Shared Stories: Childhood Island Adventures, 1951-52

After chronicling the courtship of her mother and father, Ligaya and Juan, Lisa Filler now shares her unusually early memories as a little girl in the Philippines after World War II. 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

My earliest memories were when I was 2 years old in the Philippines.  My father got a job as a mining engineer assigned to the different islands in Visaya and Mindanao. The whole family, Nanay (Mommy), Tatay (Daddy), Kuya Jubert (eldest brother) Jose (sibling) and I were going with Tatay as he was assigned to work in the different islands in the Philippines.

In Cebu Island, we lived in a house on the mountain where we had to walk thru a narrow wooden bridge that shook as we walked through. Nanay was so scared because deep below the bridge was a river.  

Our house was a typical nipa house (made of bamboo) located in the middle of the mountain. The living area was elevated about three feet from the ground. We used the space below the living area as our playground.  

The living area was divided into two rooms. The big room served as living room at day and bedroom at night. We shared one big mat on the floor when we slept at night.  I was always at Nanay's side. 

As we lay down we watched the lizards on the ceiling and named each one.  I’m usually the little lizard, Tatay was the biggest, then Nanay, and so on.  We knew it was time to sleep when we heard the sound of the big lizard (tuko).  

The small room served as the kitchen and dining room.  The kitchen did not have good lighting. Our stove was made of three big stones using dry wood for fire. 

There was a time when Nanay was about to put a cooking pot on top of a sleeping snake curled up next to the stove.  She kept quiet so she would not wake up the snake, then ran to the neighbor for help. The local neighbors knew how to handle the situation. 

Our toilet and bathroom were separated from the house. We had to bring a pail of water when we went to the toilet or bathroom.  At night we used a portable container to pee.  

In front of the house was a corn plantation while in back of the house was a path going up the mountain where our maid lived. 

One of our neighbors was the Evidente family. Agnes was my playmate, Rene was Jose’s playmate. Kuya Jubert was going to school. We played like miners using Tatay’s miner helmet crawling under the chairs. 

There was a time that Agnes and I tried to follow Jose and Rene to the river at bottom of the mountain. As we walked in the shallow water, we were carried by the current. Luckily, Jose and Rene were able to pick us up when we reached their location. 

When we could not catch-up with Jose and Rene, Agnes and I would explore the mountain on our own. One day on our way going up the mountain we saw a big body of a snake crossing our pathway.  It was black with a yellow design. 

We did not see the head and tail because there were tall weeds on each side of the pathway. We ran to the house of our maid. We did not tell our parents about these adventures but our maid knew.

When we moved to another island, in Zamboanga, our house was next to the sea shore. In front of the house was the road, while behind the house was the actual sea shore. The toilet, located over the deep sea water, was connected to the house by a narrow wooden bridge.  
On good days we and neighbors would wade on the shore. There was a time we heard a loud cry because a neighbor was stung by jellyfish.  

There was a street with lots of monkeys. One day a small monkey kept on following us, so we took the monkey home and kept it as our pet and named her Cheetah. 

After a year we had to go back to Manila. When we were on the boat to Manila, we encountered a typhoon. My parents were holding us kids, while Kuya Jubert held Cheetah as the boat was tossed up and down by the waves.  Everybody was vomiting. That was the scariest experience my parents ever had.       

As for me, this simple life close to nature with lots of fun and adventure was my happy childhood memories.