Dulce Ruelos and her family left their village to go into hiding when Japan invaded the Philippines. When everyone returned home and school resumed, Dulce feared she had done something wrong. 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 Dulce Ruelos
In 1945, at the end of World War II with the surrender of the Japanese army and the takeover of the Philippines by the Americans, we were finally allowed to go back to our homes from the places where we had hidden for safety.
The initial sight was one of total devastation. All houses were bombed and burned to the ground. There was only one structure left standing. This was a large, two-story house belonging to my cousin Lorna.
The roof and walls were riddled with bullets, but the floor was still usable. This structure became our school building.
Meanwhile, temporary dwelling places had to be built. Bamboo was plentiful and came in handy for use as floors or walls. Our lot had a deep well, so a safe water supply was available for us and our neighbors. We lived temporarily in this hut until better housing could be built.
Top priority was to reopen our school. The only building that could be utilized was the lone surviving home. Quick fixes were made so that classes could start.
First and second grades would occupy the ground floor, and the bigger and older third and fourth graders would be on the second floor.
I was enrolled in second grade. My teacher was a frail-looking but strict and efficient teacher named Miss Teodora. Textbooks and major school supplies had to be shared, and classes resumed with a sense of normalcy.
One day the principal, Mr. Ruiz, came to our classroom. We all stood up as a sign of respect until he motioned us to take our seats. Mr. Ruiz then spoke with Miss Teodora in a soft tone, almost a whisper, and turned toward the class.
He focused his look on me and I heard him mention my name. Needless to say, I was scared, and I began to ask myself, “What wrong have I done?”
Did he find out that I scribbled something on the wall? But my handwriting is so fine and small. You see, graffiti is nothing new. Finally he announced that with Miss Teodora’s permission, he would take me upstairs to the fourth grade class.
He asked me to stand in front of the class. Then he gave me the fourth grade book, opened it, and asked me to read from the book. After reading, he told me that I could go back to my class.
At that, I heard him tell the fourth graders that he wanted to show them that a second grader could easily read their book that they were having difficulty with and they should strive to improve their reading skills.
This experience was a moment of pride and an unforgettable memory.