Emo shots from a few years back. (Or maybe I was just watching out for snakes.)
In my entry about spending my birthday in the Scottish Highlands, I mentioned slipping at the peak of a hill and rolling all the way down while on one of my childhood adventures with my cousins and brother. When we were growing up in the Philippines, we had a tradition of gathering every summer in our grandparents’ farm. For several weeks each year, those rice fields turned into one huge playground for us. We ran freely, as did our imaginations. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe that I was so lucky to not only have had what seemed like infinite space to play in, but also some of the coolest playmates any child could have.
First, a little background story. My grandfather grew up poor in that rural town in the 1920s. He only went to vocational/trade school and did not get to have a college education. My grandmother, on the other hand, came from a family that had money and was already planning her postgraduate studies when she met my grandfather, while he was working as a carpenter in a plantation owned by a friend of her family. Though they preferred her marrying someone well-off, my grandmother’s parents were nonetheless supportive of her decision to marry my grandfather. It was my grandmother’s brother who opposed the marriage, confronting my grandfather and condescendingly asking, “What are you going to feed my sister?”
My great-uncle need not have worried, though. Grandpa was a very good at what he did, and, coupled with hard work and the right connections (i.e. rich people who liked how he built their houses), he eventually became the vice-president of a local contracting company. He set apart most of his salary for grandma to save, only keeping enough for drinks with his friends. (Even then, grandma still took money from his wallet to be able to put more in the bank, along with what she earned as a teacher.) It was through this teamwork that they ended up with the resources to buy land in several towns, including the one where grandpa grew up. And it was in that farm, in the house that he designed and built, where the best moments of my childhood took place.
At the start of every summer vacation (late March in the Philippines), my brother and I packed our bags and went on an hour-long ferry ride from our small city to the island on which my grandparents’ farm is located. Some of our cousins would already be there, while the others were arriving a few days later – seven kids in total. The next several weeks would be spent running around in the rice fields, walking through the fields to get to the next town without the adults knowing we were gone, trying to cook under that mango tree in the pictures with our clay pots, fighting with each other and then making up, helping feed like 20 pigs and even more chickens, cooking ramen and telling scary stories whenever there was a storm, dancing in the rain, climbing trees, going to the city on weekends for piano lessons or to swim in a resort, etc. We also did nerdy things like have trivia contests before bedtime and read National Geographic magazines.
Having grown up with all this, it did not really occur to me that it was a special experience. I just went back to school every June assuming that all my classmates also witnessed pigs give birth and got attacked by geese that summer. But now, as an adult living on the other side of the world – and with my cousins, brother and I far from each other – I have learned to greatly treasure that time in our lives: the different kind of living it allowed us to experience, the imagination it allowed us to nurture, and the friendship it allowed us to develop on top of being related by blood.
While hiking in Scotland a couple of weeks ago, Rochelle and I talked about how it’s sad that the next generation of kids in our family won’t get to have that kind of childhood. It’s difficult to get everyone there at the same time now. And the town itself has changed so much. The government actually bought part of my grandparents’ land a few years ago to build a new international airport. (The island is a gateway to the most popular beach in the country.) I’m still a little bitter about it, but at least, the next time I go there, I can probably walk from the airport to the house – though I’d be crushed should I ever see the day when a Starbucks takes the place of that mango tree.
My grandpa died when I was two years old, so I have no memory of him. But I really wish he could have seen how that farm brought his grandchildren together, even when his own children did not exactly enjoy spending time there when they were young. It’s unlikely that we would be as close as we are now without our summers in that farm. So even though I did not have the opportunity to get to know him personally, I’m forever grateful to my grandpa for an interesting, fun-filled childhood that solidified a bond that my cousins, brother and I are carrying through adulthood.