Iriga Street

Before the second world war broke out my grandfather was able to secure land in the area that is now called Sta. Mesa Heights in Quezon City. Together with his two young sons and some extra pair of hands, he built a simple house made of wood and some cement—this was to be the base structure for the forthcoming home additions and renovations.

The family had to flee to safer grounds when the war escalated and Manila became too risky for them. They left the house and only returned when the war was officially over. That time, they found evidence that our home was used by soldiers: paper money, US Army eating utensils, water canteens, empty bullet casings, human bones. I saw it all with my own eyes, except for the last one so I’m not sure if there were bones or if it was just added to the list to scare us, children.

My grandfather and his family immediately went to work to restore the dilapidated structure and clean the property. Over the years, the house was reinforced and extensions were built. It became quite fancy to me—original capiz windows, an escape hatch in one of the rooms, textured board for the ground floor ceiling, marble flooring on the ground floor and shiny wooden floorboards on the second floor, the carved wood partitions on the second floor, the fancy tray ceiling in the main room of the second floor, and so on. The antique furniture pieces were something else altogether.

I also remember that there was a covered garage out front and a tiny two-story structure in the back which served as our library. My lola’s lush garden was a world in itself, and there was the magical roof deck (kulahan) where we spent countless nights staring into the night sky and its brilliant stars. There was even a fish and turtle “pond” at some point, a small poultry farm, and a pig pen which kept my mother busy and our neighbors furious. Years later, we built a bungalow apartment that served as my office when I started a business a long time ago. It is not a huge property at all—just 240 square meters—but it was my family’s base, our headquarters.

But like the earth itself that has become ugly in many parts because of the less caring hands that tried to manage it, our treasured family home is barely liveable these days. One could say that it still stands by virtue of a few flimsy nails holding it in place. I have stopped going there and feel heartbroken whenever I think about the state it’s in now. One would wish that a wealthy businessman would come and buy it to restore it to its old glory, but that’s a child’s wish because the truth is that like the earth, it needs a reset as it is beyond repair.

Our lives are defined by memories, too. And for many of us, our childhood homes serve as a huge influence in our lives. It is inherently tied not just to our memories but also our emotions, milestones, formative years, and, therefore, our character. Show me where you grew up and I will tell you who you are—maybe there is some truth in that.