My grandfather Santiago was a constabulary man in the 1940s but it wasn’t a career he wanted to have for long. He always had a head for business. I can imagine how little he must have been earning as a soldier, and not even an officer at that. When he married my grandmother, they immediately got to work building a family, one child after another. My grandmother Arsenia, it seemed to me, was a smart woman and had graduated salutatorian in high school. In those times, women who finished high school, particularly those coming from poor families, were uncommon. I’ve always wondered why my grandmother was quite submissive to my Lolo Tiago. I thought one of the characteristics of intelligence was assertiveness.
When my grandfather retired from the Philippine Constabulary, he bought a few pieces of land where he bred cattle and grew coconuts. Then he opened a stall in the local wet market where he himself manned the cashbox. He hired a butcher, and most of the beef and pork he sold came from his farm and the pig sties that my grandmother always attached to her house.
I’m told that my grandparents’ first house was in Sampaloc, like many of the personnel of the Philippine Constabulary whose headquarters was in the very same camp that now houses the Philippine National Police. I remember my grandmother telling me that they had a big bamboo post where she drilled a hole for coins and bills to drop into. And so, when they had to transfer to another residence where Savemore now stands they had to saw the post off.
I don’t know whose house it was they moved into. My aunts tell me the house was made of thick stones. But it was a large one. It had to be since my grandmother, to make ends meet for a brood of 13 and countless cousins and relatives some of whom she sent to school in return for services, had to accommodate her various businesses: a copra buying station, boarding rooms, and of course, the very Filipino sari-sari store.
She always said that my grandfather took for granted that she had to share with the finances, without any discussion at all. He provided for the food, tuition for his children whom they all sent to Catholic schools, but he left everything else to my grandmother to deal with: clothing, school supplies, etc. One of the things that Lola was fond of saying which I found so amusing was “What does he think the children wore? Leaves?”
Tyo Awel, the son of Lolo Bamiano, was one of our relatives who lived with us in that old house. He said that my grandfather would wake up while it was still very dark, go to the wet market to attend to his meat stall, have breakfast sent from Tiya Tinay’s, and when the beef and pork had been dispatched, would come home, eat lunch, rest for a bit on his rocking chair, and then take the jeepney to his farm in Gatbo (my grandparents were born and raised in this barangay) to supervise harvesting activities and whatnot. Tyo Awel remembers my grandfather as a young man who could dehusk 2000 nuts in a day and still have the energy to go to the baraylehan (local dance) at night. Even Tyo Awel finds it incredulous that my grandfather could attend to his meat business in the morning and in the afternoon visit his farm. This was when highways were nothing but dirt roads and transportation was quite slow and far between. And he didn’t get himself a motorcycle or even a bicycle for his own convenience. You couldn’t fool him either. He’s the only person I know who had the ability to look up at the coconuts hanging on the trees and know exactly how many kilos the next harvest would be. It was an ability that we all wish he passed on to us, but both my grandparents thought that farming was a career that their children didn’t have to resort to. We know now how wrong they were.
No matter how far my aunts and uncles have wandered from my grandparents’ roots there’s always something that pulls them back. Our toes will always have mud between them to remind us that we started as farmers and die, for better or worse, as farmers.