the street where i live…

by Evans Yonson

Barcelona – Today is the first day of the Novena (nine-day prayer/mass) for Christmas Day in the Roman Catholic world. In the Philippines, there is a tradition called Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster). Filipino Catholics wake up very on the 16th of December to hear a first of the nine-day dawn mass. It is a very long tradition that the Spanish have introduced centuries ago that still exists in the Filipino psyche. Most masses are said around 4AM and Filipinos try to make wishes on the first day, praying that on the last day of Novena their wishes do come true. Here in Barcelona, the Filipinos hear Mass at night because most of them are workers and waking up early in time of the year is very gruelling. Back home in the Philippines, December morns are cooler but not as cold as Spain’s.

In the street where I live many years ago, the young children me included make it a point to complete the Novena not because we had our wishes but because it was time for merrymaking and being with friends made the tradition even more compelling and dramatic. The street where I grew up is called Justo Ramonal, named after a famous person in the city immediately during the Second World War. I remember everyone fondly every time I go home.

My maternal grandparents (the Indinos) were the first of three families who live in Justo Ramonal Street. The others one being the Facturas and the Pachecos. The Quiblats, the Uyguangcos, the Gamolos, and the Gapuzes came five years after them. The Ramonals came immediately after these families. The Salvas, the Bongayans, the Salvanas, the Rebolos and the Salcedos, came much later. I must admit that my brothers know most of them since they were the more sociable in the family (read: I was a homebody.). But it didn’t deter me from knowing everyone in the street where I live.

During my elementary (primary school) years, there were only four famous schools then: Xavier University (exclusive school for boys), Lourdes College (exclusive school for girls), Kong Hua School (coed school for Chinese kids but not exclusive), and the City Central School (public school). The Galenzoga and Roa girls including my sister went to Lourdes. My oldest brother went to Kong Hua. My two brothers went to Xavier. My first three years were in Kong Hua and transferred to Xavier on my fourth grade. The rest of the neighborhood kids went to City Central. But there were no distinction friends. We were friends in the street where I live. Best of friends, that is. Today, schools and universities have sprouted here and there and I only know less neighbors. Most of them have moved out of the street where I live. Whenever I go out at night, I see no one but bystanders who are either drinking the woes away or simply passers-by. Gone are my friends who frolicked with me under the first rains of May or flew kites with my siblings in that memorable lot around the corner. I see nothing but a bodega of fresh fruits inside and rotten fruits along street.

During summer time, we would play street games like patintero, pulis-kawatan (cops and robbers),and Chinese garters (high jumping using garters). Under the moonlit nights, we would gaze upon the stars and tell tales from the dark side.  During the long Christmas break, we would gather on December 15 and start practicing Christmas carols. We would be carolling every family in the neighborhood just like the trick-or-treat tradition of the Western world (wherever that maybe). We sing Christmas songs and we would be given a fair amount of money that the selected treasurer would keep until our Christmas party.

In our family compound, I grew up with the Cortejoses who prepared pancakes and fried bananas for our afternoon merienda. The Sevillas came a bit later when I was already in high school, and they provided us with all weekend laughter and we would troop to their apartment to watch TV. Papa Nick and Mama Soy with Lola Lalay and their kids, Bebot, Wiwi, and Nemia. I remember Lola Lalay fondly as she was the more vocal in the compound. And she was very religious too. The Viajantes would later live in the compound coming from the Pacheco side of the street. The Viajante kids were more active and bubbly – Apollo, Ting2x, Shiella, and Alas. Before them, there were the Guros from Marawi, the Bonillas from Manila. After them, came the Neris with JC Boy as one of our compound babies. He would later become one of my photography students in Xavier.

Fronting our veranda is the Caballeros but they rented out their place to the Nonoys with Ate Shiella, Patty, Nikki and Junjun with their parents, Tita Letty and Tito Denny. Their family also included Kuyas Mike and Mark. Kuya Mark married Ajing Ecoben who used to live with her family in the Villanuevas, beside my grandparents house. When the Nonoys left, some teachers from Don Bosco came to live and taught at the newly opened XU-Center for Industrial Technology then. When the Ecobens left, the Valenzonas lived upstairs and the Pugoys of Malaybalay occupied the lower apartment. Later on, Ate Nessy Alonzo came and gave birth to Ronnie Dane aka Gogong aka Erudite, who also later became my student in Xavier.

Fronting the Caballeros are the Quiblats, Inday and Julieto were our playmates. Inday eventually became our leader, hands down. She was very sociable and outgoing. She was our first Kabataang Barangay chairperson. After her came my older brother, Manoy Bobong. Then Wiwi Sevilla while I was one of the councilors. The Quiblat mother was originally from Leyte and later one of her sisters came to Cagayan de Oro and brought her family. I don’t remember their names anymore but they were friendly too. Beside the Quiblats was the Salva Apartments with five doors and a parking space turned into another door. The Salvas had five children and everyone had their families in each door. The eldest married Doctor Enad and bore Jongjong, Ernie, Tommy and Austing. Engr. Salva married a Tagalog migrant and had Rey, Ron, and Ric. The third Salva married Justo Ramonal’s lovely daughter, Forthelie and they had 3 sons also: Boy,  John, and James. A Salva daughter married a Rebolos who immediately migrated to the US. Another Salva daughter married a military man and later on established a security agency in the city and made their apartment the main office.

Next to the Salvas were the Bongayans: Joe, Boy, Tata, Liloy and Bogins. The siblings have gotten married and have their respective families. Manongs Joe and Boy died in the early 90s. Tata married Arnu, a German guy in the early 80s and she has migrated after that. Next to the Bongayans was the residence of Justo Ramonal’s sister, Nanay Didi who constantly prepared chicarons Manang Elma’s (her daughter) children, Monina, Digoy, Chic, and Chatman. Everyone is in the US now. I could go on and on with this list. I practically know everyone in the street where I live. I know their stories and almost all their secrets. I have shared precious and unforgettable moments with them, those long and hot summers. The blackouts during El Nino and heavy rains of La Nina.

But the most memorable are the days when we woke up early for nine days in December 1983. It was the year of our discoveries. Our puberty in the midst of a turbulent Marcos rule. Martial Law was already lifted. Ninoy Aquino was just assassinated. We were scared witless to go out early in the morning but it was the idea that we were together fortified our reliance and confidence. We were among friends. We were having fun. Nine days. Several lives. All are gone now. To other places. To new neighborhoods. With their new families. New friends. One thing is certain, the early mornings of that year undeniably made the street where I live a truly remarkable, extraordinary, and exceptional one.