Monday, September 29, 2008

House Of Dreams

In the 1950's, Jose, an up and coming landowner in Barangay Salvacion near the town of San Agustin just 20 or so kilometers north of Lianga began plans to build his dream house. It was not just going to be any other house. It was going to be a flamboyant statement, a visible declaration of his growing wealth and status in the small community. It was going to be, by local standards, a feudal castle, a monumental structure although crafted not of stone and mortar but of fine wood and concrete yet imposingly grand and immensely pretentious just the same.

The structure that emerged can be described as eclectic at best, a hodgepodge of styles and designs. Hemmed in and squeezed into a small lot, the landowner had decided to build upwards, aiming to create an illusion of space and bulk. The house was to tower over all over not only all the surrounding dwellings but will be the tallest in the whole barrio. To ensure this, a third story tower-like structure was constructed and from its windows one could survey much of the whole village as a lord would from his manor.

There were those who said that Jose was merely giving form and substance to an ego that was as ruthless, ambitious and monumental as the house he was building. But the landowner was not fazed by such negative comments which he dismissed as merely motivated by envy and jealousy at man who was already making his mark in their small society.

When construction was finished he and his family moved in and Jose looked forward to many years slowly but surely and inexorably expanding his landholdings. After all, he was only in his middle age and had another half a lifetime to build on what he had.

Eventually, perhaps, he could see himself in his golden years relaxing on the balcony in the second floor of his house during long, lazy afternoons, fat and content, surrounded by a gaggle of grandchildren and basking in the admiration of his peers at what he had accomplished and made of himself.

But the vicissitudes of fortune are as arbitrary as they are cruel. While traveling to Cebu in the middle of the 1960's on one of the small inter-island ships of that time, he made a stopover in Surigao City. There while in the midst of an afternoon nap,a massive heart attack felled him. The vital, driven man who had left Salvacion just a few days earlier was no more.

In the years that followed, Jose's wife and only son tried to grapple with the complexities of managing the extensive estate they had inherited but they did not have Jose's drive, focus and obsessive fixation on the land. The son soon got married, moved away and eventually immigrated to the United States.

Emang, Jose's wife stayed behind in Salvacion and did what she could to keep the family properties safe and productive but illness and poor health hounded her in her old age. She managed to survive a series of strokes and even visited her son and his family in the U.S. a couple of times but a final stroke in the late 1990's left her infirm, decrepit and bedridden.

She finally passed away in 2003 just after the dawn of the new century, leaving behind a once extensive estate now wracked by controversy, boundary disputes and competing ownership claims. The house was abandoned and left to deteriorate, its facade and dark interiors accumulating the grime and dust of years of neglect.

Jose was my paternal grandmother's brother and as a young boy I used to treasure the times I get to visit the old house. I would scamper up and down the marvelously crafted hardwood staircases, walk barefooted across the gleaming wooden floors of the second story living room with its pattern of alternating planks of dark and light, cream colored timber and tempt the fates by leaning over the concrete balustrade of the second floor balcony.

But the best treat remained the climb up the spiral staircase to the third story tower, from where I would peek over the window sill of any of the two large picture windows and gaze with awe at the sight of the barrio houses far below me, the people like small insects going about their business and unaware of my gazing presence.

Then there were the stories of ghosts and restless spirits that were said to inhabit the old house. Indeed the structure's grim, forbidding visage and the air of dilapidation and disrepair about it only served to encourage such tales.

But even as I child I had always felt that if there was a poltergeist lurking there somewhere, it would be nothing compared to my Lolo Jose's indomitable personality that seemed to inhabit and pervade his house. I never knew him and was just a baby when he died but whenever I am within what used to be his home, I could sense the man's driving force, his vitality and what I felt was an intimation of lingering, festering anger at things he had left unfinished.

Even in disrepair and neglect, the house he built remains an eloquent expression of his vision of himself - proud, indomitable and and one of a kind. It is also a sad monument to a dream, a dream that life at its most capricious had cut off at the bud and cast whimsically into the unforgiving sands of time.

1 comment:

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