IN one’s life, reminiscing the past is something inescapably imperative while profoundly inevitable since every current life’s episode has a past to recollect and reckon with. There will always be people, events, places, things, and even mere thoughts that will persistently attach us to the years of yore and frenziedly lead us to stride down along memory lane. Fond memories profusely surge and vividly resurface that either rekindle the dying ember on our thoughts or refresh the (almost) healing wounds that once pained and broke our hearts.
They say the young have aspirations that never come to pass and tirelessly chase but the elders have capacious issues of the past that relentlessly haunt them.
Being innately schmaltzy and idyllically quixotic, I treasur every single occurrence in my life… be it hurting, pleasant, heartbreaking, or maudlin… for I believe in their potent impact in the formative years of my life and in shaping the person who I am now. At all times these experiences effectually built and developed my mortal being while reinforcing my faith and spirituality.
At this point I cannot steer clear of the fond reminiscence of my inexhaustible past especially since I’m turning seven decades and a year next week. My thoughts keep spinning and twirling each time I come to terms with my senses… only to finally realize that I’ve vociferously spent the prime of my youth and the remaining years seem insufficient to fully accomplish the many more goals I need to achieve.
Join me, then my dear readers, to journey back in time and together, let’s fondly trace back significant chapters in my life.
I first saw the light of day on a Friday evening, the 7th day of June, 1946 as the first born of Cecilio Salvador Yalong from Bigaa, Bulacan (now Balagtas) and Mamerta Castaneda Tambongco from Baras, Rizal.
Growing up as the eldest among 9 children was pretty tough since I played as the “substitute” parent to my siblings but pleasurable since we grew up as a team doing assigned household chores while being playfellows.
According to a Horoscope and Zodiac site, Gemini-born (May 21 to June 21) are probably the chattiest sign in the Zodiac and the easiest to deal with because they can do all the talking. Just open a topic and watch the Gemini roll with it.
Generally Gemini people are high spirited, grasp ideas easily, quick in comprehension, adjustable, smart, and not to forget witty with a high sense of humor. They’re ably gifted with communication skill and imposing charisma that magnetically influenced others.
Honestly, I felt I was literally patterned after those distinctive Gemini traits and even much more elated having been born on the same day with famous celebrities like singer Dean Martin, recording artist Tom Jones, Libyan politician Muammar Qaddafi, tennis star Anna Kournikova, singer-musician Prince, film-TV actress Jessica Tandy, basketball player Jordan Clarkson, actor Liam Neeson, boxer James Braddock, guitarist Dave Navarro, and Physicist Phillip Lenard.
My childhood memories never fail to bring tears to my eyes. They are too profound and humongous to cast to oblivion. Being born to a big family with a stay-at-home mom and a father who was a public transportation driver entailed a lot of responsibilities plus having to consider how to augment the family income.
I was born in an era when the Philippine peso was at its highest monetary value and strong purchasing power. Imagine the exchange rate of a dollar to two pesos. The minimum wage then was four pesos a day (equivalent to one hundred twenty pesos a month) but commodities and food stuff were priced reasonably enough that a peso could feed a family of four. A five-kilometer ride would cost 10 cents and students’ fare was half. A bottle of soda was only 10 cents, a slice of egg pie was 15 cents, sarsi was pegged at 5 cents, a kilo of pork was 75 cents and a ganta of rice at 35 cents.
I was used to waking up as early as 3:00 a.m. during school days to peddle bitso (sugar-coated fried dough) around town to earn at least 50 cents for my siblings’ baon (recess money of 5 cents each) and during weekends I would either vend icedrop or gather firewoods in the mountains.
While most of my classmates owned leather or plastic bags, my books and notebooks were stuck in a bayong (woven sack) or tightly tied with a rope or a worn out belt. There were times when I had to retrace my path to retrieve the crayolas or pencil that dropped from the corner holes of my bayong.
I knew I was deprived of the many ameneties a student was due of but fate had it to be born to a struggling family and that didn’t bother me as long as I survived the daily demands of school and home. “They may be with luxury but lacking academically…” were the consoling words to myself.
Despite the harshness of life during my youth, there were equally worth-recalling funny anecdotes that made my continued existence laudable. I could still vividly bring to mind an incident while I was selling bitso in the nearby town of Morong where a movie shoot was set in Ugong Falls that starred top Sampaguita Pictures hottest reel and real love team, Rita Gomez and Ric Rodrigo. Starstruck that I was, I buried the box of bitso under a pile of hay and totally got engrossed watching how the movie was made. Unmindful of the passing time, it was almost 8:00 p.m. when I discovered that my wares couldn’t be sold anymore after being severely “feasted upon” by ants.
During a Foundation Day’s Literary-Musical Night I was my sophomore class representative to the declamation contest but got no costume to wear that would effectually fit my piece, “The Inevitable Day” by Christopher Marlowe. My outfit came from an assemblage of borrowed pair of boots from Teteng (a Visayan grocery owner), a black jacket from Fredo (a policeman), black pants used the previous graduation night by a neighbor, and my grandmother’s black tapis (over skirt) for my cape which I grabbed from her closet. After all the trying times, Lady Luck smiled at my adversity and made me win First Place with a treasured Thesaurus (a dictionary totally unknown to me that time for I was only familiar with Webster) for my prize.
I was a dreamer and dreamt of a lot of things. I thought I would be an artist but my parents were poor and couldn’t afford to send me to an art school. Then I wanted to be an actor but I was dark, lanky, and short of height while movie stars then were all mestizos. Then, I segued to being a singer after having won several amateur contests but my voice lost its range and pitch after I taught for years. Everything went kaput and accidentally ended up being a fashion designer…which fortunately catapulted me to where I am.
Being in the fashion world for more than half of my life (39 years in Manila and 9 years in the US), I was given the opportunity to rub elbows with the elite, to mingle and be acquainted with celebrities, meet influential figures, visit distant places, earn a reputable status, build an accomplished name, and above all, sustain the needs of a few unprivileged as my way of giving back.
I feel fulfilled having utilized every facet I was gifted with: a two-time award-winning artist, a flourishing fashion career, a writer-columnist of a widely publicized paper, occupied entertainment director, actively affiliated with community organizations, and living life with contentment and peace of mind.
God has granted me everything I was deprived of when I was young. Friends often reprimand me from accumulating numerous pairs of shoes and bags but those are the things that make me feel good after being denied for years.
There are indubitably some “wind beneath my wings” that I will forever be indebted to for without their support I won’t be able to reach the “unreachable star” I merely used to watch and dream about. I’d say “Thank You” to my family, friends, and colleagues, with special mention of Dr. Leo A. Dela Cruz for “breathing life into” my career here in America and to Asian Journal for the realization of a most cherished passion — writing.
Lastly, be moved by poet Renata Suzuki’s romantic quote about being nostalgic: “Your memory feels like home to me. So wherever my mind wonders it always finds its way back to you… and if you cannot hold me in your arms, then hold my memory in high regard… and if I cannot be in your life, at least let me live your heart!”
Wish me luck as I turn 71 on June 7!
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