My Curiosity Lead to Moments that Matter

The childhood I would always want to live over and over and even in the next five lifetimes.

The sharp smell of paint was all over our house in Sta. Ana Manila enough to wake up the four year old me from sleep. *Hush hush*, *plomp, plomp”, several voices I hear of men, some sipping of what seems like coffee, soles walking endlessly from the tiled floors inside to the rough pavement outside. Slowly withdrawing myself from the bed perfumed with the comforting scent of my grandmother (I fondly called as Nanay) whom I know was up before the sun welcomed that side of the universe; I swiftly change and clad into my new t-shirt and puruntong we bought from yesterday with Nanay from Divisoria.

I walk into our living room temporarily converted into a studio for my adult men “barkada”. Some of them were our neighbors, others were relatives and collectively they worked as artisans for us to make screen prints on fabrics. My mom used to tell me that I acted as ‘boss baby’, making rounds with my dad early in the morning, scrupulously looking into each piece of product with a critical eye and label some of them as “redyek – redyek” (read: reject). And true enough, when my dad as QA inspects it, it turned out to be a reject! Lol.

That explains the splashes of paints across the table I was resting my arms with and the piles and piles of screens behind me.

Walking further to the right behind the olive green door was where some of my uncle’s a handful collection of domesticated chickens were strategically located. I say strategic because across where their cages were was me and my lola’s room. And so my alarm clock before going to school was very organic! On top of that, my grandmother taught me how to interpret nature and the signs she is giving to us, the difference of the cool breeze between dusk and dawn. So I know by heart and from the memory of my bones how does a 5:30 AM looks and feels like that I need to get up versus 4:30 AM that I still can get an hour of extra sleep.

After a long slumber, was the captain among the flock, that made sure I wake up on time. His sound was one that was with assurance like a general ready to go to war.

Cockfighting was something that my Ilokano ancestors were passionate about aside from being a tomador. Though my uncle (Aki as I fondly call him) was not really into the thing that involves money, he had a couple of generals of which he lets me as a very young girl do the classic ‘himas’ of true blue ‘sabungero’. Cockfight did not excite me really and I hated it when my uncles blew smokes all over, but witnessing of how eggs laid and chicks hatched were few of the things I look forward to. Aki for sure will halt my deep dreamy nights. He would hold the night lamp and bring me near where one of our hens was laying eggs in the nest I made from two days ago. The next morning was the fun part, because newly popped hens are a bit temperamental, I annoy her by getting close to her eggs, haha. Sooner, before the sun sets, I help my uncle set up an improvised chick incubator to help the mother hen in warming her babies and days passed, I came to witness life before my very eyes. As soon as these chicks gain their strength and able to be independent, it was fascinating to watch them behind their mother hunting for food.

If we ran out feeds, I instead gave them pieces of rice with a little water and bits of vegetables. It was Nanay and I who prepare their food that I especially volunteer to do on weekends. I was always with Nanay most of my childhood because my parents were both working. She would tucked me into wet markets trained my eye and other senses on how to buy fresh fish and vegetables. The malunggay fruit from our front yard was my training dummy for the ‘pagpisil’ technique in discerning ‘makunat’ from ‘hinog’ and ‘bubot’. I also learned from her to use intuition in finding direction on streets especially when you are lost. I was five years old when my parents decided to move out temporarily from our ancestral home in Sta. Ana Manila to Mandaluyong City. One early morning my mom was surprised that she found me and Nanay at the doorstep from a weekend I spent in Manila. Nanay told my mom that it was me who told her the directions to our new house. (“Hindi mawawala yang anak mo!”)

My grandmother would always bring me to our home province in Santa Ilocos Sur way even before I started school. My playground was among the council of elders smoking tabakos, accentuated with the strong aroma of their pomadas while having debates of whatever topic under the sun. That is where I learned how to understand and speak the language at five. When the sun begins to set across the horizon, I remember running towards the carayan (read: river) and hunt for some small crabs and shrimps under the big pile of rocks across the stream of water. Meanwhile, Nanay surprised me with my first set of lutu-lutuan! Handcrafted clay pots from Vigan. And so when it’s time to go back to Manila, my grandmother let me cook real Dinengdeng and sinaing with my kitchen toys.

My lola was not able to complete even elementary, but she managed to send herself to tailoring classes by being a helper in convent in Singalong Manila. The chair I was sitting on in the photo was her queenly chair when she was at work on her sewing machine. But what was even more amazing about her was that, she was her own mechanic and troubleshooter of her own machine. And so before I even started school, I know how to do the basic stitches and how to operate the sewing machine because I learned from the best! When it came the time that I had home economic classes in primary school, I aced projects that includes everything about sewing. Though I do not know the technical terms of the parts of the sewing machine, I knew where to find it, its purpose and how to run and fix it in case it breakdowns.

In the early years of my adulthood at that time when I was already working, there was a constant thing in our home that needs consistent tuning and overhaul. Our first “car”, an owner-type jeep. Yung sasakyan ng mga mababangis sa daan.

It was one of the lazy afternoons, then my 8 year old self heard, “broom broom”. I peeked into the window from our 2 story house and I found a truck back driving towards our soon newly-created garage from where that table in the photo was standing on. I wondered where was the “car” Aki was teasing me about? And then two men carefully bringing down a 3-ft long odd looking thing that seemed to me like a boring machine to drill a concrete used for road construction. I asked him bluntly, “Aki nasaan na ung kotse natin?” and he said, “Bale, gagawin ko pa lang.” lol.

 Sooner I learned that it was the automobile engine and I saw him together with the help of his friends built his jeep from scratch on our garage. Probably he saw me stealing glances while the all male-group doing the dirty work. And so he made me his little assistant, teaching me the tools to hand and what are they are for. One time, he let me take the driver seat and push on gas, breaks and clutch or command me to hold on “primera, segunda or tercera or even quinta” then to neutral. I enjoyed that my hands and face were oiled and messed up. That owner-type jeep that was built when I was just 8 years, served as the transport for bringing me food for lunch during my elementary until secondary years. It also housed my dirty clothes that I need to send back home from my dormitory school when I was in college. And that “car” paid her untiring service until I was working as nurse, taking me to hospital in wee hours of the night. She lasted for a few more years after that stint and I learned how to drive because of her too!

 Even when I was young, cars and even toy guns were the things my hands were drawn to. The Barbie dolls that my relatives gave me, usually ended up ‘murdered’, lol. 

One of my ninongs gifted me a battery-operated police motor cycle toy. After sometime, it broke down. I sneaked into my Aki’s tools and opened it up on my “operating table”. And when Aki saw me mimicking him in arranging the wirings, he taught me the science and intuition behind the parts that needs repair. He was the best electrician I know!

When you visit our house in Manila it its prime years, you can get to notice a lot of innovative small projects where science, math and physics were literally pragmatically applied in a domestic setting.

In just one photo, I managed to recall a lot of things. Hahaha. But To put all of these things in perspective, most of the time I could not understand myself when being too observant pre-occupies my mind and then consequently my hands want to create it. In hindsight, I realized that the creativity fostered during my formative years were inside our home, in our backyard, garage, with my toys and with the people around me.

I know most of the time we settle with the defaults in our life especially in this crazy adult existence. But isn’t it our curiosity as a child and acting on it actually opens up to moments that matter? Moments that you could say to your own self, whoa “Ha? Ako pala yun?!!”

PS: mahilig nako sa one sided na ayos ng hair pala, bata pa lang. may personality nako dyan! 🤟🏼

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Nico Dizon