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Super and Lando’s Grass Cutter

A former neighbour and a contemporary recently opened one of those suddenly fashionable Facebook dot-dot-dot groups and named it Laking FAB ka kung… For those not from hereabouts, FAB stands for Fernando Air Base, home of the Philippine Air Force’s 100th Training Wing.

It never ceases to amaze me how something totally unremarkable can suddenly trigger the retrieval of memories that one previously thought hopelessly lost and long forgotten. This group – and the postings therein by my contemporaries – was one of those.

Truth be told, I had been experiencing difficulty recalling persons, things and experiences from my early formative years growing up inside the Air Base. I like to hypothesize that a lot of the previous data has been overwritten on the hard drive that is otherwise called my brain by the vast volume of people and experiences encountered in a three-decade career working in a school.

You are correct, though, if you sniff a whiff of self-denial in all this worthless hypothesizing. It is probably the passing of the years more than anything – a.k.a. ageing; there, I finally managed to say it.

To get back to that Facebook group, the same neighbour posted his reply to the group’s title:

“…kung nakapag-grocery ka sa ‘Super’.”

That would be short for “supermarket.” Everyone in the Base just called the place that way – although, as a young kid growing up in the sixties, I really did not know why. Like any other kid, I left it to the adults to figure out the complicated things in life.

Of course, by present day standards, Super as a name for that store will not exactly be appropriate. It was just this smallish hall that was centrally located inside the Base and that conveniently had everything that mothers forgot to buy whilst on their sorties to the public market uptown. It was a grocery store, in other words.

The place was about 500 yards or so from where we lived in the Dallas area of the Base. Even as a pre-schooler, I was a frequent customer at Super. I so loved those hard Lemon Drop candies that cost one centavo each at the time; and would happily walk over to the store if I could manage to con Mom into parting with cinco centimos. Of course, even in those days, there was already my other favourite candy, the by-now folkloric ChocNut.

Later, when I was already going to school, I would just as frequently go there to buy pads of elementary writing paper; Mongol pencils and Bic ball-point pens; Crayola crayons for my colouring books; and even those tiny sachets of tagsi (short for tagsi-cinco) Tancho pomade to groom my hair with.

Then, there were those times when Mom with alarming frequency forgot to buy from the market a bottle of patis or toyo. Often, she would realize her mistake just when she was about to cook lunch. This meant a hike to Super under the late morning sun.

I learned to relieve the monotony of the hikes by kicking any reasonably-sized stone that I would find along the road all the way to the store and then back to our house. Stupid, huh? Albeit, when I come to think about it, I was always going to be a football player because of that.

Sometimes, I would go on my scooter – not the motorized type; one of those you got onto and pushed forward with your other foreleg. When I learned to ride a bike, the trips became even shorter.

There were other stores Mom frequently set me on errands to: Vedia’s, Lina’s, Cucio’s and the Air Force PX. Try as I would, I cannot be sure exactly where this next anecdote happened; although my hazy memory says either Super or Lina’s. I was not even involved; and it was just one of those anecdotes that Mom repeatedly told over the dinner table.

We used to have a kasambahay – the current politically correct term for katulong; although, in the old days, we used to say “maid” or “boy” – who we shall just call by the name Lando. In those days, the kasambahays were frequently from one of the many obscure rural communities around the province. They were often those who wished to get out of the farmlands and willingly went to live with families as household help.

Frequently, they had had some elementary education; and the lucky few managed to spend a few years in high school. Back then, as it is now, poverty drove them to seek employment as household helpers.

Now, one morning Mom wanted some fresh butter for her pan de sal. “Lando!” she called, “pumunta ka sa Super (or whichever store) at bumili ka ng fresh butter.”

“Opô, Ma’am!” So Mom gave him some money and off he went to the store. Now, Lando was one of those whose experience growing up was strictly agrarian; and whatever education he had had was extremely limited.

By the time he got to the store, he was not sure at all what my Mom had asked him to buy. “Pabili pô daw ng…” he stumbled while talking to the storeowner, “…uhm… grass cutter!”

For those who do not know what a grass cutter is, it is an oversized pair of scissors that one uses to do exactly as the name implies; i.e. cut grass. They do not sell these in grocery stores.

“Sigurado ka ba?” the storeowner asked. “Walâ nu’n dito!” Of course, Lando would argue. “Meron daw pô, sabi ni Ma’am.”

Disappointed, he had no recourse but to go back home to report to my Mom, “Ma’am, walâ daw pong grass cutter!” My mother nearly died laughing.

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