I was born and raised in a small town called Paniqui in the city of Tarlac. As you enter the town proper, you’ll notice a bat hovering the “Welcome to Paniqui” sign. That’s because the town name is derived from the Ilokano term pampaniki which means bat.
I had a great childhood.
I was part of the generation where kids played outside instead of being glued to the computer. Every afternoon, my playmates and I would rally up the troops, and played whatever game we could get our hands on. Most days it was good ol’ hide and seek or a brutal game of dodgeball using a tennis ball. You can already imagine how painful that went. During windy afternoons, we’d make kites out of plastic bags and broom sticks. In the late 90s, we went through a POGS phase. At one point, I dominated that game until I met my match one afternoon and lost my entire collection. When supper was ready, my mom turned on our streetlight signaling it was time for me to come home.
When I was 9, I was hanging onto a bicycle when I lost my balance roller blading and scraped my poor knees on the concrete road. My mom was deeply worried at the sight of my bloody cuts. She said beauty queens had smooth legs. Thank goodness I wasn’t trying to be one.
Trucks filled with sugarcane passed through the main road daily. The boys would chase after it, and try to steal as much sugarcane as they could. We’d then ride our bikes to an abandoned church a few miles away, and find a sitting spot across the nearby field. I could never recall our conversations, but I remember gathering in a circle sucking on a sugarcane stick and spitting it out like it was our tobacco. During the holidays, I went caroling with my friends. Our version of bells were made of bottle caps strung together on a metal wire. Collectively, we weren’t exactly the voice of angels, so it never became a profitable pursuit. We were never in it for the money anyway.
It rained most days in the Philippines, so we took advantage and danced in the rain. We would run up and down the street laughing our butts off. The pouring rain made us genuinely happy. Looking back, life was so much simpler during those days. I can’t believe how eager I was to grow up and be an adult. Nowadays, especially when times are rough and my boss gives me hell, what I would trade to relive my rain dancing days….
I have always been fond of animals even as a young kid. I brought home stray cats numerous times which infuriated my mother. I tried to hide them, but she always caught me sneaking food to their hiding place. Luckily, she never made me give them up. One time, we just ended up with 6 adopted cats along with 4 dogs.
All these memories come flooding in each time I visit my childhood home. Though so much has changed in our neighborhood, yesterday’s memories are clear as day. Most of my playmates have migrated to different places, and it’s been more than a decade since I last saw them. It’s uncertain if our paths will meet again. I’m just thankful to be able to experience such a great childhood with people who made it so memorable.
I spent last Christmas with my parents, and as expected, in spite of my relentless insistence, my mom threw us a feast. She makes my favorite dinuguan and makes sure I leave 10 pounds heavier than when I arrived. A day in our house meant a day of eating. The morning spread consisted of fresh malunggay pandesal, a cup of instant coffee, mom’s signature garlic fried rice with tocino and fried plantains. Lunch was another feast on its own made of grilled fish and several side dishes. By dinner time, our pants had to be unbuttoned.
During this visit, my friends and I were able to ride our tricycle around town. I was surprised my dad allowed me to drive it considering I’ve never operated a motorcycle before. I nearly spun out of control, but thank goodness I got a hold of the breaks just in time.
My parents were both teachers, so most people in our town were once their students. Growing up, every move was closely watched. Everything we did was reported back to our parents. It did, however, have its perks. People were nicer and bargaining was much easier.
We managed to explore the marketplace and devour some questionable street food items. It was satisfying, and fortunately, none of us got sick 😉
I barely slept during this visit because I was trying to squeeze in as much bonding time with my parents. We only spent a total of 28 hours in my hometown. I felt guilty having to leave only after such a short period of time. I then realized that I could spend a day or a month at my house, and it will always feel brief. There were too many memories built, and no matter how much I try to relive it through old photo albums and countless accounts of “remember that one time…“, there’s something unsettling about recounting the past. Though I am always grateful, it’s always coupled with a sadness that’s undeniable.
We bid our farewell and set off to our next destination. No matter where I end up, this house will always be my home.
Home is where you go to find solace from the ever changing chaos, to find love within the confines of a heartless world, and to be reminded that no matter how far you wander, there will always be something waiting when you return.