(This memoir is from the notes of my father, Dr. Faustino C. Francia, which he started in 1983. He handwrote this in one of his old planners, along with illustrations. He has always been a good writer. His drawings weren’t bad either. He passed away at the age of 80 in 2007.)
The early years
It was on the 15th of February, 1927, on a Tuesday evening when I was born in a small nipa hut in Samon, just along the road to Aliaga from Cabanatuan, in Nueva Ecija. It was a hilot who attended to me just as it was also a hilot who attended to the birth of my younger sisters Concha and Adela in nearby Sangitan.
Perhaps present too during the delivery of Inang was Nana Idad, the wife of Tata Pape and Insong Kurit (Maria), wife of Dikong Pedro. Since it was February, it was the beginning of the dry season when the trees around, especially the mango and the camachile, were beginning to bloom.
During the rainy season from May to October were many typhoons. It was during this period that one day there was a flood. Inang, Ateng, and Pascual and whoever was in our house had to move to higher ground, maybe to the national road, to escape the rising water of the Great Pampanga River. It was then that our house – a nipa hut – was swept away. Tatay arrived just then from Bongabon in a big raft and after some preparation, perhaps riding a carretela, took us to relatives in Bantug, Cabanatuan. He was, until his death in 1940, a foreman with the Bureau of Public Highways.
It was during this time that our house in Sangitan was built.
Ateng Nene, as we called our eldest sister Natalia, used to tell us that our house was just a nipa hut surrounded by some camachile trees. I could recall that most of the nipa huts in Samon had the same appearance.
Houses were in groups of two or three and were distantly apart, separated by long uninhabited farms grown to tomatoes, corn, eggplants, peanuts, sincamas, upo, and patola.
Ateng said she and her young friends used to roam around and gather pasinoria, a vine whose fruit is red when ripe but rarely sweet, often very sour.
Maybe our house in Sangitan was already habitable and inhabited by us. There was no such thing as “housewarming.” We had no electricity and no water pipe connection. Yet we had a fancy-looking kerosene lamp with a chain that could be pulled down and raised up. It would have been a very good collector’s item now.
I think it was around 1937 or so that we got connected to an electric line. We got connected to a water line sometimes perhaps in 1935.
I remember being taken to an artesian well (with continuous flow of water) and there given a bath. Oftentimes we were given a bath in our batalan. A man usually fetched water for us and filled at least two tapayan jars for our daily water needs.
When I could already walk, maybe at age 2 or 3 years old, Inang usually took me along to the market. Maybe this gave me the habit of accompanying her to the market. I would cry a lot and stamp my foot and sometimes bang my head whenever she refused to take me along.
As a young boy, my parents often remarked, as did my relatives and friends, that I was always walang kibo, the silent type.
I was also always assigned to clean the house – mopping, scrubbing, and at times, waxing the floor. Nana Idad who was observed that I was particularly meticulous in sweeping away dirt and cleaning my immediate surroundings, remarked that my future wife had better be neat and tidy.
All my cousins and uncles, especially the brothers of Tatang, often remarked that I resembled Tatang the most.
As a kid, I used to quarrel with boys my age who were cocky or mayabang. My sidekick was my younger brother Fabian.
Some of the boys we beat up would hesitate to pass by our house for fear that they would be beaten up again.
Until now, I hate associating with people who are cocky or mayabang. na wala naming sinabi.
I had a weakness for retrieving and keeping usable things, even those which had been thrown away, which on mending can still be used, for as long as I could possibly keep these, thereby saving a few pesos.
Though I am not avid or compulsive buyer, there were times I did buy things on impulse and later regretted because the things I had bought had become obsolete, for example, tape recorders, movie camera, movie projector, etc.
As a kid, I enjoyed participating, along with my younger brother Fabian, in the game of pabitin held by the host of a particular portion of the Santacruzan during the month of May or in some other fiesta.
I also remember times when Fabian and I would go caroling during the Christmas season or during All Souls’ Day. Many times our caroling were in vain for the homeowner would not bother to listen to us and we would leave empty-handed. Siguro sintunado ang boses namin!
But Fabian could sing very well. He used to perform and sing solo during their class programs in elementary school. I still remember his favorite song – “My Own.”
It was perhaps during my first grade or second grade that I became very much fascinated with a majorette of a marching band. I tried making a baton using the very sharp bolo of Tatang in cutting a length of bamboo while trying to cut out its nodes. The bolo slipped and the sharp blade hit my right knee. The wound was big and I cried a lot.
“Iyon ang napala ko sa hindi pag-iingat.” I was sick for several weeks and could not walk. Again, it was Ateng who accompanied me to school when I was well enough.
To this day, there is a scar of that memorable event on my right knee.
It’s very funny what I did as a Boy Scout many years ago. Our Scoutmaster, Mr. Ricardo Matias, scheduled a trip (maybe a Scout Jamboree for Nueva Ecija Boy Scouts) to Camp Four at the Pantabangan Dam north of San Jose, Nueva Ecija. I asked Inang if I could join the trip but she said she had no money. As I was eager to join, perhaps it being my first trip out of Cabanatuan, I asked my sister-in-law, Insong Barang if she had some money she could lend me to join the trip. She obliged! She gave me a peso or two. Remember how many things a peso could buy then?
Food was the first item that entered my mind as a necessity for the trip. From a well-known panciteria, I ordered several bags of cooked pancit to last me as food for the duration of the scout Jamboree which was maybe three days.
We rode a cargo truck and the trip lasted half a day to reach Camp Four.
That night, the Scout Master, while readying to prepare our dinner, asked us what we brought along for food. He was really surprised and maybe elated that I had brought enough pancit, and cooked at that, for the entire troop. We feasted on pancit that night while at the same time saving me the great embarrassment of eating spoiled pancit the next morning or not having anything to eat!
I guess that’s one event which went contrary to the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared Always”.
There were many camping skills contest we participated in. I joined the building a fire by igniting a piece of bamboo – which I lost because I ran out of time.
During the succeeding years, I failed to join the Boy Scout movement due to financial difficulty.
There were many things I learned during my elementary years.
Among them were:
- Carpentry work and use of saw, hammer, chisel, coping saw, etc
- Basic drawing
And of course I learned the lessons taught us in reading, writing, music, arithmetic, geography, civics, character and conduct, phonics, etc.
I remember doing errands for Inang and Ateng many many times. With a centavo, one could buy a piece of bread or a banana, a rice cake, or candy. With two centavos, one could buy an egg.
A laborer earned about a peso a day. One ganta of rice equivalent to maybe a kilo cost Php 0.20. A calesa ride cost 5 centavos. The exchange rate then was two pesos to one US dollar.
(to be continued)