Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Hello, I'm reprinting this - enjoy!

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
(part of my collection of essays, OUT OF CEBU, available from Kindle, Nook and from the University of San Carlos Press)

I have always been prone to daydreaming, traits which sometimes got me into trouble. “Pay attention, Cecilia!” the nuns used to tell me. The upside to the daydreaming is that the active fantasy world led to storytelling, which led me into writing. 

But let me trace my beginnings to see where this daydreaming came from.

I was born and raised in the island of Cebu where my mother’s people came from. My father and his people came from another part of the Philippines – the North, Laguna specifically, where people spoke another dialect and ate meat and vegetable dishes with strong flavors. Laguna used to fascinate me for the simple fact that my father was born and raised there. Otherwise, it looked like any other provincial town, with a city hall, old church, and Spanish colonial stone and wood houses. I never lived there and only heard secondhand stories about my father’s family, about how, for instance, they had owned huge tracks of land which my grandfather gambled away. Laguna was a kind of mythic place which I didn’t really know.

It is Cebu I know. The very first breath I took was in Cebu. My first words were those spoken by Cebuanos. Even though I’d gone on to live in other places in the world, it is as if I carry a part of it within me always and likewise I feel as if Cebu has a place for me always.

My mother was in the nearby island of Opon for the fiesta of the Birhen sa Regla (Virgin of the Rule), patroness of the place, when her birth pains came. This was in 1947, two and a half years after Liberation. She had to catch the ferry to hurry to St. Anthony’s Maternity Clinic in Cebu City. It was Doctora Ramona Fernandez who assisted her. She had to be summoned when the waves of pain came in the early morning. On November 21, at 8:30 a.m. I was born, the fifth child of my mother, although one had died during wartime and so I grew up with three siblings. I was a large baby, almost 10 lbs, but with beriberi, a disease caused by thiamine deficiency and characterized by edema, weakness, irritability, and more serious problems such as heart problems. My mother suffered from lingering effects of World War II when she carried me in her womb. She was malnourished, which meant I too was malnourished. The lack of Vitamin B1 caused the beri-beri and I almost died. 

My mother turned to the Santo Niño de Cebu, the Child Jesus patron of Cebu, famous for being miraculous. She danced her prayers just like the women you can still see shuffling their prayer-dances in front of the old stone church that houses the beloved Child Jesus. For the rest of her life, my mother always reminded me of my debt to the Santo Niño. “You owe your life to him,” she said, as she dragged us to hear Mass in the Santo Niño church. There I watched women dance their prayers and walk on their knees down the center aisle, and I smelled incense and burning candles, and looked in awe at the small-sized Niño clothed in red robes, while waiting for the interminable Mass to end. I continue to make it a point to visit the Santo Niño when I’m in Cebu.

 Back in 1947 - from the clinic, I was brought to the house my family lived in, in Talisay. It was a temporary dwelling, a place my parents and their three children stayed in after the war ended. When they first got married, my parents lived in Manila but when World War II broke out, they evacuated to Mindanao, traveling by outrigger boats, with their two young children and some servants. My father joined the guerrilla movement in Mindanao, and there they had to move and hide from the Japanese soldiers. It was there where my mother gave birth to her third child behind some bushes with a Japanese patrol walking nearby; it was there where she lost her fourth child, a boy, whom we never discussed but who had taught my mother about the fragility of babies and life in general. The beri-beri had frightened her and when I was a girl she made sure I got my Vi-Dalin vitamins daily, and I had to drink milk every morning with breakfast. In the evening she made me take one raw egg – the whole slimy thing. She was constantly prodding me to eat, giving me choice morsels from the dining table, chicken gizzard and liver for instance. I recall a supper episode when I had to eat some dreaded vegetables, and finally to silence my mother I pretended to chew the veggies, only to secretly spit them into my hands and give them to one of our Police dogs.

That first house in Talisay belonged to my mother’s brother. The house was made of wood, on stilts, like a big nipa hut. It was situated near the sea and so early on I slept and awoke to the sound of waves lapping the shore and to fishermen shouting as they beached their outriggers. I was used to taking in the sea breeze and to having salt on my skin and in my hair. I was carried through coconut groves to the sandy beaches where I wondered at all the living things scampering on the gray sand, and where barefoot women sold fried bananas skewered together, and dripping with caramelized sugar. I ate rice, fish, pork, chicken, seaweed, mallungay, sweets made from coconut and sugarcane, and other simple straightforward foods still eaten by Cebuanos. Even now I will hanker for inununan, fish cooked in vinegar with crushed garlic, salt, and pepper.

My father worked as a District Engineer. He had done other things before the war but I’d only heard bits and pieces that he’d been to Thailand, that he’d worked for some bureau, and that he’d even worked in Indiana where he’d gone to engineering school. By the time I was born, he has 59 and had already led a full life. But I think that the more memorable things that my father did was teaching at the engineering department of the University of the Philippines, fighting as a guerrillero during World War II, and constructing roads and buildings, many of them still existing. I do not think I picked up my daydreaming from him because he was a very logical, methodical person. 

I am not sure I got it from my mother either, who had a keen business mind, although she was more helter-skelter than my father. My mother said she was malnourished when she was carrying me within her because she would sometimes forget to eat. She and her lifelong friend, Mercedes Rodriguez, had a buy-and-sell business, and they sold things like army surplus goods and fire wood, and just about anything they could get their hands on. Later on, they went on occasional trips to Hong Kong to shop for merchandise to sell. All her life,my mother was busy with her business ventures. I’m sure that in Talisay, we children were left in the care of servants. My sisters talk of how my mother’s sisters looked down on us children because we smelled of fish or were not dressed nicely. This was possible since my mother came from a political family with some pretensions, and the kind of down-home style of living we had in Talisay was probably too “country” for my aunts who carried some ancient sibling rivalry with my mother. My mother’s sisters also questioned why my siblings attended the local public school instead of a private convent school. And why were we living in a glorified nipa hut as if it were still wartime and we were in the hinterlands of Mindanao?

It was probably my father, with his logical, methodical mind who decided we had to move to better quarters sooner or later. The event that may have precipitated our departure from the place was the horrific typhoon that blew into Cebu. The heavy rains caused waist-high floods and the violent sea rose and roiled up the local cemetery so that corpses floated about on the flooded streets. There were stories, which I can picture in my head as if they were my own experiences, of my siblings swimming through flooded streets to get home from school. Shortly after this, my parents finally talked about building their home in the city.

My mother’s brother helped my parents acquire the land in Cebu City, where they finally built our home, across some corn fields, near a river and the foothills, an area that was sparsely populated and remote. My father drew the plans and hired workers to construct the house. It was a Spanish-style house, with balconies, marble floors and crystal chandeliers. The surrounding grounds were spacious and my mother did most of the landscaping – fruit trees mostly – jack fruit, star apple, guava - flowering shrubs and low flowering plants. There was a teeter-totter and canopied swings so that even grownups could sit on the swings in the late afternoon to enjoy the cool breeze and supervise the gardener as he swept dry leaves and branches and burned them. We believed the smoke drove away mosquitoes and other insects. There was the main house with the kitchen, living room, dining room, bedrooms, bathrooms, veranda and balconies. There was another structure for the servants and for the cooking on the open hearth. There was a water tank and way in the back of the property was a garage, storage building, a place that I rarely visited because rats and monitor lizards lived in there, and more importantly, the nearby jack fruit tree had an agta, an enchanted black giant living in it. Needless to say there were endless stories about the agta, how the servants, even my brother had seen him one night when the moon was full. There were some other creepy happenings in our house: a maid became possessed and had to be exorcised by the Redemptorist priests; on Lent strange happenings would occur and all credited to the encantados that lurked around the area.

 Indeed living in that house stimulated my daydreaming abilities because there were endless supernatural stories, as well as down-to-earth stories like love affairs and out-of-wedlock pregnancies. The radio soap operas in the early evening were also good primers in make-believe, because most evenings the servants listened to the convoluted plots dealing with love, revenge, and other deep human passions, all interlaced with conflict. I would sit and listen with them, in the outside kitchen with the open hearth, where I watched live chickens being decapitated for that night’s supper.

After a few years, the trees my mother had planted grew tall. I loved to climb the tall star apple trees with slender branches. There I indulged in fantasies about enchanted forests and magical giant pearls found in the heart of a banana fruit – the mutya. Sometimes I would get utterly lost in my dream world and would miss the call for lunch. Grumbling, my sister would have to threaten me in order for me to come down from those beloved trees.

When I was four my mother enrolled me in St. Theresa’s College. This ended the unhindered daydreaming I had in that house. My life became more regimented: up at 6 a.m., shower, don on the starched blue-and-white uniform, eat breakfast, leave for school by 7:15; first class at 8 a.m. I learned about rules and homework and sitting still with my hands folded together. This was the time I started to get scolded for daydreaming, that is for “not paying attention.” However the nuns did allow daydreaming when it came to theatrical plays and theme writing, which I loved. But I would say this was the time when I learned about discipline more than daydreaming.

All for now,

Read also
Post War Cebu Life - More Memorabilia photos
Where Have all the Young Men Gone - Memorabilia photos 
The Bachelors and Femina Days of Cebu - Memorabilia photos
Old Photographs and Memories 
The Schools I attended, Part 1, St.Theresa's College
The Schools I attended, Part 2, UP & Maryknoll
The Schools I attended, Part 3, UCLA

Saying Goodbye to Papa
Death of a Carnival Queen

An Interview by Luis Diores -  "Cecilia Manguerra Brainard -Fiction is Organic to Me"

tags: Philippines, Cebu, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, literature, writer, author, Out of Cebu, Sugbo, novelist, fiction writer, Filipina, Filipino, Cuenco

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