A Life Story ... mine
Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year
for the State of Wisconsin
deathbed, mother was still hoping to make it, planning on doing countless things upon “regaining” her health. Her love
for life was truly remarkable.
I love you, Mommy. This is for you.
The House on Cailles Street
1 – Coming ‘Home’
The cool breeze from Santa Cruz River gently touched my face as I entered the now dilapidated and empty house along
Cailles Street where my childhood began. I never thought I would pass this way again since I left for the U.S. years ago,
but my high school reunion here in the Philippines made it happen. It was more than four decades ago since I stepped
out of this door that was originally made of brown-painted yakal wood. Only the skeleton of the jambs remained,
however, for termites had obviously invaded the neglected place. The cemented parts, which kept together hollow
blocks for sidings, still formed the house’s basic shape, but the glass windows and the decorative iron grills on top of
them were all gone. The ten-step stairs to the second floor on the left were still there, or most of it, but the handrails
were nowhere in sight, posing the challenge of climbing the steps at my own risk. The flooring on the second floor
looked extremely dangerous to be on, as most of it was gone, and its support has likewise lost its muscle –the beams
that had now been replaced by gray cobwebs, and with some parts dangling and making creaking sounds when
sudden bursts of wind happened to come by. The roof was gone, for local junk shops pay bigger for galvanized iron
roofing sheets – regardless of condition -- than old newspapers or empty bottles. And with no owner in sight, an empty
house is a treasure trove for society’s scavengers.
Stepping on the red-colored cement floor –now dotted with potholes here and there -- the image of my father sprinkling
a reddish powder on top of wet cement and then leveling the surface with a rectangular wooden plane flashed before
my eyes. He was working with two other men, one of whom was filtering sand while the other was pouring wet cement
into another small area bounded by four 2x2 -inch pieces of coco lumber, whose corners were nailed temporarily to
keep them in place.
“Make sure the amount of wet cement you pour is the same for all areas,” father told Mang Pedro, the older guy, who
lifted his head slightly to look at father. “I want the whole floor – all parts of it --to have the same height from the ground
up.” Mang Pedro just nodded to indicate his agreement.
The other guy, much younger than Mang Pedro, paused from his work and went out to smoke. Father reminded him that
break time isn’t until 3 p.m., and that Mang Pedro needed some more sand to mix with cement right away.
“Yes, sir,” was the quick reply, but his face showed a bit of frustration as he went back to lift the make-shift screen
hanging between triangular poles, and went back to work.
My father was an elementary school teacher in Barrio Gatid, a few miles north of Santa Cruz town, the capital of Laguna
province, but he enjoyed doing a lot of other things, including fishing, gardening, and carpentry work. He was always
busy, and to me, having a father like him was great. He would often say that teaching was not really his calling, a
statement that my young mind did not understand at the time.
The house on Cailles Street was going to be our family’s first owned home, so I could understand why father oversaw
its construction from start to finish. And because money was tight, he was concerned about labor costs piling up.
That was Mario, my father.
Looking straight ahead was the now open kitchen window overlooking the river, with nail marks and rusty, hanging
wires that used to hold my mother’s favorite kitchen curtains, those with a fruits-in-a-bowl design repeated many times
over a light blue background. Mother bought it from the flea market at the town’s center, a bargain she had always been
proud to announce. That time, however, I told myself that such delicious-looking fruits were not local; for there were no
apples nor pears in the Philippines’ fields. Such juicy fruits only existed in one’s imagination, something that my mother
had in abundance. Indeed, mother loved to dream, and she taught me to dream, too. It was mother who told me many
things beautiful about a place so far away called America, a place where apples and pears were aplenty.
“You must read books about America, because it is a great country,” mother would often say, ”and we Filipinos got our
education system from Americans, as well as the English language that we use in our schools.” She never mentioned,
however, how the Philippines came under American rule -- that part of the story I would later learn in school.
Mother would also tell the story of her late father, a mechanical engineer who worked for an American shipping
company prior to World War II, and how he exposed his family to American ways, tastes, and its history. It’s no wonder
mother loved to buy imported chocolates, watch Hollywood movies, and read English books all the time. It’s no wonder
she named me “Heidi,” the title of a children’s book from the West. Of course, she introduced me to Judy Garland,
Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, Janette McDonald, Deborah Kerr, and their handsome leading men, through their
films. Most important of all, she taught me how to sing many of their songs.
My mother taught sixth grade at Santisima Cruz Elementary School, the school closest to Laguna de Bay, the biggest
fresh-water lake south of Manila. She had a very strong personality, whose intelligence and self-confidence were pretty
much obvious whenever she opened her mouth. Orphaned while she was in high school, and with younger siblings for
her to take care of, it was amazing how she was able to get a college degree while earning a living in a country where
women were discouraged to go to school in the 1940s.
“I took and passed the national teachers’ exam while I was still in high school,” mother told me more than once, “then
when ‘they’ found out about me, Bohol Colleges gave me a college scholarship!” Mother always sounded proud of that
accomplishment, making sure I understood its positive impact on her life.
That was Felly, my mother.
Mother had a collection of books, especially in literature and science, unlike my father whose collection was a big box of
gardening tools and fishing paraphernalia. The stark contrast between their interests was not relevant to a couple in
love, so I thought.
When our family moved to this house on Cailles Street, there were six of us--mother and father, three children (including
myself), and mother’s youngest sister, a vivacious teen named Letty. It was an exciting day, a happy day for us, because
at last our renting days were over.
by Heidi M. Pascual
A birthday gift to my late mother
My mother Felly passed away ten years ago; but I think of her every day because each time I
look in the mirror, I see her face. Not only do I look like my mother; I have inherited from her
a big chunk of her character, except maybe a few of my own. Had mom been alive today,
she would have been 84 years old come July 10. As a gift to her, I am writing my life story,
which project I will submit when I attend the UNM Summer Writer’s Conference in Taos,
New Mexico middle of July.
In writing my story, I hope that those who may want to know more about me would
understand why I am what I am. I hope, too, that my story brings forth part of my mother’s
story of survival. To me, she was the strongest woman I have ever met. Her strength of
character contributed greatly to her children’s individual search for their identity and goal in
life. While she had flaws, the scale had always been heavier on the good. Even in her