Sunday, February 11, 2007

knowrish (know/cherish) pt.1

Reading came easy to me; i had lots of help. There's Lola, who, although she finished elementary, was a school teacher in the second decade of the 1900s. Then there were my two aunts, Evangeline and Evelyn, who finished college and eventually became teachers like Lola. And of course, Mama, who gave up high school for her three younger sisters.

At Lola's home, there was always something i could pick up to browse through and read: textbooks, classic novels, newspapers, magazines, Reader's Digests. Aunts Evangeline and Evelyn were bookworms who always seemed to be reading at all hours except when entertaining friends by playing 78/45 rpms and long playing records on the Victrola phonograph and singing along or dancing to the tunes of Cliff Richard, Pat Boone, Patty Page, Sylvia Latorre, Diomedes Maturan.

I remember learning to read at age 3.
Lola subscribed yearly to Reader's Digest and when the monthly issue was delivered by the postman, she would call me to sit by her side. She would point out to me the words she was reading. My aunts would do the same when their turns came to read it. (Years later, she would give me a Reader's Digest book on health and medicine for my high school graduation. She knew I wanted to become a medical doctor.)

While reading, I would often run to Lola, Aunt Evangeline or Evelyn, or Mama to find out what a word means as I was too young to consult the voluminous dictionary in Lola's home. Remember, I was reading adult reading fare, not children's books.

In downtown Pioneer Avenue, my playmates and I had a good laugh when one girl read the sign: ICE CREAM FOR SALE as e-see creeyam for sa-le. Upon hearing sa-le, we pointed to a playmate named Sally and she would blush a deep red.

I don't remember my playmates and I reading any children's books before starting school. But we had an abundance of English comics - Classics Illustrated, Disney, Action, and DC. We would pore over these comics under the shade of dapdap (fire) trees lining Pioneer Avenue, or on the staircase leading to the Dentist's clinic, or in the cozy bahay kubo (nipa hut) playhouse of the Odal sisters.

I was always a pest whenever I see someone reading or writing. I was curious what they were reading or writing about. I developed the ability to read
words upside down from eavesdropping on an aunt while she wrote letters or took notes of lessons for her classes. I would lean forward in front of her writing on a small desk until our heads bang each other. When I see someone reading the papers I would try to figure out the words they're reading, not by reading over his/her shoulder but by looking at the words as they showed through the page held against the light. (Later in life, a co-teacher, while reading his mail by the faculty room window, was amazed as I recited the entire letter while he was facing me. He jokingly accused me of opening his mail and memorizing its contents before I gave it to him.) The only person immuned to this annoying habit of mine was Papa and simply because he read Chinese papers and magazines.

Papa regaled us with how he learned to read and write. He only finished Grade One because his parents were so poor to send them to school. As a teenager, he left the Visayas and stowed away in a Compania Maritima ship bound for Manila. Later, he found work in a Carriedo grocery owned by a Chinese businessman who hired him on the spot upon learning that he was part-Chinese. The boss taught him how to read in Fookien and write in Chinese characters. His co-workers taught him the ABCs/Abakada using the brands found on labels of the grocery items they sold. When it came time for them to teach him the letter C, they showed him a Coca Cola bottle and told him to copy the capital C with a long tail (Coke calls this the dynamic ribbon, I think) on it.

At our sari sari (mixed merchandise) store which was named after me because I was then the only child when it was put up, we would wrap the purchased goods with old newspapers. Mama used to scold me for taking a long time wrapping up the customer's purchases specially when there was some interesting old news item that caught my attention. So to avoid this, during lull periods in the store, I would sit down on my small rattan chair and go through the bundles of newspapers. When we started using brown paper bags, the bundles eventually dwindled and I had to content myself by reading the labels of the goods on display.