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By Myrna Lopez
I spent my first 5 years of school at FABES (Fernando Air Base Elementary School.) I transferred to OLRA (Our Lady of the Rosary Academy) in the city of Lipa, Batangas in my sixth grade. It was ran by the Maryknoll Sisters. They have since left the Philippines and relinquished their role as educators. That saddens me. The Maryknoll sisters were friendly and knew how to run a good school.
Until OLRA, I had not encountered an American. Their way of speaking was foreign and strange. I could not understand a word uttered by Sister Peter Marie, our sixth grade teacher. I asked to be transferred to the front of the class. I thought my problem was my hearing. I had a bout of dyslexia when I was in Second Grade. I was already gripped by fear that it had come back. Sister Peter Marie looked at me kindly, moved me nearer the front, and spoke a little slower for my benefit. I eventually got used to her way of talking. I wasn’t going deaf after all.
The nuns tried their best to improve our own diction. One scribbled th on the board one morning. ‘Repeat after me. With-th.’ She said hopefully. She emphasized and prolonged the th. ‘WID’ we replied loudly. She closed her eyes and repeated the request. We repeated the reply. ‘Ok, how about this.’ She stuck out her tongue and said thhhe. ‘DA.’ We almost screamed. She couldn’t help laughing with us. Our Sister Professor Higgins looked at us hopelessly. Our group of Eliza Doolittles and Doods were as hard to crack.
My favorite activity of the day was reading time. My parents did not read to me at bedtime. To be fair I didn’t know of any parent who read to their children. So it was a novel and happy time for me when Sister Maria Luke read to us. Some of my classmates welcomed it as a chance to catch up on sleep. Snores were abruptly ended by covert taps from friends.
Heidi, the young protagonist of a well-known series of Swiss children’s book that was read to us, quickly became my heroine. I asked for dinners of cheese, bread, and milk. My mother obliged and served me Kraft processed cheese, American bread – what we called the loaf of sliced bread – and evaporated milk. I deluded myself about how delicious it was. My mother hid a smile when she saw the sour look on my face as I gulped the warm milk.
Heidi’s love of the Alps and her tender regard of her grandfather made me think of my ambiguous feelings toward the mountains we crossed to get to Dupax. No ambiguity really. I hated those mountains. But like Heidi I loved my grandfather, so I revised my dread and convinced myself the overnight travels weren’t so bad after all.
I was mischievous and daring, willing to take on fisticuffs with boys and jumping from swings in full motion. But I was also naïve. One nun was incredulous when I insisted Santa Claus was real. ‘How old are you?’ She asked and arched an eyebrow. I hung my head. ‘Eleven.’ I admitted. ‘Oh, Myrna…’ was all she could say. Santa Claus is real! Didn’t I just receive many toys from him the past Christmas? I ignored how closely Santa’s handwriting resembled my mother’s. My mother shushed all my questions. When the presents stopped coming, I was crushed. I still cling to the romance of the jolly old fellow.
I visit Lipa whenever I could. There is a planned OLRA reunion in January 2013. I can’t wait to be around my classmates once more. Decades would disappear; wrinkles, and sags, and weight gains would be ignored. And our conversations would be resumed and picked up where we left off.
Are we there yet?
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