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27 March 2007

next door

community spirit is full of life in sampaloc. sampaloc neighbors are usually close to one another. understandably, children of sampaloc buddies end up becoming buddies as well.

during the early martial law years, many of my friends lived along pi y margal, dapitan, dos castillas, carola, don quijote, laon laan, maria cristina and p. florentino streets. some of my playmates were scions of pre-world war two and post-liberation sampaloc residents: climacos, de leons, floirendos, lazatins, leoncios, luzes, saleses, soliongcoses, sollers, uys, and zapantas. their grandparents were friends of my grandfather.

there were some fairly recent neighbors and they also remained good friends with my family through the years. right across our house, there is a five-door concrete apartment owned by the cauntay family, originally from batangas. the property originally belonged to my grandfather. mr. and mrs. cauntay purchased the property when my grandfather’s first family needed emergency money to pay for my grandfather’s first wife’s hospital expenses (my father was born illegitimate). the cauntays built their apartment on the land, occupied the first unit, then leased out the other units to young families and students.

the cauntays have been very generous to us. it simply didn’t matter to them whether my father was born illegitimate. when we were finally asked by my grandfather to move to the sampaloc house in 1967 (a fire gutted our first home--an apartment unit along zamora street in pasay), the cauntays welcomed us to the community with open arms. they knew very well that my father was an honest government lawyer who lived a simple life. they took the initiative of letting me enter their home and play with their visiting grandchildren who were enrolled in exclusive schools. my brother and i were often invited to take merienda with them. but we refused politely because my mother often said that it wasn’t the right thing to do. they also gifted us with cakes and pastries during special occasions like birthdays and christmas.

what stood out very clearly about my memory of the cauntays is that they were bighearted enough to allow me to watch cartoons in their brand new, state of the art, colored television. there was a time during the early 1970s when nobody but the cauntays had colored television. from a ledge beside the cauntay’s front door, i sat like a cowboy watching aqua man, batman and robin (starring adam west), bugs bunny, captain america, funky phantom, the electric company, green lantern, josie and the pussycats, justice league, merry melodies, micky mouse club, mightor, moby dick, scooby do, sesame street, super friends, superman, wacky races, and wait till your father gets home. this was all happening until my father (who was working in his office during the day) learned about my neighborly tv habit. immediately, i was forbidden to watch television outside the house. my parents, who were not really avid tv watchers, decided to buy a colored television to please me and my siblings.

many years later, i still remember the cauntays. in those days, children get reprimanded whenever they glanced at television sets of the neighboring houses. on the other hand, the cauntays were generous, kind and understanding. gaudencio cauntay, the family patriarch, also remarked that after watching tv, i should study hard so i can inspire others when i grow up.

after mr. and mrs. cauntay passed away, i wept silently behind the window of my parents’ bedroom, right across the couple’s house. as a grown-up, i hardly got the chance to see them because i lived elsewhere and studied overseas. i didn’t even get to say goodbye.

my family must have purchased a number of television sets in my lifetime. but once, while buying a pint sized television in akihabara (tokyo), i was reminded suddenly of the cauntays.

these days, sampaloc neighbors don’t share colored television sets with one another. even those who are living in the slums have colored tv sets. many are even hooked on the cable channels. occasionally, i drop by the cartoon network to remember mr. and mrs. cauntay. quite possibly, they can also see me through television sets from a distant space and while.

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this used to be my playground