Shared Stories: A brilliant beginning to first grade

This coming Monday, August 21, all of the continental United States will be treated to the rare opportunity to see a solar eclipse. Lisa Filler remembers such an event when she started first grade in the Philippines. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Lisa Filler

The time from 1954 and 1955 was eventful for me. I was officially enrolled in kindergarten. Tatay (Daddy) went to the United States of America. Kuya Jubert (eldest brother) graduated from elementary school. And Manila experienced the total solar eclipse.

In the Philippines, school starts in June and ends the following March. Elementary is from kindergarten to grade 6 followed by four years high school. A regular student would start at age five and graduate high school at age 15.

In June 1954 I was officially enrolled in kindergarten at Welfareville School, while brother Jose was in grade 2 and Kuya Jubert was in grade 6. We were in the morning session. We walked a half-mile to the school at 7 a.m. and walked back home at noon. Nanay (Mommy) was teaching in the afternoon session at 1 p.m.

Tatay was selected from his work to study the new technology in Geology in the United States of America.  Before going to the United States, Tatay took us around the University of the Philippines and Balara Park. He took a lot of family pictures. 

We all wrote letters to him while he was in Alabama. I always ended my letter with “Be good.” He replied with pictures of the family (LaMoreaux) where he stayed. They had a daughter, Karen, of my age.

I don’t know how long he was in the United States but I remember when he came home. He brought walking dolls for me and my cousin Jean. One was a 12-inch bride, all dressed in white. Another was a 6-inch girl with different outfits. We got a lot of bead necklaces from the Mardi Gras. 

Nanay and I got nice dresses. Mine were of different sizes that I was able to wear until grade 5. Jose got a cowboy outfit, boots and guns.

Jose was so popular with his cowboy outfit and the first one to grow sideburns like Elvis Presley. Kuya Jubert got nice jacket and View Master with films of Washington DC, the New Orleans parade, and others. 

Tatay also brought a lot of bars and boxes of chocolate candy for us and to give away (pasalubong) to relatives and friends. He got himself new Kodak camera and collection of sample liquor in small bottles of different shapes. 

Kuya Jubert won first place in the declamation contest. He practiced so many times that Jose and I memorized with action most of the lines. Kuya Jubert was serious with his studies. In March 1955 he graduated from elementary school as Valedictorian while I graduated from kindergarten. 

He was enrolled at the University of the Philippines (UP) Preparatory High School located in Padre Faura Manila where most of the Valedictorians from different schools continued high school. He had to take two lines of public transportation (jeepney and bus) to get there.  Sometimes Tatay would take him to school using the Land Rover he used for work. 

On June 20, 1955, there was a Total Solar Eclipse in Manila, Philippines. I was in Grade 1 and our teacher was explaining to us what would happen, that the moon would cover the sun and it would be dark at noon time. 

There was a miniature replica of the Solar System showing the position of the Earth, Moon, and Sun.  We were given sunglasses made from picture film and she dismissed us early before it got dark. 

When we reached home, my mother prepared a wide tub full of water for us to watch the eclipse reflected on the water.  We did not have to look up with our film sunglasses. 

All the people in Manila were in awe of the experience as the moon slowly covered the sun until there was total darkness. Then slowly the light of the sun was uncovered in the opposite direction.

That experience gave me a clear understanding of what an eclipse is and began my interest in looking at the solar system.