14 October 2006

turning forty

a few days ago, i suddenly turned forty. to my surprise, family members and friends took some effort to greet me by way of phone calls, emails and sms messages. days before my birthday, a jet-setting friend brought bars of chocolates all the way from switzerland. days after, relatives from wollongong came over and took me out to dinner. on the actual day itself, mom organized a children's party in manila. the party was attended mostly by my little nephews and nieces. but here in canberra, i simply worked on pages of a thesis chapter.

the truth is, i never really liked celebrating my birthday. i’d rather be thankful for the many blessings that i receive everyday. i was severely traumatized by the absence of birthday celebrations when i was growing up. being the first child, the family wasn’t comfortable then. my parents were just starting up. everything was on a tight budget. my other siblings were coming out one after the other. my parents were also sending many of my cousins to university. the family was unable to throw birthday parties for me.

which was really okay except that at u.s.t. elementary school, i had classmates whose birthdays were being celebrated before and after my birthday. so every year, for three or four years, parents of these classmates would throw lavish birthday parties in class. during these parties, there was unlimited supply of magnolia ice cream and cakes and pastries from luisa and sons (with branches along avenida rizal and recto, it was a very famous brand name during the 1960s and the 1970s). there were buckets of fried chicken and choo-choo junction spaghetti for everyone to relish. there were party hats, balloons and give-away toys for every kid in class. there were clowns and mascots to keep us perky.

in contrast, on my birthday, mother would simply hand over to me a small cup of rolando homemade ice cream (the type known all over manila as “dirty ice cream” to signify that it is not magnolia) and a small slice of cake from fame bakery. fame bakery was then a third-run pan de sal-making enterprise situated at the corner of dapitan and don quijote streets in sampaloc, manila. these days, fame bakery has achieved a rather fabled reincarnation as tinapayan, a bread and pastry shop famous for ube ensaymada (now a cult favorite throughout the metropolis). but during the early 1970s, fame bakery didn’t even have special bags and boxes to properly wrap their goodies. instead, shop assistants used generic cellophane bags and old newspapers.

tragically, mother would always arrive ten to fifteen minutes after recess had ended. immediately after mother leaves, my homeroom teacher would give me five minutes to gorge on my miniscule servings of ice cream and cake somewhere behind the last row of students in class. one time, i was even consuming my birthday fare between an aquarium and a trash can.

i remember distinctively how some of my classmates would drop hints of disapproval as i tried to savor whatever little my family could afford during those years for my birthday. later in the evening, i would never tell my parents how these classmates had actually berated me because of my parents' inability to throw a party. but my mother instinctively knew what i felt, judging by my lack of vim on the way home. and mom would always have a way of cheering me up. during those years, she would assure me that someday, things will be alright. and i tried my best to believe her.

as i got older, my father’s honesty and integrity as a corporate lawyer paid off. slowly, he moved across the ranks in spite of greed and corruption that had eaten up many of his peers in the legal profession. meanwhile, mother had gone back to work by specializing in corporate accounts for a top insurance company. finally, i got to taste every chip of luxury my mother had promised me earlier. still, i never got over the trauma of birthdays. nevertheless, i remain happy these days because i have a loving family and a very supportive stable of surrogate family members, friends and students from many places. birthdays should no longer be my great concern.

this year, as i turned forty, one of my surrogate mothers took me to a japanese restaurant at civic. afterwards, we had coffee at gus’, canberra's legendary coffee shop. surrogate mother didn’t even know about my birthday. and i didn’t feel the need to tell her. but she had confided to me how she felt a deep sense of urgency to just take me out for drinks and lunch.

i reckon, the cosmic forces are always conspiring. bukas, luluhod ang mga tala, as sharon cuneta would say. my deprivation days are over. family celebrates my birthday back home and i am having lunch joyfully with one of my surrogate mothers here in canberra.

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back in the office after lunch during my birthday
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where i grew up, from google earth
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the distance from fame bakery (now tinapayan) to u.s.t.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, lift up sir. Ady001 here. You don't look like 40 over there. as the cliche goes, life begins at...

wendell said...

thanks ady. it doesn't bother me these days. ages back, it really did. i had to write about my old resentment as a rite of passage. i had gotten over it and i have moved on.

i guess a number of people would think that i was living a charmed life and i didn't want to give them that impression. i came from the dumps and went through the gutter, so to speak. but i got through.

i can only hope that there will be people out there who will be encouraged to hang on in spite of whatever difficulties they are going through.

thanks for dropping by. and take care.

w.

Althea said...

Happy 40th Sir Wendell! No wonder you're so supportive. :) I can actually relate to your birthday stories--except that my parents didn't give birthday parties during class, unlike my other classmates' parents, and I would always not tell anyone it was my birthday because they'd ask me pointedly why there was no party. It was especially hell when the teacher would find out and have everyone sing! (Kids can be so mean, hehe).

wendell said...

thanks althea. actually i had to eat the small piece of cake and that one cup of ice cream all by myself since my parents could not afford to feed the entire class. nakakahiya talaga. i thought the only way for me to be respected is by way of my academic performance. i wasn't really bright but i was persistent, driven and determined to do well in school.

i miss u.p. these days and im dying to see all of you when i get home. stay cool and take care.

w.

The Nashman said...

you don't look a day over 40....

wendell said...

nash!! you're very kind. i guess we've eaten the same roasted turkey at cambridge years ago. i've been wondering why you look like someone who's about to take his A-levels for uni. take care over there.

w.

Anonymous said...

many happy returns, wendell! Marlene sends her regards too :)

reggie

wendell said...

thanks reg! hi to marlene as well. take care.

cheers,

w.

Jay said...

maligayang kaarawan wendell!

wendell said...

salamat jay!

i think i made a mistake of writing about my birthday. but i really had to talk about my desolate childhood experience with it.

regards kina jeff, leo, peter, joan, lampel and our other friends.

ingat lagi.

w.

mommy said...

Hi sir wendell!
Hope you remember me. I was enrolled in one of your creative writing classes and you always teased me that i was inspired. Haha!
Anyway, happy birthday, sir! God bless you always.

kiel sandico-fernandez

wendell said...

kiel!! i remember you very well!! i think i delivered one of my best performances as a teacher in your poetry class. that was semesters before i became cal associate dean. has it been that long ago?

as i can see, you are still inspired. hope to see you when i return to diliman next year. will be done with my studies here within the next few months. ill be teaching at u.p. by june 2007.

take care. regards to your friends from my classes when you see them.

w.

nash said...

Is there only one Tinapayan? Because when I lived in that area for my board exams, that's where I'd eat. Well, it's the only one that passes my cleanliness test...

Yes, I look young because I've found the fountain of youth - never take yourself too seriously..

wendell said...

indeed,nashville.

yup yup, our house is the oldest existing house (1928) across tinapayan's block. the older, grander, more historical houses have been demolished and sold by the heirs of the old families. we are now being literally surrounded these days by condominium buildings! there's even a bench fix salon 15 meters away from tinapayan, closer to mcdonalds at the corner of dapitan and forbes, max's, wendy's, kenny rogers and 2 jollibee outlets close by. there's mcdonald inside ust campus too. sm san lazaro mall is just a kilometer away. it sits on top of the former hippodrome.

btw, you aren't going to the u.k. pinoy party at bobi's london flat this year? some of the new pinoy students were my former students and colleagues in diliman: donna caloza, nelson turgo. say hello to dex, fe, bobi, grace barreto and everyone from the old group.

see you when you pass by manila next year. will be teaching in diliman by june 2007. will be done with my studies here after a few months.

w.

Toto said...

HAPPPY BIRTHDAY!

wendell said...

thanks toto. cheers,

w.

Misispi said...

wendell, belated happy birthday! better late than never, right? :)

wendell said...

lampel!!! no worries. your friendship is worth more than these birthdays. re: scorsese, i agree, napaarte na niya finally si di caprio. makes the film even worth watching. take care.

w.

Ederic said...

Belated happy birthday, Wendell. Di pa ako nakasagot sa post mo about Dan. Nakakalungkot talaga yung nangyari sa kanya.

wendell said...

salamat ederic. kamusta sa mga friends natin dyan sa GMA7.

ingat lagi.

w.