By Mary Anne Ledesma-Deduque
No matter how long mass lasted, however, we stayed put in our places impelled by the certainty of a drive to the Magnolia ice-cream kiosk at the corner of the Shell Gasoline Station near the Silay public market that was to follow. This was, at that time, one of only two or three outlets of Magnolia ice-cream products in the entire province. There, Dad would buy a gallon or two of ice-cream for the week – Chocolate for the others and something fruity, like Mango, Ube, or Strawberry, for Mom and me – plus a box of wafer cones to go with it. Occasionally, he would even drive all the way to Hacienda Luguay, about five kilometers away from town where the Gamboas lived, for a taste of their to-die-for homemade ice-cream and special pastries such as “dulce gatas.” On our way out, Mom would then bring with her a gallon of their goat’s milk to mix with the chunks of native chocolate which our Lola Ading had earlier given her to serve at breakfast in our home. Guests who would occasionally join us on these weekly family mini-adventures would actually hear our hearts humming on the drive back home!
In the 1980’s, the little girl that I was grew up. Prior to that, the direction of my life was relatively settled; the selection of what school to go to from pre-school to high school in Negros at that time, after all, did not exceed two or three. Thereafter, tough choices had to be made. No longer bound by the secure confines of knowing clearly what lay next, I found myself transported by life’s many openings to places outside my hometown. College had me exploring the often gripping, occasionally frightening alleys of Manila; travels with my father time and again brought my feet to other shores. Meanwhile, a bent for serving those who have lesser in life on top of a spirit that balked not at treading into still unknown territory led me to places in the country that deviated from and then expanded my definition of home.
For the past three decades then, Silay has no longer physically been home to me. Still and all, the compass of my heart annually points to this city where I was raised – usually, at Christmas time, unfailingly, during the New Year which marks the birthday of our Mom, often, around the summer months. No matter my life circumstances, I have always packed my bags and, with family in tow, headed for this home of my privileged childhood once or twice every year. Whenever I do, the same familiar chatter still fills the house though compounded now by variations of our eccentricities lived out in our children; the same cuisine that we grew up with still fills our table though tempered now by dietary restrictions that the latter years have imposed on us; the same stories of growing up are still retold all over again though liberally seasoned now with additional details that make it difficult for the generation after us to sift myth from fact.
Our musician aunt, still lucid and elegant at 92, no longer plays the piano but continues to grace our lives with her presence as she daily sits in the balcony of her house across ours every morning after breakfast. The Rizal Cultural and Civic Center, recently renamed the Sen. Jose C. Locsin Cultural and Civic Center, now houses a mini-Silay museum showcasing dioramas on the founding of Silay, the role of the sugar industry and religion in shaping the destiny of this city, its struggle for freedom, the birth of this so-called “Paris of Negros,” the havoc of World War II, and its journey towards cityhood, among others. Meanwhile, Bacolod is now a mix of malls and the old haunts that we used to know.
Regardless of the evolution of my hometown and province through the years, it is still always invariably good to be home each time. My own children always look forward to doing so as well. It is where they find a taste of things sweet, genteel, refined, yet fun. As for me, it is where my heart is.