It’s that time of the year when I help my grandfather reach out from the grave to make his presence felt once more. I forget most people’s birthdays, I forget even my own even on the day itself. But his is one birthday I don’t and can’t seem to forget.
Hello, Lolo, and happy 106th birthday, that is, if you were alive today. You had to grow old and die and leave me with not enough stuff to post. After this one, I only have one more piece that you have written long ago which I am saving for next year.
Check out his past “posts” here.
Below is something he wrote for his September 26, 2000 birthday.
Praise the Lord! Going on Ninety-Three
By Cornelio dela Rosa Sr.
Yes indeed! Let us rejoice and gladly welcome and warmly greet each other with “May the best of God be with you today!”
This is my first birthday in the new millennium. HURRAH! I made 92! I sense something glorious and joyous in the air that invigorates my whole being and digitalis-like, so perks up my rheumatic heart that like Eddie Cantor and Fred Astaire, I feel like dancing and “singing in the rain”.
Today I wish our computer wizards already had at their fingertips, the magic touch that would punch keys and once more let me hear the sweet, tender voice of my late elder sister Anching, singing the solemn and melodious “Ave Maria” of Francisco Santiago. Few people know that Anching was an accomplished lyric soprano. She studied voice under the then very popular and proficient Bel canto, Maestro Carrion.
Anyway, today on my 92nd birthday, to entertain you, I’m letting you in on my personal experiences, misadventures and blunders, coping against the vicissitudes of time including the Japanese occupation.
So, without further ado, I shall undrape the Botong Francisco mural of that panorama of pictures that we call “memory”. And with the music of Lucio San Pedro being played on the bamboo organ by a musing, youthful, bearded, unshod Franciscan monk, I shall ramdomly isolate vistas of events whose imprint and impact make me what I am today.
VISTA No. 1: The three R’s bannered our search for knowledge. In grade school, ‘Rithmetic proved to be my Blue Ribbon. If I told you today that my Grade 5 report card shows that in three separate monthly grading periods, I got 100 and in one period I got 99, you will only look askance at me and repress a smile breaking on your lips and shake your head.
Even my own flesh and blood, my children and grandchildren, were emphatic and unanimous in their disbelief. “Impossible! Not allowed!” they chorused.
Unfortunately for them, by a quirk of fate, among the very few mementos of my student life I have kept is that report card. The card is already brown with age but the digits 1, 0, 0 and 9 are still legible for them to read and believe. Shame on you, doubting Thomases!
VISTA No. 2: In contrast, ‘Riting proved to be my Achilles heel in high school. Our Physics teacher had just returned our quiz paper and I noticed that he marked wrong one answer, which I knew was correct. So I went to his table and showed him his error. After a few agonizing seconds, he blurted very loudly: “Cornelio, you will never be valedictorian with your handwriting.”
Was this not a curse, pure and simple, on a youth, his aspirations and dreams? From the teacher’s blast, the riddle will show that I was a candidate for top honors. In the parlance of San Lazaro and Santa Ana aficionados, I was the heavy FAVORITE. But like in those places, many a favorite loses. Want to know what the losing jockey says n apology to the horse owner? “Boss, binundol tayo sa rekta.” But in my case, I bowed out fair and square because two other classmates were more deserving of the top honors.
VISTA No. 3: As a boy, I wanted to be a doctor of medicine (Does not my handwriting qualify me?) But my family could not afford to send me to medical school and so, I took the next best thing, Civil Engineering and went to the University of the Philippines (UP) for the entrance exams. One week before enrollment, I went to the UP registrar to ask him if I passed. He looked at a long list in his hand but instead of answering me, he asked “Are you a valedictorian?” Then, he told me to go to the College of Engineering. Here I got the same treatment. The clerk in charge, after looking at the list he had, also asked me before answering me, “Are you a valedictorian?” Then he told me I passed. It was not until a few days later when the Philippine Herald published more than a full-page list of those who passed the UP entrance exams. With that I found out why they asked me if I was a valedictorian. My name was on top of the list and in the process, I bested all valedictorians of both public and private schools that took the test.
When I met some of my former teachers, they were unanimous in saying “We knew you should have been valedictorian.” Consuelo de bobos.
VISTA No. 4: True to my elder brother’s promise, the next day after graduation, I was on the job. They were rushing the completion of the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. I was assigned as Assistant Engineer in the construction of the track and field, and the football grandstand. The complex was completed in time for the Far Eastern Olympic Games. And I was able to see the games for free. I was witness when some members of the Japanese baseball team wept when our team beat them. See, at that time, we were the best in baseball in the Far East.
VISTA No. 5: I was then sent to Batangas for my next job. This was the first time I would be away from home. To be truthful, I was a mama’s boy, and I felt terribly homesick, especially when in the middle of the night, our night watchman would break into singing “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. He had a fine tenor voice. He looked funny in his outfit. He had on a bonnet with earmuffs to cover his ears, a thick woolen sweater and trousers to fight the cold evening habagat.
Every time I went home on Saturday afternoons, my niece Charito would meet me with “Ang itim ni Tio Nelling!” (“Uncle Nelling is so dark!”) Working under the sun on the seashore gives you this tan.
VISTA No. 6: Speaking of night watchmen, we had one in Zambales who swore he never slept a wink during his tour of duty. But the next morning, where would you see him? In front of some workers, unashamedly relating his salacious, erotic dreams the night before. I could not fire him because he was once our family’s houseboy.
VISTA No. 7: In the construction of the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) College of Medicine Building, we had a carpenter surnamed Paris. He really was ‘walang ka-paris’ (no equal). The pockmarks on his face were unusually deep and big. One time, while he was working, he failed to hit the nail on the head (perhaps forgetting the saying) and the nail ricocheted right into his eye.
I took him to the emergency room of the nearby hospital. On the way, he was bawling like a boy. “Mr. Dela Rosa, what will happen to me now? I am already ugly and I’m going to be blind! I’m sure my wife will abandon me!” Shakespeare came to mind and I said aloud, “Juliet, wherefore art thou?” Paris heard me and between sobs said “Hindi ho si Juliet and misis ko!” (Juliet is not my wife!) Fortunately, his eye healed and was soon on the job again. This time, he remembered the saying and hit the nail right on the head.
VISTA No. 8: In 1966, we joined Fishback and Moore for the construction of “Project Bamboo” in Concepcion, Tarlac. I was sent to Washington to represent our company in the bidding. The first thing I heard upon entering the San Francisco Airport terminal building was “Paging Engineer Dela Rosa! Please report to the Philipine Airlines counter!” And as I went over, a middle-aged couple came to meet me. The man was the Vice President of Fishback and Moore and before we could shake hands, he said to me: “I can always spot an engineer when I see one.”
The charming couple invited me to dine with them but I refused. I was afraid I might miss my next flight to Washington. I checked in at the Sheraton Park Hotel.
Even in the middle of the night, contractors would call me and make inquiries. At that time, there were no calculators yet so I had to do my computations by long hand and slide rule. The truth was, when I left for Washington, our bid was not yet complete. I had to complete it alone in Washington. Fortunately, we won the bidding. When the Fishback and Moore VP Glen Conley met our president, this was what he told me: “I liked Engineer Dela Rosa the first time I talked to him.”
One day during the construction, I was seated on my table solving the crossword puzzle of the Manila Bulletin (It was not yet time for work). A Mexican-American engineer named Mellado (I used to call him Mechado) approached my table and said to me, “Cornelius (that’s what the Americans call me), you are conceited!” Surprised, I asked him why. He replied, “why don’t you put it in pencil first?” You see, when I solve crossword problems, I use a ballpen.
After my trip to the US, I had an unspent balance of more than $1,500. And in the absence of our president, I turned over the amount to his son Vince who, upon receiving the amount exclaimed “Talagang honest ka!”
VISTA No. 9: After the liberation of our country from Japan, I worked as Price Control Investigator for the Provost Marshall of the American Army. We would make arrests but to our surprise when we reported in the afternoon, I found that some of my arrests were not listed. And you know why? Because even at that time there were already “lagays”(briberies). One time on Villalobos Street, I went inside a store and before I could say anything, the owner wept and said, “please pity me! Many of your companions have already been here.” He was kneeling, offering me something but I refused and left him right away. Afterwards, however, whenever I pass by his tore, ne never recognized me and completely ignored me.
VISTA No. 10: It was Japanese time, the name given by the people to the Japanese occupation years. The Japanese authorities were conducting surprise visits in all the houses in search of guerrillas. They come any time of the day. One day, at lunchtime, I was feeding my daughter Nina, who was then barely a year old. Because she was so young, we gave her the luxury of eating rice. The rest of us ate boiled corn and/or kamoteng kahoy. Suddenly, two Japanese soldiers barged in and made a thorough inspection of our place. When they were through and about to leave, one of the soldiers came back, took Nina’s plate from my hands and ate Nina’s lunch. Who can ever forgive and forget such a cruel act?
VISTA No. 11: When retired Manila Executive Judge RTC Judge Rosalio Dela Rosa (Aling) was a 6th grader, I took him with me to Kulasi, Capiz. We were then constructing a marginal wharf. One early morning, before breakfast, Aling asked permission to go to the hillside, about a hundred meters from our place, to answer the first morning call of nature. After a short time, Aling came back, all pale, panting and gasping and blabbering: “Du-du-du-wen-de! Du-du-du-wen-de! (Elf/Dwarf).
After we calmed him down, he related that while he was squatting, some ten duwendes appeared, dancing and prancing around a big tree. So scared he was, he ran home for dear life. The people in the area believed Aling and so did we. You know what Capiz is noted for. I wish Aling’s duwende friends were celebrating with us.
Aling, tell them to make me win in the coming lotto draw!