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
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
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
i reckon, the cosmic forces are always conspiring. bukas, luluhod ang mga tala, as