April 18, 2024

After attending Sunday mass, we all trudge back to my uncle Fidel’s house for a late breakfast of “sinangag”, “longganisa” and scrambled eggs mixed with “lazona” and green tomatoes, which we all wash down with fresh coconut milk, but not before a hot mug of Ilocano cocoa.
In the meantime, the househelp, as per my uncle’s instructions, load our luggage and other belongings inside his station wagon, and later drive us to my auntie Baken’s place, two kilometers away from the town proper.

My lola’s house is a two-story structure made mostly of bamboo and some wood but fitted with amenities to make barrio life a bit more bearable.
It has a tin roof thatched with thick cogon grass to keep the rain from seeping through, and also ward off the heat of the scorching daylight sun.
There are two ceiling fans in the two guest rooms, electric fans in the other five rooms.
Also, a toilet and bath on the ground floor with shiny colored tiles, a large basin with movable faucet and a shower with a bagwan heater.
Like most houses in Barrio Pantar, it had a cubicle bathroom at the backyard – but less classy – a toilet that needed to be flushed with a pail of water, a sink with faucet, but no shower.
Buhos tabo, as they say.

My lola is at her front door to welcome us when we arrive, and my mom rushes to her side to hug and kiss her hand.
Everybody follows suit, and she whispers, “Kasyan na kayo ni Apo Diyos,” to each of us.
“I trust,” she queries, “you will be staying here for some days, or at least until my birthday this coming Wednesday.”
“Until the next weekend, Nanang,” my dad says to his mother-in-law, “We love it here.”
“By the way, how old will you be on your forthcoming birthday?”
My lola stifles a laugh. “I have no idea,” she quips. “All I know is that I was born on a certain day on a certain month.”
“80, 90, a hundred, take your pick.”
The girls arrive in time for lunch and when they bend to kiss the old woman, she looks at them in a puzzled way, “Are my beautiful nieces smoking?”
“They drink, too, lola,” I add but I like them the way they are.
“All right, fine, but not in my presence,” warns my lola.

After an afternoon’s rest, my uncle Juanchito, who lives with my lola being single then, calls us to dinner.
Dinengdeng, fried fish, native chicken tinola with sili leaves that gives the broth a flavor like no other.
My dad is not pleased. No steaks, no chops unlike my uncle Fidel who indulged his Ibaloy appetite.
But he still eats most of the tinola, and gets a furtive pinch from my mom.

The next morning, my brothers and I take our baths at a nearby well, yelping and leaping with every splash of cold water from the well, hauled up in a wooden bucket.
My dad, who is a kid at heart, feels left out from the fun, and comes out clad only in his “cansunsillo.”
“My mom is livid. “Get back here this instance,” she screams at her husband, “You are too old for childish antics.”
My dad does an about face, and barefoot, smartly marches to where my mom is. He executes a snappy salute, and quickly disappears inside the house.
My mom bends over with laughter.

Is uncle Pete henpecked, my cousins want to know. I lie.
No, I tell them, he is not. He was a military officer during the war, and is quite used to taking orders from his superiors, and in my family, my mom is the commander-in-chief.
(Next week – the final episode to my Balaoan sojourn. Still, why the American people are hopelessly divided.)

A dear old friend, also a benefactor, crutch, and lifesaver in the vice that we both share, Arthur Black – Black to one and all has gone on to the big cockpit in the sky, where rules are fair and even, not tilted in favor of the house.
All debts are paid in full in heaven. Black and all the “balasubas” are in hell. A few are still around.