HOLIDAYS are fun-filled days even as daily routine haunts. It has been a way of life to wake up very early, prepare some leaves for tea, the rice pot next and then gather squash, hand-pollinating in the process, and if there are wild ampalaya, these, too, would land in the daily harvest.
Never have there been days that we failed to be in the squash patch or we skipped hand-pollinating our new babes. While I am busy in the dirty kitchen, trying to have a steady fire by the wood-fed stove, the Lakay goes around with his little pails to further moisten the soil, replenish the bird watering hole with fresh water, feed the fowl or dig for cassava.
Holiday or not, this routine runs like the hand of the clock. If one stops, the systems fail. There are no alarm clocks or bells, only the chickens tell us that it is time to feed farm animals. This too has its own system – spread feeds for chicken, and rush to feed three dogs and three cats almost simultaneously to avoid them competing for food.
There used to be a lot of chickens. We stopped counting when their number reached 50, but the hens kept laying and roosting that it was too difficult to count. To control the fowl population we gave each relative a chicken for tinola on their birthdays.
Birthday celebrations usually fall on a weekend, so we gather all the celebrators and have a feast of chicken tinola or arroz caldo, depending on how many chickens are caught.
First, we had to let go of a lot of roosters because they tend to fight in competition for hens. Later, when we had to give even our pet roosters, we decided to give hens as well. Those that do not hatch all their eggs went first until any hen could go, except those with very few chicks to care for or those roosting.
I learned to let go of pets when once, my pet inaHen was chosen because it was the easiest to catch. So I learned to let go.
“Masakit sa puso (it hits right at the heart),” the millennials would say. It truly hurts to let go.
Over Christmas, a group of native tree enthusiasts came over and all I could offer was a freshly brewed pot of green tea. They came with several native tree seedlings and a passion fruit seedling. Yes, they also brought us tsaang-gubat seedlings. Most of those they gifted us were native figs. They know full well that our space is a sandy, arid and acidic piece of beach-line estate. We really need water-impounding trees.
Truly they came for our malabago and were interested in hunting other native tree wildlings or seeds.
I showed off our matang-hipon, the lone tangisang-bayawak, ipil, banaba and Igyo. These are actually the ones that welcome visitors. They also noticed the potted Lipote and the pink-leafed balitbitan. I should have toured them where we planted molave, catmon, figs, Agoho, kamansi and other native trees, but it was already dark. So we finished off by sharing some planting materials or cuttings of our malabago, green tea leaves, mulberry, and even cassava. We did a short tree-walk towards the two siar trees, now shedding off leaves for the next flowering season. Only a few dry pods hung on branches and we collected seeds before calling it a day.
A day after Christmas, while we were preparing to start our farm day, we learned that a group of relatives from Mindanao were coming to see us. We had to start early so as not to disrupt garden duties, only to know that they were up for breakfast at The Happy Scion. What a pleasant surprise! There’s more! A whole clan that lives in Manila was coming, around 30 or more…
To cut it short, this tropa ni Ingko Ceiling (my late father-in-law) usually dives in that number. I was not surprised. They travel in a convoy-motorcade. We have joined them thrice to Mindanao via Ro-ro and where we stopped to eat, the eatery would close and call it a day. Everything gets gobbled down. We also stop to use the CR, and if lucky enough, we ask to be allowed to bathe too. It was always fun. A little hassle though with children in tow.
Whenever they come to us, we prepare to host bed-and-breakfast style and tour guides, included.
At The Happy Scion, however, I allowed them to catch ducks that they also cooked. I was instructing the cooks to learn to do it pinikpikan style. They were obliged to burn the feathers, but not in finishing the pinikpikan. After parboiling the neat, they cooked adobo, their way.
Instead of preventing tots from loitering in the planting sites, I asked them to feed the ducks and chickens and they enjoyed doing it. They also picked flowers and offered these to their respective moms. What a way to entertain these young guests. Allowing them the freedom to pick what they liked to pick was like giving them freedom. Too bad there were no ripe aratiles on the lone tree because the season just ended. So these kids picked calamansi instead.
Before most of them came, an advancer came with fresh bangus, oysters, and crabs, that we cooked over live coals. We also picked squash, malunggay, and burak and we had a pot of fresh vegetables. My sister-in-law did a quick trip to buy bananas and
suman to complete the meal. Tea came unlimited.
She brought grated coconut and we had ginataang kamoteng kahoy, which the Manila residents from Mindanao enjoyed. They were asking why our cassava tasted better than theirs back home. One said that they could not cook cassava without getting a bitter aftertaste. I could not tell her that it is the cyanide in cassava that makes it taste bitter. Ours does not have that bitter taste except when it is harvested long before it is cooked. We harvest ours just before giving it away as gifts and advise our recipients to cook it right after. They took home a sackful.
They tried calabash, avocado, mulberry, and Indian green-leaf tea. Our samsamping did not give us enough flowers but we have dry pods for them to sow. They also took cuttings and one of them foraged for more herbs.
I love this bunch of my husband’s relatives. They are at home wherever they park their cars. They headed for the beach and stayed there until sundown.
Who says merrymaking is expensive? Say it again and we will show you how affordable it is to spend the holidays away from home, yet away from tourist traps like the city I usually love when I feel the need for a true respite.
Happy anniversary, The Baguío Chronicle! I hope to have a relaxing weekend with you also!