Going back to ones memory lane may not be pleasing for so many people. Nonetheless, as for me, I do really take pleasure in it. Not that I am a sadistic individual trying to torture my psyche, but going back through the past has been a concoction of bitter-sweet sensation: a real-time ‘spiritual wine’ for me. One of the ‘best’, is should say, ‘intoxicating’ experience of my childhood days happened way back when I was at my second (2nd) grade during my primary education years.
My aunt was once a ‘domestic helper’ based in Singapore almost twenty (20) years ago. Nonetheless, it was just a brief stint and decided to go home and stay here at the Philippines for good. After getting a secure job, she got married and had her own family. Not long after, she and her husband was blessed with twins-an instant son and daughter. I was six (6) then, when I first had my twin cousins. They were so cute that time. It was actually a meeting of ‘first and last’ because since then, as a family, they decided to settle at Baguio for good.
Since then, I have not seen them, especially my cousins personally. I was updated by their ‘looks’ through pictures (and by the way, digital cameras and handy phones with cameras were not available during those times) and by how relatives described their physical attributes. However, the long wait was over when my aunt and her family opted to spend their summer vacation here at Manila. After two (2) long years, finally I have had a glimpse of my twin cousins since they were born. Both of them have grown a lot! Nonetheless, the excitement proved to be short-lived. They planned to stay outside the Philippines for good because my ‘Tito’ (uncle) had a break for a better job-a chance to be assigned in a greener pasture; an opportunity to stay at the land of milk and honey.
As a last note, they would like to spend their last moments being here in the Philippines by visiting the National Museum of the Philippines. I was wondering if the visit would be for my cousins or for their parents. Honestly, I was more excited than my cousins since that time they were chanting ‘Jobee! Jobee!’ (most likely an inflection of the popular food chain in the Philippines which is Jollibee). Nonetheless, we pushed through National Museum of the Philippines. I was in my second (2nd) grade then, and as I recall in our History class, we were discussing the Galleons, historical trade routes and other facts that can only be read through history books. My anticipation fell short after my we verified that the museum was closed for some renovation. Again, my two cousins chanted ‘Jobee! Jobee!’ After having a hearty lunch, my aunt never gave up visiting some historical places. Since where at the vicinity of Manila, I happened to ask her, what the ‘wall’ was all about. She grinned and answered me, ‘that is Intramuros’. It was an ‘A-ha’ or ‘Eureka’ experience for my young mind during that time. Then I glanced at my aunt saying some instruction in Ilocano dialect for our ‘Manong’ (an address of respect) driver. To my thrill, we found ourselves within the ‘walls’ I was asking about. We headed to what was called Fort Santiago.
Fort Santiago (Fuerza de Santiago in Spanish) was the foremost defense stronghold of the Spanish Government in the Philippines. After the two World Wars, the government tried to restore and preserve it as a historical heritage of the Philippines. What gave me goose bumps as we enter Fort Santiago is the fact that the Philippines’ National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal spent his last moments in this said citadel before being executed.
It seems that as we walked through the Rizal Shrine, a feeling of nostalgia entered my very being. It seemed that through the memorabilia of Rizal was trying to tell me something. The replica of the dungeon where Rizal spent his last night gave us a sense of nationality and pride. To see a ‘piece’ of our national hero, literally, was the most memorable experience I had with this visit. It was a piece of Jose Rizal’s ‘vertebra’ preserved and displayed for tourists and visitors alike to see.
I was really a very informative (I hate saying the term ‘educational’ because it does not really justify the real essence of the word) and memorable trip for me indeed. At that time, I thought of visiting the Rizal Shrine again with my own camera.
After taking our ‘merienda’ or snacks, again, at Jollibee (as per request of my cute cousins), my aunt decided to hear mass at Manila Cathedral. My aunt was a frustrated nun actually and since she was educated and trained in a religious convent (Dominican Order), she gave me some background of the cathedral. Manila Cathedral or to be exact the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the Manila. Based on etymology itself ‘cathedra’ means ‘seat’ or in religious sense ‘seat of the bishop’. As we waited for the priest for the celebration of the mass, we tried to read upon some information embossed through golden or brassy tablets. The historical cathedral itself had been reconstructed and renovated after natural calamities and the World Wars throughout the history. I remember being in shocked after we heard (for me it was the first time) the enchanting sound of the pipe organ signaling the Mass was about to start. I was glad to see that at a young age, my cousins were behaving well as my uncle and aunt solemnly pray during the mass. It was a memorable experience again for me, when I saw my aunt smile and all of a sudden shed a tear silently as my uncle tried to embrace her assuring her silently that everything would be good.
After few days since our visit at Intramuros, my parents and I found ourselves at the airport. It was ‘bye-bye’ moment for my aunt and her family and my parents told me that it would take a long time before they would be here again. As for my twin cousins, they were excited with the thought they would be boarding a plane and flying. As for me, I could not speak that time. I did not want to speak because it would just trigger my eyes to let go of the tears I try to hide that time. Yes, the tears rolled by. The thought of losing a part of my life was definitely a painful experience for me. She was my favorite aunt, and she would be gone for so long. I even recalled my mom telling me that my aunt offered to care for me after graduation, at least for a year, as an act of gratitude for my parents for supporting her studies. As she tried to consult me, she said ‘Kuya, tahan na po’ (Big brother, please calm down) in a very comforting manner. She continued, ‘you are the reason we went to those places, because I know you love history. It was my way of showing you that you are very dear to me, almost like a son for me’. My uncle also tried to consoled my and asserted that my aunt always talked about me all the time. I tried embracing both of them as hard as I could to let them feel I do not want them to go, but it was time to say ‘goodbye’.
Ten years after, back then I was in my second (2nd) year in college, going back on these places was always memorable. It was the time I had a chance to visit the Rizal Shrine for the second (2nd) time around and it seemed always the same old good feeling. Nonetheless, I visited the place with a new outlook and a different stance-but the feeling remained the same: I really missed my aunt. In order to help myself with my yearning, I decided to go to Manila Cathedral to hear Mass and pray. I tried to sit at the same spot we were together ten (10) years ago but unfortunately it was occupied. However, it was coincidental to see myself as a young kid sitting on the same spot ten (10) years ago. Since I had my own camera that time, I was able to take pictures of the places we had been years ago with different perspective. As soon as I processed them, I sent them soft copies (thanks for internet) of my photographs. As I recall, our phone rang around two in the morning (still dark here in the Philippines) and I was surprised that it was my aunt very thankful of the pictures. It really brought back the old memories, she said.
Manila is truly the heart of the Philippines. History books would definitely agree in its historical values and unparalleled heritage from other noted cities of the Philippines. Manila is a place where ‘promdis’ (a slang for native ‘from the province’) try their best to improve their lives surviving in the concrete jungle of Manila.