Growing up in Cawayanon was different. There were only a few families, about 30 in all. We went to a different school and played with just a few kids. Many of them were American, hence our spoken language was English. Sometimes, we would be introduced to some teachers from OLLES (Mr. Vismanos, the Scouting Teacher; Mrs. Tavera, the piano teacher) and were encouraged to play with the children. But that was only sometimes. Most of the time, we just stayed in the Compound, and invented our own games.
We had Slip-n-Slide (after or during a heavy downpour, puddles in the grass would form and if you ran fast enough you could slide on the slippery grass), Annie-I-Over (two teams positioned on both sides of the school building, one team would throw a tennis ball over the building and had to chase the other team to catch the one member who caught it), Kickball (the foot version of baseball, complete with bases and a soccer ball), Scottie (the Cawayanonized version of Tag). During P.E. class, we learned Patintero and Piko (the square version of Hopscotch), which quickly caught on and became popular recess games as well. And because recess was only 30 minutes short, we would “continue” our unfinished games later during lunch period or after class. Somehow even without the aid of photos, everyone seemed to remember where they were standing when the bell rang.
In the Compound, “outside” meant outside the house. We knew not of the goings-on in other places, though we would venture out every Saturday afternoon to go to mass in the Fabia Chapel (now the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel) or we would go on the occasional road trip (it was that far then) to Cagayan for some shopping. Otherwise, going fishing at the lake, spending some quality time with friends playing Marco Polo or Shark at the pool, or just walking around was enough to fill the hours.
We had our share of parties. For the whole year, there were many occasions to look forward to. Easter, Independence Day (June 12), Fil-Am Day (July 4), Halloween (October 31) and Christmas Eve (December 24) were much-awaited holidays for us kids. Valentine’s Night and New Year’s Eve were strictly for adults only. Birthday parties were held in school, with the child’s mother coming over with an entourage of yayas bearing the coveted birthday cake and goodies. The whole school would come out to celebrate with you, too. Were classes cancelled? It would seem so.
Movie Night was something else, too. The films (often shows that had not yet launched in the Philippines) were so generously lent by the Weather Station officers. Wednesday was a school night, so R-18 movies or higher were shown. Friday was for everyone (G) and Sunday was mixed (kids were sent home before the second movie started), because after all, the next day was also a school day. Movies were shown at the Bowling Alley, which was really a Bowling Alley during the day. There was also Bowling Night (every Monday) started by a few families and joined by others who wanted to develop their bowling skills or just enjoy the camaraderie.
It was common practice for American families to hold garage sales when they “left” (transferred out). I remember we acquired two bicycles from the Martins. I learned to ride on them, fall off of them, race on them. Those bikes survived some 10 more years of childhood escapades before they finally were laid to rest, coincidentally, after my dad’s retirement in 1987. I guess they, too, realized their purpose in this world was done. If only they could talk, what stories they could have told.
The day I entered high school in the big city, I realized what a sheltered life I had led. The school had a total of 900+ students as compared to the 20-student total population I had just left behind in Del Monte School. There had only been two of us in my class (I was 2nd Honor!), while I was suddenly lost in my freshman section of 30. Suddenly I was nobody, just one face among many, striving for good grades. Eventually, I learned to live with having many people around me (millions, because I lived in Manila for 10 years). There were days when I needed them but most of the time, I was happy with just my handful of close friends.
And yet, looking back on it all, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I am fortunate that my parents decided to settle in Damilag, a mere stone’s throw away from the pineapple plantation and 20-minutes drive from Cawayanon. None of us (5 kids in my family) followed in my dad’s career in Del Monte, but it warms my heart to know that though people have come and gone, the standards have not changed, and it is an honor to be serving the company, even if indirectly and from the outside.
My dad, Reynaldo Cuerdo, Sr. (b.1930-d.1995), was the General Manager of Liberty Flour Mills when he met Mr. Luisito Lorenzo, Sr. (then Plantation Manager of PPC) and was presented an offer (to transfer to Bukidnon) he couldn’t refuse in 1963. A year later, Rey brought his small family (wife, Vacion and two children, Boy and Nene) to live in Camp Phillips. With their meager belongings – just two large boxes worth, according to my mom – they settled into camp-life in house #_, in front of the Labor Union building, and then were later transferred to house #_, beside the church. Vacion was a high school teacher but because there was no public high school nearby, she accepted the post of Home Economics Teacher for Grades V and VI at the Plantation Elementary School. She taught there from 1964-1972. In that time, two more children were born (Tingting and Joey) while the youngest, yours truly, was conceived just before their transfer to Cawayanon.