I used to envy classmates who had provinces to go home to for summer vacations. A city girl like me stayed behind.
I watched a lot of movies—our family owned Cine Ideal, after all—and tried out new restaurants, a favorite family adventure. Weekends were spent at Wack Wack Golf and Country Club, where Lolo was a member, for swimming and its famous blueberry pie. For some productive activity, I took cooking lessons with cousins under naturally gifted, and foreign-trained, aunts.
Not that I hadn’t my own provincial summer sojourns, but these were infrequent. Our grandparents had mines and farmlands in Palawan. We would sail on the General Malvar for an overnight trip and wake up in a naturalist’s paradise—Coron.
Two macho uncles, Tuting and Chito, fishers and hunters and general outdoors men, planned a grand time for us youngsters and our aunts. Mornings they took us by army jeep on excursions to hidden waterfalls or by boat out to sea to improbable sandbanks where we could jump off the boat into pristine waters. Meals were simple yet for us special, cooked with what was freshly caught or available.
Our great family chef, Tuting, mostly prepared everything. His lechon de leche was memorable. I still can hear in memory the piglet’s horrible but mercifully short squealing at dawn. His calderetas were also superb. When I wondered why the young goat didn’t give a wail, Tito Tuting merely chuckled and said it was too drunk to care, and, perhaps to console me, he assured me, by the goat’s great taste (no bitterness), that it had died happy.
If I myself was in awe of those uncles; the locals regarded them like royalty, amazed by their city-bred wit and natural talents. I didn’t think they could have been enshrined higher until I found out how the native-born and -bred landowners were regarded. Eventually, the Reyes branch of our family stayed on and their progeny came to deserve equal honors.
Somehow my appreciation of provincial folk and life was sustained by regular invitations for weekends, from family friends and classmates with provincial roots, to their town fiestas, Santacruzan, Flores de Mayo and other religious festivities. I noted how our host families were held in the highest respect and affection by communities where everybody knew everybody. I thought my provinciana friends had the best of both worlds; I was only to learn later they’d have gladly changed places with me.
The grass is always greener elsewhere, as the saying goes. Perhaps it’s because of one’s perceived lack—the longing to own a farm, no matter how small, has stayed with me. In fact, I came close to buying one of those home farms as a couple of friends did in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. And I thought I had missed out, seeing how they seemed to be enjoying their regular out-of-town weekends more and more.
The situation changed for everybody when the pandemic came. With lockdowns keeping us at home, family drivers who stayed out had become a likely source of exposure to the virus. Many of them were let go or retained but for less pay. Going out of town wasn’t as easy or as attractive as it once was.
This pandemic has given me time to be thankful for what I have and don’t have. Some things are just not meant to be. I’m glad I didn’t buy the farm, even with the prospect of local travel becoming attractive again, when hotels are no longer the safest place during or in the shadow of the pandemic, and those who own provincial retreats, whether on the beaches or in mountain sites, might pat themselves on the back for their foresight. For occasional longings for short out-of-town vacations, surely a safe place to rent can be found.
Indeed, one should be able to see happy trade-offs in one’s life. Real estate, wherever it is, will keep appreciating in time; alas, time is the luxury that belongs to the young.
A couple we know who had planned to be semiserious farmers in retirement bought a right-sized coffee farm in Alfonso, near Tagaytay, and built a beautiful rustic house on it for them and one small cabin to lease out. In less than five years, age and ailments forced them to sell—when the price wasn’t right. They moved back to Australia, where their children lived and their medical insurance could take care of them for as long as they lived.
Another friend, now 89, is realizing the burden of owning vast farmlands, a future inheritance their children are not, never were, interested in. She herself inherited them on her mother’s side and took care of them with joy and a passion. She has already donated a part to the church. Now, the remaining portion she intends to donate to the community—as a public park.
She is, however, only too well aware that in our political environment, it may just end up in the hands of someone who knows all the tricks of land-grabbing. In any case, she’d have gotten it off her hands with the best of intentions.
Oh, am I relieved I’m not a landowner. INQ