IT occurred to me that while I have written about Juban, my birthplace, and my ancestry on the maternal side, I had not written about Villasis in Pangasinan and my father’s forebears. Perhaps my mother was a story-teller about her gothic hometown—bizarre tales validated by visits to Juban before the war. My father hardly talked about his birthplace.
My early childhood memory of a visit to Villasis was perforce a hazy one—that of a house in an open field with elders telling me not to venture out beyond the fence because an animal outside might attack me. Was it a goat or a carabao, I could not recall. My older brother, Dedong, later told me that when grandfather died in Manila (where we lived before the war in Paco) my father used our top down automobile to transport Lolo’s coffin secured astride the car all the way to Villasis for burial. He and an older brother accompanied my father; I was still too small for the trip.
But I remember an aunt telling me that if I went to Villasis, I would meet Ciriaco. Who is Ciriaco? I would ask. She didn’t give me a straight answer if answer it was. She just told me my father had a twin brother who died early in an accident when they were young. She left it at that.
Other close relatives visiting us in Paco would always remark that I looked very much like Papa. “Hala, when you go to Villasis, Ciriaco might appear before you,” they would then say. Again they wouldn’t tell me who Ciriaco was.
I tried to figure it out myself. If I looked like my father I could be mistaken for him by this character Ciriaco. Then it dawned on me, with a shudder, that it must be his twin brother, his spirit.
Ciriaco must have kept me from wanting to visit Villasis. In a vacation trip with an older brother to Dagupan by train before the war, my aunt asked us if we would like to stopover in Villasis. I shook my head vigorously and my brother said we should go straight to Dagupan. He had earlier talked about swimming in Lingayen beach.
I told myself, who would want to go to a dry town on flat land, shorn of trees unlike lush Juban our favorite summer vacation spot, with hot springs and a volcano to boot. We did stop over in La Paz, Tarlac, where my aunt’s in laws lived. A young man in the house where we stayed took us to the sugar cane field for some jogging and my brother and I agreed that the cool air of early morning, the swaying leaves of cane, the blue sky and birds flying were just like being in the States though we had never been there. Of course we didn’t realize yet the vast expanse of cane field was owned by an haciendero who didn’t pay his workers enough. In hindsight, the idyllic landscape belied the agrarian unrest that we would read about later in the papers.
After breakfast of hot chocolate, fried rice, eggs and longanisa, we took the train to Dagupan where I promptly caught a fever. It must have been the heat of midmorning until noon when we arrived. I missed lunch of pinakbet. When our cousin Nena asked us what we wanted for supper, I said I didn’t have any appetite yet. I whiled away lying in bed reading The Book of Knowledge concentrating on the First World War trench warfare.
The following day I felt better when we went to Lingayen on a picnic. Nena warned us not to go far out in the beach because of the undertow in deeper water. We marveled at the Capitol building that we thought looked like the Manila Post Office. Lunch was grilled pork, bangus and sugpo (which I declined the supper before), dinengdeng soup with ripe mangoes for dessert. It was memorable.
Pangasinan had always impressed me as a hot province perhaps because every time we went to Baguio we would reach Carmen, the usual bus stopover at high noon. Then we crossed what was said to be the longest bridge in the country over Agno River, and onto Villasis before the ascent to Baguio.
I was already told about Ciriaco from several aunts—that he was a stocky boy who appeared before David when he was that young and that they played together. His twin brother Paco had already passed away.
Have you seen Ciriaco? I asked my aunts. No, but they heard David playing with someone outside the house, and whenever they asked David with whom they heard he was playing, he would answer, Ciriaco. And when they decided to look outside there was only David playing by himself. Where is Ciriaco? He’s gone home, David said. This happened a number of times until David had grown to be a young man, studied under American teachers, then went to the US as a working student, returned as an educator to marry Feliza, my mother in Sorsogon.
The first and last vacation I had in Villasis was in 1948 when I went with my father to a school reunion. I just finished high school, and I thought of going to Silliman as a working student. I wanted to be independent. So in what I thought was my last fling at family I went to see what Villasis was really like.
I enjoyed immensely my week long stay with relatives my age, going to parties, learning how to drink basi, serenading, swimming in the Agno river, riding in a carabao cart at night, in the vast stretch of rice and tobacco fields, comfortably helmed in by warm bodies of female and male companions, singing and gazing at the stars in the firmament.
My greying aunts as usual teased me about Ciriaco, but I just smiled at them.