Bahay Na Bato
(House of Stone)
The family drives to the town of Calamba to visit their ancestral home, which is now a museum. Lola says the architects did a very good job with the reconstruction based on old photographs and paintings.
The musuem’s curator meets the family at the front gate. In Tagalog the term Bahay na Bato is used for older homes built during the Spanish years. The curator relates the history of the house and the people who lived in it. Lola’s stories of the family begin to come alive for the kids.
As the family enters, the curator steps away from them to give a lecture to a group of school children.
"Let's stand here and listen a moment," says Lola. "It's important for the young ones to hear this."
"Dr. Jose Rizal is considered the national patriot of the Philippines," the curator says. "He was a doctor, a novelist and a poet. He is regarded as one of the noblest figures Asia has produced. His writings inspired the revolution against the Spanish colonialists."
"Is there a statue of Dr. Rizal in your town?" she asks the children.
All of the children nod.
"There are statues of Dr. Rizal in towns and cities all over the Philippines," the curator says.
"He is our national martyr, executed by the Spanish on December 30, 1896 after a long exile and imprisonment. His poem written before his execution "Mi Ultimo Adios" or "My Last Farewell" is his final known literary work."
"Wow!" Victoria whispers to Sammy. "Is that OUR ancestor she's talking about?"
"Yes, Victoria," Lola says in a low voice. "Dr. Rizal was my great uncle and your and Sammy's great-great-great uncle.
The school children go off on their tour, and the curator rejoins the family.
As they walk through the house, she says, "There are people who swear the spirits of your ancestors still occupy these rooms."
Yvonne asks, "Do you believe this?"
"Yes, of course," is the curator's emphatic reply and relates her favorite story. One day a week the house is closed to the public. She was upstairs in the living room when she felt a breeze even though the air had been very still in the house.
"Suddenly I felt cold hands patting me on the back of my neck. There was no one else with me. I froze, but I wasn’t frightened. I felt someone was thanking us for taking care of the house."
Sammy feels the hairs rise on her arms and the back of her neck. She recalls Patti’s term for goose bumps in Hawaii. "The locals call it chicken skin."
She holds on to Ollie's hand.
Don't worry, we are in the place of your family stories, and it is a good place with a story all its own. It won't scare you, but I think it might make you sad, Ollie whispers in Sammy's mind.
They pass through the lower level. The curator tells them it was probably used to house the servants and a horse and carriage. There are paintings and photographs on the walls. The floor on this level is the only remaining part of the original house.
There is an artist’s sketch of a horse drawn carriage with a man sitting inside wearing a derby hat and a suit. A man and several women stand beside the carriage. The women wear long skirts with full butterfly sleeves and scarves over their shoulders. Some of them hold Spanish abanicos or fans. These days Filipinos call them pamaypay. Mari tells them the dress is called the Maria Clara.
Two men stand with the women. Both wear loose-fitting white shirts over trousers. The Barong Tagalog, worn by men on special occasions, is an embroidered long-sleeve shirt usually made from the fibers of the pineapple plant.
The sketch depicts Dr. Rizal's return from Madrid, where he was studying. Welcoming him are his parents, older brother and sisters.
Suddenly, the gallery of photographs and paintings, along with her family and the curator, disappear. Sammy looks around, wondering where everyone went.
She stands next to a carriage. The place is busy with two women doing household chores. They wear long skirts like in the painting, but not as fancy.
One woman sweeps while the other polishes the red stone floor with the half shell of a coconut. She has one foot on the floor and the other on the shell. One hand holds her long skirt up slightly and the other hand is behind her back. She pushes across the floor in a gliding motion first on one foot and then the other, as if she were skating.
The coconut half shell is called a bunot and the oil from the shell makes the floor gleam.
The women pay no attention to Sammy. It is as if she isn't there at all; it all seems so strange. A little panic rises, but she stifles it and decides to take a look around.
She proceeds cautiously up the shining hardwood staircase. She looks back at the woman with the coconut shell and wonders how long it will take to clean the stairs and the rest of the house.
I hope they take turns, she thinks.
Straight ahead is a kitchen and an informal dining room with a long wooden table and benches. Two women are busily preparing a meal. They wear the same type of clothing, only finer than the two downstairs. One is Lola’s age and the younger one looks like her daughter.
A big ceramic jug with a spigot for water is perched on a stand in a corner. It must be hard work to lug buckets of water up the stairs. Sammy has never seen such kitchen utensils. The stone counter facing the window is the cooking area. Clay pots sit atop a stack of bricks with red coals underneath. Just like the others downstairs, the two women do not notice Sammy.
"I wonder who they are?"
Sammy goes to the balcony. A wooden bucket hangs on a rope from a stone arch. She looks down over the railing to see a well in the garden. The bucket is used to lower it to the ground, filled with water and pulled up by rope.
"This is the house in my dream!"
There are two closets side by side. One is a toilet with a bucket of water beside it. Flushing must not be invented yet, she thinks. The other closet has a marble stand with a basin and pitcher of water and a mirror hanging on the wall. This must be where they wash their faces and brush their teeth.
She wonders how they take showers or maybe they have a bathtub somewhere. Or maybe they just take sponge baths. Lola said that's how they used to wash themselves during World War II when there was no running water.
Sammy goes back inside. The entire upper floor has sliding, capiz windows. Each wooden framed window has an inset of small, polished squares of seashell to let in the light.
She turns around and sees a woman with two children; a girl and boy in the formal dining room. The woman arranges flowers on the large dining table covered with a fine linen tablecloth and china and silverware in place.
"It looks like they are preparing for a huge dinner."
Sammy approaches the children. They look longingly at the bahay kubo in the garden and then back at the woman, hoping she gets the hint. Sammy knows how they feel. "I would want to play outside instead of being in the house."
The children don't notice her.
"I must be invisible to them." She feels like a ghost from the future.
Suddenly she feels someone's eyes on her. She turns around. They stare at each other in amazement.
Paciano Rizal is taller than most Filipino men. He has fair complexion and a long face with high cheekbones. Lola has the same face — our Chinese heritage — she calls it.
He wears a white Barong Tagalog and holds a newspaper. The other hand covers his mouth as if he is keeping himself from shouting.
Panic is not something the family needs now. With all the problems they are facing, they have to stay calm.
"Oh yes, the calm before the storm," he thinks. His brother’s outspokeness brought the Spanish friars' wrath on him and the family. "If anything, the blame should be mine."
He was the driving force behind Pepe. He was responsible for sending his younger brother to study abroad and strongly advised him to publicize the atrocities the friars were inflicting on the people. And Pepe did just that. He wrote not only the first book, but a second one that angered the authorities in Manila.
Maybe Pepe should have stayed away, Paciano thinks. But then he knew that was out of the question. His brother felt it was his duty to face the friars and their accusations of treason.
"That’s absurd. Foreigners accusing a native son of treason," he thinks.
Sammy sees the date on the newspaper — June 1892!
The man looks at the two children by the window and then at the strange girl, scrutinizing her clothes, her bare legs and sandals. She wears shorts and T-shirt with her backpack slung on one shoulder.
"Where is this child from?"
"This must be Lolo Ciano," Sammy thinks. There were two sons and nine daughters in this family. Sammy had seen many photos of the famous son, Pepe the doctor. But only one photo of Lolo Ciano, the only photo in existence, and she knows this man standing in front of her is him.
She remembers Lola telling her the story behind the photo. Lolo Ciano is in front of what looks like a decorative tablecloth. He is not looking at the camera, but at the object before him. Once during a family gathering, Lola showed the photo to a friend, and asked her friend to guess what the object was in front of Lolo Ciano. A tablecloth was the reply.
Lola laughed and revealed that it was her mother’s backside. Her mother was bending down right when the photo was snapped. "Isn’t that funny? The only known photo of my great-uncle, and my mother’s butt is in it!"
"Why can Lolo Ciano see me when the others can’t?" Sammy wonders. "Does he have the gift too?"
He looks from her to the two children again. He rubs his eyes, but the vision doesn't go away.
Sammy opens her mouth to say something, but he puts a finger to his lips and motions her to follow him to the living room, away from his sister and two children.
Lolo Ciano bows as though they are being introduced. Just like the image of the man she saw on the copper moon in Hawaii.
She tries mind talk. Are you Lolo Ciano?
More amazement on his face.
Is this how they dress little girls where you come from, child?
Yes, Lolo Ciano.
And where may that place be?
San Franciscio, California, Lolo Ciano.
Lolo Ciano appears startled, but composes himself. Are you from my line, child?
Sammy says her mother is Yvonne, whose mother is Marita, the daughter of Encarnacion, the daughter of Maria, his sister.
And what is your name, child?
She tells him her name is Samantha, but people call her Sammy or Sam. He says that sounds like a boy's name.
That doesn't matter so much in my time, Lolo Ciano."
I prefer to call you Samantha.
This child, even though she is very young, may know the future of his family, how their lives may play out.
Listen, to me, Samantha, he says, this is most important.
Sammy nods solemnly.
I do not understand everything that is going on here. I assume you do not, either.
Sammy nods again.
I know something very important is destined for my brother Pepe. I am sure it involves great sadness. I have seen some of it in dreams. Have you ever had such dreams?
Yes, Lolo Ciano.
I suspected as much. Listen to me carefully. You must not tell me anything about the future. We cannot avoid our destiny; all this will affect our family, but also the country. It has to play itself out as it has been ordained by history. Do you understand?
Sammy nods again.
Promise me, he says, as they walk back to the dining room.
I promise, Lolo Ciano."
I think I will find out soon enough even if it’s something that I dread. I know that my younger brother’s life is in danger, but it would not be right to tamper with whatever the future holds for him or any of us in the family.
We’re getting ready for Pepe’s welcome home dinner. The woman in the dining room is your great-great grandmother Maria. See the girl and boy by the window? The girl is your great grandmother, Encarnacion, and the boy is her brother, Mauricio.
Sammy walks over to her family, trying to stay calm.
She approaches Lola Maria. She sees all the women in the family in her face. She looks sad. Sammy remembers her mother’s story of Lola Maria. She was the first emancipated woman in the family. She became a single parent when she left her husband, Lolo Daniel, against the wishes of her family, but they reluctantly gave her their support when she returned home.
Lolo Daniel disappointed her too many times. She tolerated his gambling and philandering ways for as long as she could. He did not take her threats seriously until she and the children finally left for good. Her spinster sisters were not too pleased and showed it, too.
The unmarried sisters did not treat Lola Maria, and especially her children, too kindly. No matter how bad the marriage, people stayed together in those days.
Sammy turns her attention to the children looking out the window. Lola Encarnacion looks to be a few years younger than Sammy. Lolo Mauricio is the younger of the two. They seem very protective of each other. Sammy knows they will remain so until the end of Lolo Mauricio’s life towards the end of World War II. She feels a sadness for the boy by the window.
They sure don’t act like kids where I come from.
The two women in the kitchen enter the dining room. They announce that the meal will be served shortly. The older woman says something to Lolo Ciano and disappears into one of the rooms in the house.
Lolo Ciano tells Sammy that the older woman is his mother Teodora. My father Francisco is the head of this house, but my mother holds the family together."
He tells Sammy that he will introduce the family as they come in.
Voices float into the dining room. Sammy's family is sitting down to dinner.
What she is seeing is too incredible. Who would believe her? Solo and Ollie would and maybe Tita Patti — maybe. Anyone else would think she was hallucinating.
Her great-great-great-great grandparents are first, followed by their children. Lola Teodora, the matriach of the family, leans on her husband Lolo Francisco’s arm. She squints her eyes, trying to focus on her surroundings. Sammy knows that she had been going blind before her son Pepe operated on her. Lolo Ciano tells Sammy who each person is.
Sammy pays particular attention to her great-great-grandmother, Maria and her daughter, Encarnacion. She studies their faces and their movements. My girl cousins and I look like them. I can see all of us in the way they look, walk and talk. Sammy watches Lola Encarnacion bending over her little brother Mauricio, talking in whispers so as not to be heard by the adults.
Sammy cannot take her eyes off the family's pride, Lolo Pepe. She is looking at the man whose courage and sacrifice help end 400 years of Spanish rule. She is seeing the hero for herself. She has seen his face in her uncles.
They all pass her. She wants so much to reach out to them, to touch them, but something inside tells her not to.
When everyone is seated, Sammy stands beside Lolo Ciano's chair. The children are led to a separate table by a woman who is probably their yaya.
She remembers her mother’s stories about the servants who took care of her and her brothers and sisters. "They were around us all the time", her mother said. "In a way, they were also the ones that helped shape our characters. Of course, you had to have a good yaya."
Sammy realizes that she may be witnessing the family’s last time together. The newspaper Lolo Ciano had was dated June 1892. This must be before Lolo Pepe was exiled by the Spanish to the distant island of Dapitan.
If only she could tell Lolo Ciano, but his warning sounded an alarm in her brain. If she says anything now, history will change.
The atmosphere seems tense. They all look up with apprehension every time they hear the door open downstairs. Finally, Lola Teodora says, “Let us make the most of our time together. We will deal with it when and if they come for Pepe. I will not have this food wasted.”
Sammy is pleasantly surprised that she can smell the aroma of the steaming dishes brought out and set on the table. She is getting hungry.
The conversation becomes animated. Pepe entertains them with stories of Europe and the people he met. He turns to his sister Maria and says, “As stubborn and headstrong as you are, you would feel right at home in Germany, sister — if you had been a man!”
Lola Maria takes her brother’s remark as a compliment. “I’m sure I could teach those Germans a thing or two! “
Pepe turns his attention to his older brother. He has a curious look on his face.
Sammy feels like Lolo Pepe is staring right at her. She looks around her to see if anyone else is beside her. Lolo Pepe says, "I sense a presence beside you Kuya, but I think it is a good one. Maybe we have a guardian angel in our midst. Maybe this angel will protect our family?"
Nervous laughter from the sisters follows his remark. Lolo Pepe's sense of humor puts them at their ease, but their laughter turn to puzzlement when Maria asks if anything is wrong.
Lolo Ciano looks like he is about to fall off his chair. He turns to his brother and asks, "Can you see her?" At the same time Sammy is asking, "Lolo Ciano, does Lolo Pepe have the gift too?'"
There is a loud commotion outside the house. The family falls silent. They hear horses, shouted orders, a booming knock on the door, footsteps tramping up the stairs.
Someone announces the name of a Spanish officer. He looks around the table. He walks over to Lolo Pepe and says, "Senor, you are ordered to report immediately to ..... "
Sammy runs to Lolo Pepe, reaches out and touches his arm.
But now Patti has her arms around her.
Sammy is torn away from the scene, wondering what happened in that dining room so long ago.
She realizes that next time she visits the past, she shouldn't touch anyone. Maybe that's why I was brought back. I probably shouldn't have touched Lolo Pepe.
Sammy feels stinging tears. She wipes her face, but not before Patti sees.
"Sammy, are you OK? You were standing by the table like you were in a trance. Is there something you want to tell me?"
Sammy's voice is shaky. "I'm not sure. Did anyone notice anything?"
"No. The others are too busy looking around."
"Did I do anything? How long was I gone?"
"It was only for a few minutes. What's wrong?"
"Did you touch me?"
"Well, yes. When I saw you scared and crying."
Sammy sees that her aunt looks distraught. "Did you see something Tita Patti?"
That's what brought her back. She touched Lolo Pepe and her aunt had seen her crying and hugged her. She wasn't sure if she should be angry or relieved. Maybe she wasn't meant to see what happened next.
"No, well ... a glimpse, maybe. When I was standing behind you."
"I need to talk to Ollie, Tita Patti. You know about Ollie, don't you?"
"OK, sweetie. Try to calm down."
She hugs her aunt. Solo was right. Her aunt has the gift, but she is not ready to deal with it.
Patti changes the subject. "Don't you think it's time for lunch? I need to remind the others that we are expected for lunch at Lolo Ciano's house in Los Baños. His grandchildren invited us to eat with them."
"We're going to meet Lolo Ciano's family? Wow, that would be great!"
"C'mon, let's go look for the others," Patti said.
They drive to the nearby town of Los Baños. The grandchildren of Lolo Ciano warmly greet them. One of them, Lolo Fran, particularly resembles his grandfather. They tour the old house facing Laguna de Bay.
Sammy sees the only photo taken of Lolo Ciano, with her great grandmother's backside in front of him.
Back at the Bahay na Bato, a figure in white materializes. He blinks and looks around. But where is he? He knows he's in the future, but it isn't the same house; it has a different feel and look. Ah yes, the old house was burned to the ground.
He hears the sound of many footsteps on the stairs. Are the soldiers still here? He looks about frantically when a group of students and their teacher walk right past, around and through him.
Lolo Ciano listens to the teacher talk about his family.
"Where is that little girl, that girl Samantha?"
On the way back to San Pablo, Sammy takes out her journal. She puts a check mark beside Lolo Ciano's name. Now she knows three of her guides.
© Patricia Laurel