I was blessed to have grown up in a house with a large yard, with lots of space for kids and pets to run around. We had two big dogs, and a chicken coop that housed my pet rooster, Charlie, and his tiny harem: a little white hen and a little black hen. We also had many fruit trees, including a guava tree under which I used to love spending many hours reading in a hammock.
My grandfather’s wartime childhood was not quite so serene, but he did get to roam the great outdoors with relative freedom, and with the security and companionship of an extended family, there were even some moments of fun and hilarity.
Life up in the mountains of Mampurog, Camarines Norte was rather peaceful when the enemy soldiers were not in the neighborhood. Not having any lawyering to do, my Father kept us fed and clothed by getting into activities even he didn’t know he could engage in, during happier days before the war. I remember he invested in a cartful of bananas and, carabao-powered, we went to Daet (quite some distance from our mountain home) one early morning, arriving in Daet almost noon and sold our bananas to vendors in the public market.
I also remember one such trip when, after selling our bananas, my Father met up with friends and they had a drinking binge. My Father and his pals were so drunk they literally were running around the house where they were having their party and jumping out of the windows. He was stone drunk on our trip back to the mountains. My Mother and I had to carry him up from the cart to his room. I guess it was one way he could distract himself and forget for the moment there was a war going on.
Also, we raised our own chickens, even tried sorting out from the chicks possible fighting cocks. My Grandfather bred a pair he believed were champion fighting cocks and promptly bet on them. I remember eating our fallen cock champions for dinner many times. (Now you know why I like Church’s fried chicken so much, eh?)
But our mountain sojourn had to end. When we heard that it was relatively safe to return, we left our mountain digs and resettled back in Daet. It was back to normal for a while, but it did not last. The guerillas decided to take on the Japanese contingency occupying Daet, and attacked the town mid-morning. I recall being with my Mom in the kitchen of our house, when all hell broke loose! We heard shots, and a bullet actually missed my Mom by the tiniest margin. She was frying something and a bullet hit the front of the stove, about a meter from where she was standing.
We were then living in a house right beside the town cinehan [movie theatre]. My Father bundled us all into the cinehan where he thought it would be safer. We stayed there all huddled up together until we saw a band of guerillas enter the place, and guess who was at the lead? My Grandfather with a bolo unsheathed in his right hand up in the air. If it weren’t for the tension, we would all have burst out laughing!
When the guerillas left, and a bit of calm followed, my Father decided that it was better to leave Daet and go to Manila.
Thus ended my stay in Daet, where I was born. The next time I returned was after the war, long after, with my own family.