Picking dry leaves

I still can vividly recall a recurring scene at the backyard of our old house some 18, I’m not sure, maybe 19, years ago.  It’s an image of my four siblings and me (our youngest sister was born several years after) picking up dry leaves that had fallen from an old Jackfruit tree.

This was our father’s “assignment” to us which we did with dedication every five in the afternoon after coming home from our classes in a nearby public elementary school. Our eldest sister, Mae, was 10 then. I was 8. Des, my brother born after me, was 7. Sef was 5; he attended kindergarten in the morning and at five, after sleeping the whole afternoon, already ready for play or to take part in any physical activity with us. And Gemini was 3, already an able ambler.

It was a task we took seriously, too seriously in fact that it became an opportunity for the five of us to compete with each other on who could pick the most number of dry leaves.

We had a method to this madness.

Before coming home, Mae, Des, and I passed by the stand of an old woman selling barbecued plantains (which we called sinugba nga saging because my parents are both Ilonggos, but which our schoolmates called saging ginanggang because they were all Cebuanos. The five of us never bothered speaking their language. As a generic term we called this snack banana-Q, which is not accurate since deep fried plantains in brown sugar were also called with it).

These barely cooked plantains were brushed with margarine and rolled in white sugar then skewered (I doubt if this is the appropriate word for it) using bamboo sticks that were sharpened at the tip.

To this day I cannot understand why our mother did not keep us from buying that snack, as everything about it was clearly a deadly weapon.

The plantains looked dirty after having swum in the ashes of the charcoals the old woman used to barbecue them. The margarine was without a brand name, and it was conspicuously colored in striking yellow similar to those used in emergency road signs. The brush used to envelop the plantains in that margarine-from-hell was a paint brush, and a used one, as evidenced by the chipping green latex paint on the handle. The sugar that stuck onto the bananas seemed to be from the same batch of sugar used in the previous weeks because it looked more like beach sand than sugar; individual sugar crystals could not be distinguished from the ashes that got mixed with it. Our taste in food, apparently, was very sophisticated. And lethal.

Lest I forget, the bamboo stick, which I remember using as arrows to target shoot the banana trees of our neighbor that stood in a community garden beside a small Catholic chapel. Legend has it that a grade four pupil in our elementary school was killed after having stepped on a protruding barbecue stick. That pupil’s ghost remained in the school to haunt students and teachers alike, or something that went like that, depending on the temperament of the storyteller.

After having our fill of that unforgettable delicious afternoon snack, the five of us proceeded with the operation.

We used those bamboo sticks sharpened at the tip to pick those fallen Jackfruit leaves in our backyard. The idea was simple, we punctured each leaf until they accumulate into a bunch of stabbed dry leaves. Each of us had a base camp where we stockpile our Jackfruit leaves “barbecue”.

The one who picked the most leaves won.

I don’t remember what we did with the leaves after, what the winner got as prize after winning, or what happened to the Jackfruit tree when we moved to a new house years after.

What I vividly recall, though, was our old backyard that was free from those fallen dry leaves.

And our father smiling at us.

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How a boy wearing a shirt with watermelon-wedges prints changed my view on eating the tip of an ice cream cone

Michael P. Silva

www.michaelpsilva.com

Unless one is inside an air-conditioned room, one will not survive for more than 30 minutes the heat of a Manilan noon. Notwithstanding the torrential afternoon downpour because of the monsoon, the temperature on an ordinary day in the Philippine capital is still extraordinarily high. To alleviate the discomfort I often find myself crossing EDSA to Robinsons Pioneer just to buy ice cream, and this has become a routine of daily frequency.

It did not take long before I noticed something odd about this entire practice of eating an ice cream on a cone. Although I eat the cone together with the ice cream, I unconsciously leave the tip of the cone behind and discard it no matter what kind of edible cone the ice cream is placed, even those special cones with luscious and decadent chocolates that are meant to be saved for last. I either throw them away or crumple them until they crumble into powdery non-entities.

Ice cream cones

www.icecreamrecipes.org.uk

I could not to find a logical explanation for this until I remember a memory of a distant past while I was paying for a watermelon shake I bought in front of an ice cream stand.

When I was around five years old I had this classmate named Raul whose only memory I have of him are pictures of watermelon wedges printed on his shirt. It was recess then, between 10-11 o’clock in the morning in a small public kindergarten we both used to attend. Those five-year old students, me included, who went to school unaccompanied by an adult were falling in line for our turn to buy ice cream placed inside a wooden cart; these horrifying, multi-colored ice creams were being sold on cheap cones by a grimy and grease-drenched old man. Some of our classmates who went to school everyday with their mothers or nannies looked at us with envy.

Ice cream Vendor

http://pilipinoanglahiko.wordpress.com

Raul, who was with his aunt, was eating a sandwich that time. He approached me, and in his shirt with watermelon wedges prints told me, “Kamao ka kung unsang paagi nila ginabuhat kanang apa sa imohang ice cream?” (Do you have any idea how they make the cone of that ice cream you are holding?”

Interested with the answer, but more intrigued, I asked Raul how. We were both five years old then but he was more like an adult.

“Tan-awa ha, kanang luyo sa apa,” (Look at the tip of the cone) then he demonstrated it to me, “ilahang ginahulma paagi sa ilong anang gabaligya” (they form it using the two holes of that vendor’s nose as mold).

I did not know what happened, but the following week, out teacher then announced to the class that Raul was moving to a new kindergarten in the city. I have not heard about him since then, but that conversation about the tip of an ice cream cone 18 years ago got stuck in my psyche that I am still repulsed whenever I see people eating the tip of a cone.