GROWING UP IN BAGUIO

I remember albeit vaguely the densely thick forest that was Navy Base. I was three years old when my father accepted assignment at PMA, the country's premier military school. He was assigned a quarters at Navy Base at Polo Field. Two families could occupy a quonset hut whose length is split in the middle so that one hut becomes two cottages.

I remembered the cold mornings when fog settled down on trees, water dripping from its needles. You have to wait for the sun to rise and dry up the grass and the pine needles so you could play. I remembered crawling on the grass and hiding behind pine trees playing cowboys and Indians with neighbors. And then there were the outdoor parties whenever a neighbor or a sibling celebrates a birthday or a christening. I was about 6 years old when we transferred to Fort Del Pilar.

At first we stayed in a 2 bedroom quarters at the RFC Housing Area. The living quarters improved as my father rose in rank. By then it was time to go to school. We had to wake up at 5 in the morning since the buses that will shuttle us to school leaves at 6:30 A.M. There were always two buses for us. From the housing area, it will go down passing the row of houses going towards the main building picking up school kids along the way. It turns at the pike and on towards town. The bus delivers the students to St. Theresa's College first and then drops us off at General Luna Road in front of the St. Louis Compound.

All of us PMA dependents troop to school and line up with the rows of kids at the center as the bell rings. At noontime, we go to Villa Alto, my granduncle's summer residence (now UB House) for lunch. Then we wait for the school bus to pick us up at 5:00 in the afternoon at the same place. For ten years until I graduated from high school, this was the regimen for all of us who resided at Fort Del Pilar.

When we arrived home at 5:30 p.m. the bags were thrown in and a hasty snack gobbled down so there would still be some time to play outside before it gets dark. Then depending on who calls the show, it would be a game of "patintero" or hide & seek or a war game. I never liked playing the Japanese as I always lose. At times a prank is pulled on the seeker who will keep on looking for playmates when everybody had gone home for the night. Then this guy will be the butt of the joke on the bus going to school the next day.

Weekends would be fun. We always looked forward to the weekends when we can plan either to explore every nook and cranny of the camp or go to the gym and play ball and dip in the swimming pool even when the water is icy cold. The back of the RFC housing area that leads all the way down to Loakan was a favorite haunt for bird hunting and picking guavas. We would fashion slingshots out of guava branches and tire rubber. If tire rubber is not available then the rubber from old telephone wires bunched together to form a sturdy sling. We used marbles for bullets whenever these are available. If not pebbles picked along the roadside would do.

We go down mid morning and come back at about 3 or 4 in the afternoon with a sack full of guavas and a tummy ache from eating too many guavas along the way. Sometimes we catch an unlucky bird or two which will be the center piece in a bonfire that evening to go with charcoal broiled sweet potatoes dug out of somebody's garden. One thrilling moment is when we go ride on sleds. The slope of Signal Hill was fashioned into a course that would be suitable for sled riding; this meant no trees that will form obstacles. Cogon bushes are cut leaving the tall grasses. The sleds will flatten the grass which would serve as matting and which will give the sleds a smooth ride all the way down until stopped by a buffer of soil.

Our sleds were constructed of wood with manila rope or any rope for that matter to serve as reins. The base of the sled is rubbed with wax. This provided a breath-taking 50 meter slide at the hill's slope which fortunately did not result in fatal accidents except for one time when somebody's knee was cut wide open with a broken glass when he landed at the buffer zone. We wouldn't mind hauling that sled up the incline over and over again just to feel the exhilarating ride down.

During Saturday nights, there will be the movie at Melchor Hall. So we got to see movie classics like High Noon, Gun Fight at the OK Corral, Casablanca, Rogers & Hammerstein musicals and a lot more with the small projector that will sometimes conk out in the middle of the show. You have to go look for the operator somewhere in the building as he left it running. After the show, we walk home in the dark anticipating some ghost to appear along the way, your imagination working overtime as ghost stories are related while walking to scare the girls.

Sundays will be a busy day when I go to the chapel early to serve as acolyte for the first service. Then quick trip to Camp Allen with the Chaplain for another service. And then there were the special events. There was PMA's Foundation Day in February where we tag along with our parents who join their classmates in the traditional alumni picnic. There was March Week, graduation week at PMA when we wait for the graduating class to throw their caps in the air so we could go for them. And then the dunking at the sundial where we excitedly watch new graduates being thrown in the shallow pond.

There were the numerous Christmas programs every season when we anticipate what we would be getting as gifts. The 100th night show where we laugh and enjoy the extravaganza produced by the cadets. And last but not least, the regular outing to the beach when the Corps of Professors would plan a get together. It would be Poro Point one time or San Fabian the next or any of the resorts along Bauang, La Union.

Time flew quickly. Before I knew it I was already graduating from high school. My father was retiring from the service and we were saying good bye to PMA. But through the years we never really left her. Ever so often we would visit and play at the camp facilities. My parents went back to teach as civilian instructors. They were given the privilege of staying inside camp so it was back to PMA for us. While I stayed in town with my wife and kids, it was always Fort Del Pilar during weekends. So my children came to love the place to. I showed them my haunts and told them stories about my growing up days at Loakan. Those indeed were fun filled days. I would always treasure the memories of those days growing up.

P.Q.B. March 15, 1999
matapat@yahoo.com


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