Having grown up in the city, I had always dreamt of a small place in the country—a fruit orchard and flower garden or an organic-vegetable farm with pet dogs, goats, free-range chickens and a family of pigs.
When the school year ended in summer, I couldn’t help but feel envious of, and abandoned by, classmates who had a province to go home to, where people were friendlier and warmer to one another and everybody seemed to know everybody else from generations back.
The only prospect of an idyllic experience for us Roces cousins in the same urban boat came from our Reyes relatives in Pasig and Antipolo, places seeming so remote at that time, and Palawan, which was more like it.
I remember and cherish those vacations with uncles and cousins. (The older Reyeses themselves would reminisce about vacations in Bukidnon an even far longer time ago, when my paternal grandparents’ family owned what was to become the Dole plantation in Malaybalay town.)
My farm dreams, in any case, refuse to go away even now, in my 70s. Recently, on the internet, I clicked on a small piece of farmland with a nicely built house in the cool Batangas capital of Lipa. It seemed perfect, if only I could bring the price down. I brought the matter up with my husband, my serial farm-dream killer, who looked at me, shaking his head and rolling up his eyes, in here-we-go-again impatience. It’s the same look I get whenever I sign up for any gym membership— they’d somehow spot me dead-on as a near-future dropout.
Vergel just couldn’t see me on a farm, much less tending to one. “Sino mag-aalaga, ikaw?”
Of course, I’d have to hire someone, in the same way I hired a gardener so I could garden. My bantay would be my farmhand, as well. He would also have a pleasant wife who would not only take care of the house but also cook whenever I came. The green-thumbed bantay himself would be very industrious and honest, in no way to be tempted to make easy money for himself and his family by selling our fruits and renting out our house in our absence!
The ideal ‘bantay’
I did believe such a bantay existed. After all, in the early days when my children were young, Uncle Quitos had found himself one such ideal bantay couple—Mang Roming and wife—for his beach place-cum-farm/fishpond in Matuud, also in Batangas. I conveniently forgot, of course, that Mang Roming himself had been once a little too proprietary for a bantay.
One day Mang Roming surprised Quitos with a visit, bearing tragicomic news. The sow had dropped a litter of six, but only five survived. As arranged, Quitos was to get only one from the litter. And that’s why Mang Roming found it so hard to tell him, it was his own biik that had died.
“Que malas ko naman!” was all Quitos could say. Still, it was decent enough of Mang Roming to give Quitos his personal condolences.
I may have spared myself similar, if not worse, misfortunes. I know other gentlemen farmers among my friends who just accept what meager share in the fruits of their own land their bantay allot them.
I don’t really know why, despite all those unpleasant feedback, my dream has persisted. Recently, though, it might have been dealt its fatal blow; I got a text message from my broker-friend, “Desperate client needs bantay couple for Talisay, Batangas farm!”
There but for the grace of God… Anyway, if at this time I don’t have a farm yet, it’s probably too late in the day to fancy one—my husband will be only too happy to know I have finally awakened.
In truth, if I had a farm, I’d probably be selling it now, not unlike friends who, with their children now grown and married and independent and having their own priorities, are giving up their homes in Baguio or beach houses. Besides, bantay couples are difficult to come by these days, as are kasambahay. Now, among pleas for prayers for healing in various Viber groups, have come desperate cries for kasambahay, including my own for my two children’s households.
Summer is precisely when house help go off on vacation. Cousin Ninit refers to the season as the “mating month of May,” when they go back to their hometowns not only to rest but also to encourage a revival of courtships.
The days of good loyal help are nearly past, and with their disappearance, dreams dependent on them must die. The generations after us better see it coming, for theirs will be an altogether different life.
Meanwhile, it’s not too early to set our eyes on a yaya/caregiver, for sooner than later, as I’ve seen it happen to my peers, we’ll be a threesome. Before that time comes, my husband and I are intent on taking more practical rewards for our old age.