Polo, My Birthplace

Dr. Nono Zabal Reloj

   I was born in the barrio of Polo, the ancestral home of my Mother and the Zabal clan. When I was a very young, our family moved to the nearby town of Banga where I spent most of my childhood. In spite of growing up several kilometers away, I had fond memories of Polo as a child. I guess being one of the youngest among my cousins was a perk. I felt that I was always given special attention by my cousins and nephews/nieces whenever I visited my birthplace. I was also pampered by my aunts. Nay Deca would always ask me to stay in their house during weekends and serve me her best cuisine. She would always prepare a comfortable bed for me. The smell of the freshly ironed and well starched linens still lingers in my mind when I recall those weekends. Her husband, Tay Garyo, would always try to get out of his way to please me. He showed me how to make “pawod” and other woodwork. I enjoyed manning their “sari-sari” store, especially whenever there was a public dance. Aside from the free “coke” and candies, I had the chance to see my relatives in their best attires and also play with my relatives. It gave me the rare opportunity to hear the Zabal sisters sing their old folk songs which was an amazing experience.

 When I later learned how to play the guitar, I was surprised to find out that Nay Umba’s guitar had a different tune and not following the standard guitar tunes. I felt very proud to learn that their songs were in the local and national museums. I could still remember the impeccably dressed Nong Bodoy and how graceful Nang Georging was in the dancing floor during the Fiesta celebration. I can also recall the day Nay Pecta brought me to Libacao to help her sell different kinds of metal products in the market. She introduced me to every Zabal relative who happened to be passing by our stall. I was surprised to find out there were so many them in that area. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t go into the field of business when I really enjoyed selling stuff as a child. I could still remember the small foundry in Nay Pecta’s house. It would always remind me that our great-grandfather was a blacksmith.

 One day, Nay Umba brought me to our ancestral land in the hills and showed me where she usually picked the best “bayabas”. The smell of that fruit always remind me of Mama’s bag that I usually rummage whenever she came home from Polo where she used to teach. And she made sure there was always one. I can still remember waking up early in the morning sandwiched between my older cousins, the sweating and snoring Ibabao brothers. No need to say that it was not my most refreshing sleep. It was quite an experience to see them dip in the cold Aklan River early in the morning which I politely declined to join. I had a good excuse because I could not swim. Even if I did know, I was sure I would have used another reason.

 The rainy season in the barrio was also unforgettable, with the musical sound of the rain hitting the “pawod” roof, like the lullaby lulling me to sleep. The sound was softer and gentler than that from the corrugated metal roof of our house in town. Playing with my cousins and relatives in the river was a big thrill and what I was always looking forward to. I used to envy their uncanny skills in swimming which took me a long time to learn. Come to think of it, I did not remember bringing any extra clothes or towels whenever I went swimming! Before I started going to elementary school, I would always go with my Mom to work. I didn’t mind riding in packed and overcrowded minibuses because I was sure I was going to have a good time. I even helped her check her student’s arithmetic exams, a job that I was always proud of doing since she was teaching in the fifth grade.

Before leaving in the morning, I would prepare milk and food for my grandmother who was blind. It was my most gratifying chore as a child. I found out later that she would share the food with the rest of her many grandchildren. I suspected that some of the things she gave me were probably from somebody else also. That was the grandmother that I can remember, a very caring and generous woman. The time that I spent with my grandmother was one of the most memorable and cherished experience of my childhood. During the rare occasions that she spent weekends in our house in town, we always go with her to church. I would enthusiastically and proudly hold her hand as we lead her to the church because she was blind.

 During the time when she was dying in her bed, I remember sitting on the floor crying with the rest of the grandchildren and great grandchildren. We stood in line and taking our turns to be on her bedside one at a time. She was not in pain or in any kind of distress, and I wondered later how they were able to know she was dying.  I guess she felt it coming and told everybody else. I could not figure out the cause of her death except for a possible natural cause. They said she was more than one hundred years old and her body probably just quit working because of old age. I thought that was the most ideal and dignified way to die.

Although I grew up away from my birthplace, I was glad I had the opportunity in my childhood to visit and spend some time with my relatives. I can imagine how much fun it would have been if I actually grew up there.


 Zabal Sisters

Hilaria, Columba, Teodorica, Perfecta and Paciencia


Email from Dr. NoNo Reloj 11/12/10

I visited the site again and had to read my short story (again). It always feel good to have those memories. The pictures of my mom & aunts beside it makes it more emotional to me. Then I read their names. I wonder if Lola picked those names. Do you know their meanings?

Teodorica - (Teodora ) Gift of God)
Paciencia – Patience
Perfecta – Perfect
Columba – Dove
Hilaria – Happy (Latin), Cheerful (Polish)