The Stone House
April 20, 2010, 10:35 pm
Filed under: essay, memoir | Tags: , , ,

On dawns when Ka Pedro woke us up, his cart rattling at our gate to deliver kindling for the earthen stove, and I crawled to the window to watch shadows, the stone building right across our gate would rise, hulking it had seemed toward me in tender greeting. I would peer through the half-light, hoping as I always did, to make out an old man’s figure who the old folks say, built the structure for his heirs to perpetuate his name. He remained a myth to my mind and my cousin Jack’s, wrought in snippets of what sounded like tales among kin.

On sunny days, Jack and I used to break away from our nannies’ tight grip and sprint toward the tiny bridge of that house, leading to the main door facing the street. The bridge spanned a narrow moat, fed by town canals siphoning off river overflow, circling the house, washing off the base of a fat rectangle of what we heard used to be stables. My greatgrandfather, as the tales spunned, bred horses for which he earned the sobriquet, “Don Benito, cab-caballo”, a fractured Spanish title.

From the foot of the bridge, we would single along the brick-covered walls and climb the low-lying ledge of one of the windows. Like dwarfs, we would sit, legs stretched, backs flat against the iron grill, taking in the sun as it bore down on us and the glances of townsfolk shuffling by the camino real of our town, Bacarra, Ilocos Norte.

By mid-morning, the dark wooden doors would open, one on each of the four walls, clanging on iron bars unlatched, screeching on rusty hinges. The windows too, would be flung wide, two on each side where we sat, snapping in great yawns. If our nannies remained distracted by corner street gossip they would have been engaged in, Jack and I would slink off the ledge and creep inside the stone structure.

Merely half-lit, doused at angles by dappled sunshine, the cave-like interior allowed Jack and I to creep and skitter around unnoticed by the workers of the dried Virginia tobacco leaf packing company, which occupied the building then. Crawling behind stacks of bundled tobacco leaf, unmindful and forgetful of the leaded smell we and our nannies would have to suffer scolding for from our mothers, Jack and I would weave and out of our fantasies.

Our favorite fantasy centered on the ghost of a giant chandelier, cloaked in dust and cobweb, hanging from its chains attached to the ceiling, which to us seemed as high as a night sky, and frozen in grace; its dozen curving arms and upturned tips forever unlit. We would imagine as we sat on the ruined steps of what we thought must be a grand staircase, how it must have flooded a hall we drew as the unbroken space before us.

Long dining tables like those stacked up under the creaky house we lived in across the street must have been set on those yellowing monogrammed linens we once found in my grandmother’s trunk, the scalloped dinner china in which she sometimes served stuffed chicken during the holidays, and the silver in whose handles initials of my grandfather who carried on my great grandfather’s name were engraved, its remaining dessert spoons we used in our playhouse.

Guests must have offered their toast on those gold-rimmed glasses, a pair of which we found in a buffet shelf of Jack’s mom. Wine must have been brought up from a dank and tart-smelling cellar we once slipped into but scampered trembling back up as the mice and house lizards we disturbed screamed and screeched around our toes.

Jack and I hardly met during our university years in Manila. Not even when a court case stirred enmity in our families in a fight over the land on which the structure once rose like a rather stocky giant. We lost our claim.

Two decades later, poring over a heritage book about our town, we closed the pages miffed at the lack of mention of the stone house. It couldn’t have escaped notice of the researchers, we thought, what with its solid thick walls, massive wooden doors, and that moat.

During a rare visit to our town after yet another decade, I missed seeing the landmark as we drove through the camino real. Next morning as we retraced our way with an aunt, I learned why: it was gone. Where it had hulked solid as a small mountain, there sprawled a thick growth of poison berries and cactuses.

“Why, didn’t you know?” my aunt had said. “It crumbled like a heap of sand in the last earthquake. It was good only for a hundred years.”

“And the moat, what happened to it?” I asked.

“Oh, it had long dried up as the river did.”

I would have to tell Jack about it, I vowed. But on my way back to Manila, I decided against calling him. I had by then realized no matter how massive my great grandfather built a structure to defy impermanence, he failed. It was then when I remembered our childhood fantasies about his monument to which we never did belong  in the end. Like the moving frames on the car window, these folded into thin air as we drove on.

By Alegria Imperial

Published in its edited/shortened version in

Guia’s Way

The Ordinary in Celebrated Lives, The Heroic in Ordinary Lives

Points in Time: National Artists, prominent personalities, and even lesser known folk are put on the spotlight in this book

Points in Time book launch: from left, former treasurer of the Philippines and Univ. of the East president Rosalina Cajucom, jewelry design artist Celia Molano, the author, and then UST Publishing House director

FOR someone who studied to be a journalist, Alegria “Guia” Albano-Imperial certainly took a long time and a circuitous route before landing her first newspaper job. All of two decades, in fact, and only after handling media relations posts in a university and two key national institutions.


It didn’t mean, however, that during that extended period, Guia had deserted her much cherished dream to become a writer. Rather, without her being conscious of it, the years proved to be an extensive preparation for what lay ahead — akin to an unhurried simmer needed to come up with a delicious pot of stew.

That “stew” can now be savored in the form of a book entitled “Points in Time”, part of the UST Publishing House’s harvest of 400 books leading up to the University of Santo Tomas’ quadri-centennial in 2011. For Guia, it is a full-circle achievement, being a proud Bachelor of Literature in Journalism graduate of that school. She reflects, “Forty-four years ago when I enrolled in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters wanting to be a writer and a journalist was when, I now realize, this book was conceived.”

The feat is particularly sweet because Guia didn’t set out to make a book. Not really. It was, unassumingly enough, the result of a cousin’s casual request for copies of articles that she had written. Guia was all set to have her “frayed pieces of newspaper clippings my mother had kept in a brown envelop” photocopied but ultimately thought that would be too cumbersome to do. She instead had them encoded at a press; to her pleasant surprise, the output looked like pages of a book and that’s when the seeds to do an actual one were sown.

But just like any seedling, the budding book had to fight for survival — with Guia sometimes proving to be its own worst enemy. As she writes in her introduction, her heart sank when she began proofreading. “I found out that furiously pounding on a computer to meet a deadline was hardly the right way to write a book. I couldn’t read them (her articles) again without wanting to rewrite every sentence.”

Fortunately, she persisted. With the encouragement of her friend and former editor Llita Logarta who re-edited and her newsman uncle Roy Acosta who re-read, Guia now encapsulates the best of her output in five national dailies into “Points in Time”. Subtitled “The Ordinary in Celebrated Lives, The Heroic in Ordinary Lives”, the book brims with discerning profiles of a range of interesting individuals.

From four National Artists (Lucrecia Kasilag, Lucio San Pedro, Lucrecia Urtula, Jose Joya) and prominent personalities in different fields (designer Inno Sotto, businesswoman Elena Tanyu Coyiuto, advertising exec Emily Abrera) to lesser known folk like the reflexologist Nenette Dazo and the diabetic “Acheng Auring” who came up with her own healing brew, Guia puts them all in the spotlight — giving us readers a peek into their lives and their ideals, no matter their stature in life.

It is often said that journalism is literature in a hurry, and Guia’s essays exemplify this depiction. For even in her admitted rush to meet deadlines when these stories were written, the retelling of her conversations with her subjects is consistently vivid and expressive. What’s ordinary is taken to another level. A mental block, such as what the Maestro Lucio San Pedro experienced, is described as grappling with the void. The sudden starts and stops in the middle of traffic are likened to a jack-in-the-box. It is as if Guia has a whole chest of these words that add just a touch of color to her reports.

As you read each article, you wonder how she was able to take it all in in the limited time that she must have had with her interviewees. But apparently gifted with a shrewd eye and insightful perception, Guia describes things in great detail — the place she is in, her impressions of the person in front of her. It a testimony to her being present in those moments, ever so keenly aware of what was around her and what was being said.

“Points in Time” is an apt title, presenting slices of the past and taking readers on a journey back as if we had been there ourselves: The bustle of an advertising office even in the midst of a brownout (a hallmark of the 1990s) as she sought out Barbara “Tweetums” Gonzalez; the interview at dusk with Susan Calo-Medina which gives us an idea of both how she goes about her job as travel show host and how an ordinary evening runs in her Makati home; the grueling, sweaty hours in the rehearsal hall that go into the seemingly effortless performances of such ballet dancers as Cecile Sicangco and Neil Cambay.

Guia leads us all there, and more. That she loves the written word is here for all to see and appreciate. She herself has said that her articles seem to just unravel like thread in a magic spool. “No writer has ever succeeded in explaining fully the process of putting something on paper. I’m baffled no end at how the pieces in this collection have turned out beyond what I meant them to be.”

But in reading her articles again, she realized that she has gathered what for her were “treasures for a trove”. For this book, she purposely did not get an update on her subjects since she first wrote about them. Guia muses, “Certainly their lives and mine had so changed since then, but the changes have only added value to the mint quality of that point in time we shared.”


As published in the Manila Bulletin, December 6, 2006

“Points in Time” in brief 

The University of Santo Tomas Publishing House and Cultural Center of the Philippines launched “Points in Time”,  Alegria ‘Guia’ Albano-Imperial’s personal anthology on November 16, 2006, 5:30 p.m. at CCP Main Theater Lobby.

“Points in Time” is composed of published interviews in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, People’s Journal, and defunct Philippines Newsday, Manila Chronicle and Daily Globe, presenting the ordinary in celebrated lives and the heroic in ordinary lives. But “rather than essays, they are actually impressions of the most discerning kind, sensitive, intimate and often poetic . . .” writes Llita T. Logarta in her introduction of the book.

The interview subjects represent a cross-section of national life: four national artists, other performing and visual artists, fashion, jewelry, and interior designers, corporate heads, a businesswoman turned ambassador, a national treasurer turned university president, a handicapped artist, a balikbayan nurse, and a home-servicing masseuse.

They subjects grouped into themes are: Tony Adriano, Nic and Lulu Pagulayan, Baby Valencia Eala on “Defining the Home”; Jeanne Goulbourne, Inno Sotto, Cecile Sicangco, Neil Cambay on “Their World”;  Lucrecia Reyes Urtula, Lucrecia ‘King’ Roces Kasilag, Lucio D. San Pedro, Nena R. Villanueva and Reynaldo G. Reyes, Leonor Kilayko on “Legacies They Keep”;  Jose Joya, Mauro Malang Santos, Nuno ‘Tage’ Negrao Ferreira, Paco da Silva, Marivic Rufino, Araceli Limcaco Dans, Celia Molano, Gemma Cruz on “The Seeds of Their Creation”;  Susan Calo Medina, Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio, Barbara ‘Tweetums’ Gonzales on “Life’s Broad Strokes”;  Isabel Caro Wilson, Rosalina S. Cajucom, Emily A. Abrera, Liwayway Vinzons Chato, Lourdes Talag Echauz, Elena Tan Yu Coyiuto on “Balance of Things”;  Rolando Carbonell, Sally ‘Salliji’ Kung on “Spiritual Treks”;  Aurora Palermo and Ma. Anita ‘Nenette’ Daso on “Back to Earth”.

Copies are available at the UST Publishing House and selected National Bookstores.