OPINION: San Juan memories in cyberspace

Buddy Gomez

Posted at Jan 20 2017 01:14 AM

A cyberspace gathering of happy, nostalgic folks call themselves “San Juan, Rizal Days” (SJRD).

They have embarked upon an “adventure traveling through Memory Lane.” Here is a closed group for all who are from San Juan, but generous enough to include those from elsewhere “who intermingled in San Juan during our growing up years.” Reliving. Reconnecting. Truly enjoying the remembering!

Emerson Manawis, who is an administrator of SJRD, seconded me for membership in this closed group. The honor is mine. However, not having been a resident of San Juan apart from being currently domiciled in San Antonio Texas, how could I justifiably participate? I was about to politely demur, expressing it so to Emerson. But a friend, an SJRD participant who now lives in Brisbane, Australia, Nando Crame, nudged me with a reminder that we are now in the cyberspace age! No barriers! No matter the time and distance, reaching out to friends; renewing and gaining acquaintances instantaneously is reality. On top of that, welcoming hellos and felicitations started streaming from friends of yore and new acquaintances. All of a sudden, the realization that although growing up a ‘Sampaloc boy,’ San Juan memories did provide lasting embroidery to my youthful years.

Nostaglia can be hazy in details, perhaps, somewhat dimmed by the passing of years. But vivid in the essentials. Thus, that picture in one’s mind is limned and remembered. There is always charm in remembering, warmth in revived and relived memories. Yes, they can be sweet, bittersweet, sad, joyful, painful, mixed emotions, but always worth the while. I guess such is SJRD. Now, I am primed and pleased to share. 

[Disclosure: No memory is ever so perfect. Should my recollection falter, do call me out!]

First San Juan experience

It was not until my teens did I begin to form San Juan friendships that lasted a lifetime. But I did have a much earlier experience. I was not quite seven years old when Manila was declared an “Open City” in preparation for and protection from the conquering Japanese Imperial Army. Christmas of 1941 and the New Year of 1942. Many families evacuated urban Manila for the provinces. Our family chose for refuge relatively nearby San Juan del Monte, then still somewhat rural. My recollection tells me that we rented the second floor of a tall, huge house facing the San Juan portion of today’s Aurora Boulevard, almost next to the bridge, over San Juan river, towards Cubao. That river and bridge provide the reference point in recalculating what was etched in my memory.

The sight of the river, still idyllic and pristine then, where some local washerwomen did their laundry was only marred by the presence of Japanese soldiers from an encampment across the river, clad only in loin cloths, cavorting while bathing. Understandably, such a scenario is definitely alien to most SJRDs today. 

The Teen Years

Schooling in San Beda after the war meant new friends. This brought me to Hollywood street (perpendicular to N. Domingo. Has it been renamed?) New friends were the Costa boys: William, older brother Leonardo (Pupong) and baby brother, Allen. Dad was a medical doctor. Their mom was a daughter of an American veteran of the Philippine-American War who stayed behind. Williamson, I believe was their middle family name. Pupong became an engineer while William had a jewelry store in the Ayala Glorietta Center. Both had early "departures". 

Most teenage socials I attended were in San Juan, perhaps because the homes were more accommodating and the folks were well-off and more well-to-do. ‘Barn dances’ and wiener-roasts, with record-player music. (Glenn Miller/”Moonlight Serenade” was a fav "slow drag.") Girls wore pedal pushers or when the dance party were a little formal, flairing layers of petticoats under a blooming skirt, flat shoes, and a pageboy hairstyle were common. A depiction best captured as caricature by Comics illustrator/artist Larry Alcala.

A memorable social sidelight ( in the 1957s) was once provided by Atty. Feliciano Jover Ledesma, the legendary dean of San Beda’s College of Law. A group of selected students, which included me, was invited to his residence in Jofre street. He had arranged for his pretty nieces and their Assumption College schoolmates for a "getting-to-know-you" party. For the boys, it was an opportunity to practice social graces while enhancing our circle of friends.

My closest and dearest of friends all the way to adulthood and even to senior status were "San Juan boys," most notably Enrique David “Spanky” Perez and Rafael Carrascoso “Paeng” Velez. Their homes had become regular after-school hangouts and second homes to me when we were already in college.

Paeng

Rafael “Paeng” C. Velez (R.I.P), a classmate from the grades through college, lived in a huge house along F. Benitez, now redeveloped into a condo complex. The residence was designed by his uncle, the architect Rafael Carrascoso, a bachelor, who also lived there as did an older brother, the prestigious and highly respected lawyer, Antonio Carrascoso, also a bachelor. (Ross, Selph, Carrascoso and Janda---Manila’s top law firm, at the time.) Once, when Judge John W. Hauserman, founder of Benguet Consolidated came for a visit, Atty. Carrascoso tendered an all gentlemen-of-the-old-school formal seated white-tie dinner, almost like in the movies. Paeng and I watched in awe from a distance. In those circles, it was known that Atty. Carrascoso was offered a Supreme Court appointment which he politely declined. (Many years later, another son of San Juan was offered a nomination to the Supreme Court which he likewise very courteously declined. That was Renato "Bobby" dela Fuente, Ayala’s corporate counsel and San Beda’s 1954 College of Law valedictorian. Bobby and I became really very close buddies having worked for Ayala, cheek by jowl, for the late Enrique Zobel. ) Paeng’s widowed mother also lived in F. Benitez, with 2 sisters and a brother. Lourdes was a physician, Tita, a patent attorney and Pepe, also a doctor, who married the younger sister of Senator Pepe Diokno. Another uncle of Paeng, Dr. Fernando Carrascoso owned and managed the St Joseph’s Hospital in the Quiapo/San Miguel vicinity. There I was born, so were Nando Crame, Deedee Siytangco and Bob (Rami) Sehwani.

Spanky

Spanky’s family---- Rodrigo Perez, Jr. and Enriqueta David Perez--- lived on a rise on Ortega St. in “Addition Hills.” Rod served as finance secretary under Pres. Diosdado Macapagal. "Etang" Perez (a whiz in the kitchen!!!) was a career journalist with the Philippines Herald. She stood as my principal wedding sponsor, my Ninang. She authored the cookbook “Recipes of the Philippines,” which is the Philippines’ record setting, largest selling book having gone through at least 35 reprints, over time! (A San Juan trivia!). Daughter Jingjing (Veronica, now Mrs. Fernandez) tends to this family legacy, now assigned to the National Book Store.

Spanky retired after a life long career with PLDT. He was senior executive vice president and chief legal counsel. We met (along with his cousin, Dickie Capati) in 1947. He was in Grade 6, Dickie and I in 5. San Beda in old Mendiola. He was my "Beaver" Patrol leader (I was assistant), Troop 24, Boy Scouts of the Philippines. Our Scout Master was Grade School Teacher Mr. Patrocinio Galman. Here is a friendship that was never to wane. Of course, we remain in touch. Knowing that we were to be in New York City, at the same time but separately, last June, Spanky and I agreed to meet on a designated day and time at the Grand Central Station by the huge clock at the center of the cavernous hall. We had a good hearty laugh. Two San Beda boys, one from San Juan, the other from Sampaloc could not have imagined, over a half century earlier, that they would someday be meeting at the center of the Universe!

Spanky’s older brother was Bobby (Rodrigo III). He was a UST architect before he entered the Benedictine Monastery to become Fr. Bernardo Perez, OSB (R.I.P.) of San Beda. Bobby designed their hilltop home. I remember the place as a venue of soirees for the likes of Lindy Locsin, Cecille Yulo, Hector Quesada, Rely Estanislao, Tessie Ojeda, Bessie Castaneda, Tony Quintos-----all art and culture aficionados. Spanky, Paeng and I were not participants in these sessions but we enjoyed witnessing their animated exchanges.

Serenity disturbed

It was during the days when I was chilling out with William Costa, so it must have been very late 1940s (1949?). A sensational crime of passion disturbed the serenity of San Juan. And in fact, all of Manila. The crime scene, as I recall it, was a two-storey residence along N.Domingo, same side of the street and close by to where Gregg Shoes had its factory/shop/residence. (Gregorio family into which the late Sen. Joker Arroyo had married, the first time around.) 

A fatal love triangle! Fire-hot jealousy, allegedly the motive. A murder that hogged the headlines for days like a detective series, and with photographs, too. The husband gunned down in bed while asleep! Wife, the suspect. Esther del Rosario was a comely widow, with teenaged daughters, who married a younger man after Liberation. George Murray. He was an American G.I. who stayed behind to deal in Army surplus goods. The marriage was souring. George was unfaithful. Carol Varga, a young movie starlet, vixen-vamp-bombshell type, added spice and spike. 

Esther del Rosario was convicted of the murder of her husband and served a lifetime residency at the Women’s Correctional, where ever that was. Not all ended in gloom, though. I seem to recall that romance bloomed between one of the daughters and a young detective/investigating officer assigned to the case. I believe, they were blessed with “forever aftering!” even before the long drawn ensuing murder trial was put to rest.

Joy in cyberspace! It was a pleasant stroll down Memory Lane. Thanks for the company. Thanks SJRD!

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