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Electrified, Literally


For Third Grade, we had to relocate to Annex, that building in front of the cathedral. I loved the idea of moving there because my sister Rowena’s classroom was also there. She is five years older than I am, so at the time she was a sophomore in high school.

Being kids, during Recess or while waiting for the Air Force school bus to arrive after school hours, naturally we played all sorts of games inside the campus. Annex was surrounded by an iron fence, which made it convenient to play the kids’ game kapitang bakal (roughly, grab metal). This was something of a tag game, but if you wanted to avoid being tagged, you had to find something metallic to hold on to.

There was this one morning, during Recess if memory serves me right, when we were playing the game and I happened to grab hold of the iron post of a street lamp. Of course, that saved me from being tagged. The only problem was that the post was grounded. I immediately felt my body convulsing as electricity raced through my body. I was in excruciating pain like I was never before in my young life.

I could hear my playmates, not realizing what was happening, even making fun of me. I was trying hard to break free from the post, but the current kept my palms glued to it. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I managed to break loose. How I still managed to remain standing, I haven’t got the foggiest. It felt as though the bones had been sucked from out of my body and the blood drained as well.

With the resilience of youth, I was soon running again. Many years later, when I gave that incident some thought, I realized that I could have died right there if for reasons I have yet to figure out I hadn’t broken free of the lamp post. I like to think that it was my guardian angel who came to rescue me.

I am not one hundred per cent certain, because it was roughly half a century ago; but I think it was after the end of Third Grade when we went on this unusually long summer vacation. I have asked my contemporaries about this and at least one has corroborated this iota of memory. The reason this has stayed in my mind is that particular vacation, I was exceedingly bored at home and was, for a change, actually eager to go back to school. For somebody who lived for summer vacations, this was totally unusual.

The only reason this could have happened was that the government must have seen compelling reason to adjust the school calendar. That is why I am so in disagreement with many schools’ decision to adopt an August to May calendar just like they do in many advanced countries. We have, I believe, simply gone full circle.

I do not know what this compelling reason was, but my personal guess is that this was climate-related. Because I became a teacher myself, I know for a fact how distraught and distracted students can become during hot days. Moreover, because I worked for seven years in discipline, I also know for a fact that infractions rather tend to pile up on hot and humid days. How much more at the height of summer in April and May? Students of private schools with airconditioned classrooms will probably find little difference. But how many public schools, pray tell, have airconditioned rooms?

After spending third grade at “Annex,” when we returned in mid-1968 to the main building for Grade 4, the boys and girls of our grade were already segregated into separate sections. In preparation, I suppose, for our transfer to La Salle, which at the time was an exclusive school for boys.

By this time, the Canossian Sisters had arrived to take over the operations of the school. They looked as dour as the Maryknoll sisters were approachable. Whereas the latter used male religious names such as “Sister James Catherine,” the Canossians used intimidating names like “Mother Candida.”

To be fair, they weren’t half as bad as we feared they would be. It was just that their predecessors were always going to be a hard act to follow. In fact, I only really started to dislike the new arrivals when I was in high school at La Salle already.

There was this time when a thief allegedly broke into their campus in San Carlos, to where OLRCA – the name Canossian had already been inserted – had relocated. The suspect, or so we heard, was allegedly a student of La Salle. Because of this, students of La Salle were banned from entering their campus.

At the time, my two younger siblings, Roy and Rhea, were still studying at OLRCA. The daily routine was for Dad to pick me up at the side gate of La Salle in our jeep at the end of each school day and then we would drive the short distance to OLRCA to wait for my brother and sister at the parking lot.

The day the ban was enforced, I was mystified to be asked by the guard at the gate to get off the jeep and wait outside the school premises. How annoying was that! There were other La Salle students in the same predicament that I was, and between ourselves, we managed to put together why we were being kept out like we ourselves were common thieves.

That day, I so hated those nuns! They were evil! This went on for several weeks. Meanwhile, students of OLRCA came and went into La Salle like they owned the damned place! How unfair was that!

But I have gotten ahead of the story.


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