kitchen next door. Kasambahays (servants) had their space above the garage (more hiding places for us!).
Sundays were dedicated to Saint John‘s Pinaglabanan Church just down the road. Today, the church sits next to Erap’s new Municipio, which he erected on top of the ashes of an iskwater (squatter) settlement. The palengke (market) was the same distance, but in the opposite direction. They razed the old market, added a second level, and rechristened it “Agora”; but what’s in a name? “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet “(or funky, my apologies to Will).
The San Juan (erstwhile, “Dario”) River and Ermitanio Creek, which marked the town’s border with Quezon City, mosey downstream to merge with the Pasig River. They are somewhat narrower now, a bit filthier, and still predictably overflow their banks whenever typhoons strike.
Our ‘Sine Surot,’ (‘Bedbug Cinema’) on Blumentritt Street, the theater that we could enter and leave whenever, where we did not need an adult ID to watch bomba movies, is gone. There is a huge modern shopping center at the nearby ritzy “Greenhills” district, with 13 (!) screens. With Global Warming upon us, San Juanians know where to escape the heat. You can still take the G (for “gapang” or “crawl”) Liner (now with AC!) to the mall. The jeepneys (there’s an app for them now) to Cubao and Quiapo and Divisoria and Mandaluyong still sputter and belch diesel fumes; but they do so now in the shadow of the pylons of the much quicker, but more crowded MRT.
The Old House is only a recollection now. Our branch of the family went Stateside. Others immigrated Down Under (Australia and New Zealand) or Up Over (Canada). The cost of maintaining the structure got too expensive for our folks-who-stayed, and they were forced to sell out.
Nowadays, you can see what remains of Lolo’s House thanks to Google Earth: zoom in or pan to the pedestrian crossing of the Monument (see the white car making right turn?).
Yes, your eyes didn’t fool you. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot (Counting Crows, 2002)
Senen “Dr. Sonny” Siasoco (with his wife, Menchu, at Las Casas de Acuzar in Morong, Bataan, last February 2016) is a retired anesthesiologist currently residing in Wisconsin. If he is not on the tennis court, or out riding his bike, he’s presiding over the City Public Access TV Channel, or at a meeting of his specialty society (he is the state delegate). Anything to avoid household chores!
Ed Note: Senen Siasoco’s previous contributions to Positively Filipino is under the byline Sonny Siasoco.
More articles by Sonny Siasoco