Reminiscences of Sixty Years Ago

Reminiscences of Sixty Years Ago

A couple of months ago, I received a postcard from a Jess Sebastian of Columbia, South Carolina, United States, wanting to know if I graduated from Arellano High School in 1950. He told me that he got my address from a mutual friend Rosie Cabot in Columbia. If I’m the one, he asked me to e-mail a Boots Tayengco, who is organizing a diamond class reunion in December in Metro Manila. Diamond is for sixty years’ anniversary, whereas gold fifty.

Can you imagine the chill that crept up my spine as I read and reread the postcard? It’s been sixty years since I graduated from Arellano with hardly any contact with my classmates there. I showed the card to my wife, who remembered Rosie when we were living in South Carolina in 1967, 43 years ago.

With some trepidation, I e-mailed Ms. Tayengco who turned out to be Lydia Grande, and she was “pleasantly surprised” to hear from me. She is married to Albert Tayengco, who is a pioneer in resin-product manufacturing in the Philippines. In subsequent e-mails, she recalled that we were staff members of the school newspaper, The Chronicler, and that we were a large contingent of Arellano students at the Secondary School Press Conference in Baguio, where a classmate Cris Sideco had a scooter accident.

I learned that several classmates have had successful careers in the Philippines and in the United States. There is Dr. Mutya San Agustin Shaw, who is a distinguished pediatrician in New York. There is Prof. Virgie Pascual Beecham, who is a retired law professor from Far Eastern University after graduating magna cum laude in law. There is the successful management consultant Ruben Ramos who now lives in Arizona with his wife Ludy. There is our valedictorian Rey Evangelista who has been posted in numerous places around the world in the Philippine consular service, I suppose.

Naturally the e-mails made me daydream about the late Forties when I was in high school. Nineteen fifty was a few years before Elvis Presley, but we had the cool dreamy voice of Nat King Cole’s singing “Mona Lisa” or “When I Fall in Love.” That was the time when bikini first appeared, and when the sexy French actress Brigitte Bardot was a popular sex symbol. I remember the hit song “Itsy, Bitsy, Teeny, Weenie Polka Dot Bikini.”

In 1950 or maybe earlier, I was thoroughly impressed by a young congressman who came to make a speech to the student body. He was in his early thirties, good-looking, swarthy with a powerful voice, and by my adolescent judgment, a brilliant man exhorting us to greater love of country. He was Ferdinand Marcos, and I was telling my buddy Sid Samodio that here’s a man who would make a great president.

Unfortunately, prognostication was not my strong suit. Marcos did become a president, but his greatness was not in bringing the Philippines out of poverty but in acquiring wealth for himself and his cronies. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say: “The annual salary of Ferdinand Marcos as president of the Philippines was 5,700 dollars. After 20 years in office, it was estimated that he had built a personal fortune in excess of 5 billion dollars. When he and his wife, Imelda, were forced to flee the country in 1986, the economy of the Philippines was in ruins, the treasury had been looted, and money from foreign aid had been siphoned off by Marcos and his friends.” It is a sad commentary that our poor country suffered the most under the Marcos regime. And the loot has not yet been fully recovered. In the meantime, the Marcos clan continues to produce politicians. Beware!

Nineteen fifty also brought in a sad era in the world. World War II had just ended in the mid-Forties with victory for the Allies—the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and France. In the United States, alarm was raised by none other than Senator Joseph McCarthy that communism was infiltrating the American society. He made accusations of disloyalty, treason, and subversion with no regard for proper evidences.

He was particularly concerned with the entertainment business, the unions, and educators and had come up with the Hollywood Blacklist, which included among many others, conductor Leonard Bernstein, Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, actor Edward G. Robinson, and author-actor Orson Welles. Thus we had in America, McCarthyism or the McCarthy Era where everyone was in fear of being shadowed. This lasted to the late 50s.

Sixty years is a long time. When I checked Facebook for recent pictures of highschool classmates of mine, I was thrilled to still recognize some of them. Like me, they have all aged, but the twinkle in their eyes is still there. Going to the Reunion would be a treat if my health allows.