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Saturday, March 13, 2010


No they were not from Mars.

Atty. Francisco S. Reyes (1906 - 1991) and Felicidad O. Reyes (1912 - 1998), my maternal grandparents, were a big influence on my life. Lolo Ikong built the family compound in Baguio City where we all lived (my immediate family and hordes of cousins) -- growing up in the 70s to the 80s before most of my relatives migrated to the US and/or moved to Manila and elsewhere.

A typical day at the compound would start with Lolo Ikong waking up at 5am and turning on the water heater (We had a central water heating system for the left side of the compound that provided hot water for three households -- or 5 bathrooms). Lolo Ikong and Lola Felicing would share a breakfast of pan de sal, butter, fresh fruit in season, brewed coffee (from the coffee trees in the compound). While Lola Felicing would get ready to go to market by 5.30am Lolo Ikong would go down to his poultry and feed his chickens. At any given time, Lolo would have around 30 chickens at the most. They were fenced in an enclosure large enough for them to walk around, pick on worms or grubs on the earth, get their daily exercise, etc. Several coops made from wood scraps were built for them at the far end of the enclosure for them to roost and for the hens to lay eggs.

The chickens were mainly fed ground corn and/or rice along with chopped vegetables (lettuce and cabbage were most common) from Lola Felicing's vegetable and fruit store in the city market. There was also a time we had rabbits in cages near the poultry and were fed vegetables from Lola's store.

After feeding the chickens, Lolo would in turn feed the dogs. We had six German Shepherds at one given time (Bantay, Sultan, Jango, I forgot the rest), six dogs that were never leashed or caged. The dogs were free to roam around the compound often times terrorizing neighbors who would pass by the fence or occasionally the electric and water meter readers. I remember these dogs chasing one another by the perimeter of the property's fence. They also liked running on the hills and sleeping by the biggest pine tree's roots in the compound during hot days. The dogs slept in the garage or the basement during rainy season.

Our dogs weren't fed commercial dog food. My Lolo had an agreement with the owners of Star Cafe so that the kitchen staff would fill up two pails of food with refuse/leftovers from customers that would dine at the cafe each day. These pails of food scraps were picked up after Lola closed her store every evening on the way home. Lolo would sort the food scraps (bones, meat, rice, noodles, vegetables, etc.) and divide the loot -- half would be fed to the dogs and pig in the morning, the other half to be fed in the afternoon.

The food from Star Cafe would also be mixed with whatever food scraps we would accumulate at home. It was common for the households in the compound to bring to Lolo our food scraps as well for him to feed to the dogs and pig. These food scraps were served in individual tin basins -- Lolo made sure the dogs got equal amount in bones, rice, etc.

The pig that was in a wooden sty would be fed all the other scraps that weren't given to the dogs. These included overripe vegetables and fruits my Lola would bring from her store in the market. The pig was fattened from September in time for lechon during Christmas.

After Lolo would finish feeding the chickens, dogs and pig he would wash their basins with water from the tank he installed next to the basement. This tank was directly attached to the roof's gutters, Lolo made sure rainwater was well collected for watering our plants, washing the pets, washing the pets' plates, cleaning the pig's sty, etc. Ditto washing the car.

After his morning chores, around 6.30am, Lolo would knock on our doors and hand out eggs that have been laid by hens in the poultry. He would say "for your breakfast". We had a daily supply of native eggs -- yes they were smaller than the commercial ones but they looked nice in their tan color, sometimes the shell still stained with earth. Aside from eggs, sometimes Lolo would hand over a chicken, already dressed and butchered and would tell us "for your tinola". And then he would wink and go up the stairs to his unit above.

By this time all of us would be busy eating our breakfasts, taking turns in the shower, and getting ready to go to school. My cousins and I carpooled during schooldays. Sometimes if we were eager to be in school, we could hitch a ride with Lola when she was brought to the market at 5.30 in the morning. Several times I would still be waiting by the gate at SLU Laboratory Elementary School because the guards wouldn't open the gate until a few minutes past 6 am.

As soon as Lolo would get to his unit above, he would turn off the water heater that he had earlier turned on -- if anyone did not bathe by 8am, that person would have to brave a cold shower thereafter. Lolo would take his bath, shave with an old blade that he sharpened on a leather strap and splash his face with Old Spice. He would get dressed in his suit and signature bow ties and walk to Session Road where he had his Law Office at the second floor of the Lopez Building. Rain or shine. This was how he got his daily exercise. We used to tease Lolo that he looked like The Penguin in the Batman series especially when he would be carrying his umbrella.

Lolo Ikong and Lola Felicing were sticklers when it came to recycling and reusing anything and everything. Newspapers were kept to line the dog's sleeping areas. The other newspapers were used by Lola in the market when packing fruits and vegetables that she would ship twice weekly to Manila and other cities in the Visayas and Mindanao. Paper bags were reused to pack our sandwiches or lunches for school. Pieces of string my Lola would amass into one ball. Old buttons, yarn, threads, pieces of cloth from sewing projects would be kept and not thrown away. Canvas sacks from the sugar that Lola would use when making strawberry jam were washed and cut into towel-sized pieces, their edges hemmed and these were used as kitchen towels. One time my Lola fashioned an apron from these canvas (katcha) sacks that she would tie on her waist while tending her stall in the market. If we needed materials for art or science projects, my mother would tell us "Go ask your Lola, she might have kept some things up there that you could use". And inevitably, yes, we got materials for our projects from Lola. Old cardboards, crayons, colored paper, crepe paper, cellophane, etc. that she kept through the years.

Water was already rationed in Baguio as early as the mid-70s. Although we had a large tank in the compound to supply water for 5 households -- we were admonished to conserve water daily. The tap was never to be left running while brushing our teeth. A meticulous way of washing dishes was enforced to maximize the water being used and leftover rinsing water from the basin would be used to water plants. We were to shut off lights and appliances when not in use. Hogging the telephone was frowned upon. Lolo used to tell us that only important matters were to be discussed over the telephone and should be done so very briefly and clearly.

This frugal lifestyle may have been borne out of my grandparents' experience with the war. It was common for their generation to live austerely. It would be nice to follow their example.


  1. Your grandparents are to be commended. What good examples they set for their family.

    My grandparents had a lifestyle and routine very similar to your grandparents, albeit they lived on a small farm. They lived simply and frugally as you described. My first memories are of the sounds of Grandma cooking in the kitchen early in the morning and Grandpa going out to do the morning chores; and of the table set with wide assortment of hodge podge of mismatched cups, plates and utensils. It was so colorful. Grandma kept a large garden where the chickens used to roam looking for bugs. Grandpa would collect the fallen sour apples in the fall and crush them to make apple cider and apple jack. Nothing was ever wasted. Bent nails would be saved and reused, jars and cans saved to sort nails,screws and other parts. Grandma knit, crocheted and sewed, no money was to be spent on store bought clothes.

  2. Oh yes, the older generation... did I mention my grandparents would compost too?! Fertilizer for my Lola's flowering plants -- we had an assortment of flowers along with the mulberrry bushes, passion fruit trees, avocadoes, coffee and yes, sayote vines galore! Hahahaha!