On Jan. 25 I came home again to my alma mater, St. Theresa’s College in Quezon City. It’s been 65 years since my high school graduation—and incidentally, I’m starting my eighth decade of life early this week.
The vastness of the school grounds has never ceased to impress me. Since I first saw the campus, in the neighborhood of my childhood, it has retained its unfinished and underdeveloped look; it seems to show yet potential growth and promise. The campus has considerable open spaces in a now overcrowded neighborhood.
I have fond memories of my high school days. I was an unremarkable student, first only when we lined up according to height. I’ve never missed any opportunity to come home to St. Theresa’s, not only to show off how much I’d grown in many ways other than height and weight, but to amusedly relive the insecurities I had triumphantly outgrown.
It certainly feels good to see the old trees and the “shack;” it’s still there, that sentimental landmark of my youth. It has been transformed from the original, but remains plain, roofed but open-sided and useful in many, if limited, ways. The school has built, separately from the shack by the first entrance gate along D. Tuazon Street, a basketball court, also roofed and open-sided. Its size and general practicality have made it the favorite venue for most homecomings, mercifully held in cool January. We have outgrown the air-conditioned auditorium and chapel a long time ago. The sadder truth is that we may have outlived the ability to perform any number onstage for homecoming events. A simple dance
It was late last year when we as a class agreed to do a number, a simple dance, for this year’s homecoming. What a difference a year makes, indeed! So many things happened that forced us to simplify our plans; for one thing, one of us became temporarily bedridden due to an accident. She might even require surgery—itself, we thought, a general warning. Her husband lost his balance and she tried to catch him; he’s OK, she’s not. She still came home to St. Theresa’s—in a wheelchair.
Another had a sudden attack of arthritis, putting hip and knee out of commission for the originally planned performance. She felt safer walking with a cane, but hung it somewhere for our simplified number. Yet another has been struggling with extremely painful rheumatism in her fingers. And a fourth slipped over some wires and suffered a forehead cut that required stitching. The trauma prevented her from attending practices; she opted out of our number.
Two already had been unable to do without a cane for some time and could not participate. Although otherwise healthy enough, one has been showing signs of forgetfulness to the degree that she could not follow the simplest choreographed steps. Still another lost her husband so suddenly, she found herself too busy trying to fill his shoes.
As fate would have it, and despite the little time we had to prepare for homecoming night, we were a hit—though very possibly not for the right reasons. We were the oldest class presenting a number, need I say more?
Vella Damian, a classmate who is a multiawarded professional dancer and ballet teacher, had wisely concluded, after several discouraging attempts, that we were beyond learning dance steps, let alone executing them in unison and onstage. She decided, for our own sakes, that instead of dancing, we locals should walk in simple formation to the rhythm of some march music, and at a certain point be joined by the balikbayans who’d be coming in from the cold, literally and figuratively; thus, our number was aptly called “Parada.”
Eight of us were chosen to start things off, not because we were better but because we had shown up for practice. We had rehearsed three times at Vella’s dance studio, which, by the way, didn’t in any way look like the stage. But enough excuses.
Anyway, what we did in those six minutes onstage vaguely resembled what we had learned in practice, but nobody noticed and nobody cared. Who could forget we were all octogenarians? If anyone momentarily did, our missteps would have reminded them. Hey, we climbed steep steps and, for safety, with usher assistance, needed or not, on to a stage we saw that very night for the first time. The ordeal took our breath away, and with it went our sense of where we needed to be in relation to our places in the formation.
We had had no chance to practice on the stage because intramural games had been going the day before and the stage could not be set up until late that night. At Vella’s there was a wall of mirrors, instead of the blinding stage lights—I myself didn’t see the stage bench I was supposed to sit on. At the studio, no bench but monobloc chairs. For a while I must have looked lost, giggly lost, which I was for the moment. Unfamiliar with the layout of the stage, many of us meandered about, hopefully at least on the beat.
Relied upon to redeem us at every homecoming, Vella, not a moment too soon, tore off her billowing Julie Andrews skirt, revealing hot green pants, and did her Liza Minnelli solo jazz dance; it brought the house down. The friendly audience of younger fellow Theresians generously applauded us with love and forgiveness.
In five years we will celebrate yet another homecoming, our 70th! How can we top this year’s performance? Or should I ask instead: Can we do worse to become a sure hit again?