The Bridges of Stotsenburg
A lot of people are fooled by the name of our street – Stotsenburg st. Indeed, it sounds like a street inside a subdivision. From what my uncle told me, it was taken from the last name of an American Officer, a pilot, if I remembered right. However, when I was born in 1982 and while I was growing up, how the place looked is definitely far from how it sounded like.
Stotsenburg st. is not fully concrete. Actually, it should have been called Stotsenburg half street. Half of it is concrete while the other half is a creek. People who have their houses on the opposite side of ours have to build wooden bridges so they can cross to the actual street. In these bridges, the creativity and resourcefulness of the people living in each house are seen. I can still remember my Ninong Cris’ bridge which is perhaps the safest. It is made of two planks of wood, each wider than most of the bridges in our place. I can also remember Mang Juanito’s bridge which is a bit narrow. We have to brave it so we can buy his one peso Indian mangoes and ask him for additional “bagoong” or shrimp paste. I can also remember Aling Victoria’s bridge. It is the second widest bridge next to Ninong Cris’. Of course, I will never forget Aling Lilia’s. It was a tiny one which is attached to Aling Victoria’s bridge. It shows how practical Aling Lilia is.
The creek played a major role in each resident of Stotsenburg St.’s life. One has to fall to the creek before he or she is recognized as an official “batang sapa” or child of the creek. We call the falling process “baptism”. This happens in random – at the right place at the right time. No one knows when they will be “called” by the creek. A friend experienced it when her jump fell short. A cousin experienced it when we were running in the streets one evening and I stepped on his slipper. I experienced it when I was playing tag with my friends and somebody shoved me out of his way while we were standing on Mang Juanito’s bridge.
These bridges served a lot of purposes aside from the obvious. It was also used as the finish line of swimming races whenever it rains too hard and floods. It also served as a gigantic toilet for little kids. I know some people who were “baptized” while doing their “dirty” business.
We lived in a two-storey wooden house. On the first floor, there is the living room which features the black and white tube television which has its own wooden house. Our “sari-sari” or variety store is also there. It also holds the dining room, separated from the living room by a wooden divider which holds diplomas and wood laminated family pictures. It also holds our bathroom with a large blue drum inside, or was it green? I can also remember that the shower works.
On the second floor, there are two bedrooms separated by thin plywood. It also holds a stock room. I love the stockroom. It is like a Filipino version of an American attic. It is like a big treasure chest although it smelled of rust and papers. I can still remember how I felt when I found a bike. It does not have wheels, it was rusty, and there are some broken parts. I convinced my father to fix it for me and he did! It became my best friend for quite a while and I was told that it belonged to my father, passed on to his younger siblings when they were kids. My aunt, their eldest, never had time for it.
Every morning, when I wake up, I would call my younger cousin and we would go to Aling Cora’s. Aling Cora sells a wide variety of breakfast. Sometimes we would try the porridge or the macaroni soup but more often, we buy the two-peso champorado. If we have money, we add a peso for extra milk. We never bought pancit bihon, pancit canton, spaghetti, or palabok. We believe that those are for old people since those are expensive. Each order costs five pesos.
What I love most about our place is how everybody is united. I remember how a burglar was caught by one of the residents. He shouted and every man from each house went out to help. They captured the burglar and he was turned in; not before he got a punch or two, though. When the stealing started, a lot of those men lost sleep because they had to stay up to catch the perpetrator. He must have known that he had it coming.
I also remember Fiesta, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve – Stotsenburg Style. Without much preparation, some of the well-to-do residents would go out and host some games for the kids. They host some games for the adults too. I remember that it was here where I first witnessed the beer drinking game for moms – using a drinking straw. The beers were not cold too. I can just imagine how it tasted. Then, everyone would bring out tables and food and we would eat together with all our neighbors. Of course, drinking will follow and it makes dancing a lot easier and more fun!
Aside of being a “batang sapa”, I was also a “batang kankaloo”. Kankaloo means “Kalookan” which was how the city name was spelled before Rey Malonzo was elected and changed the spelling to Caloocan as his first official action as a mayor. One of the highlights of being a “batang Kankaloo” is witnessing the Flores de Mayo of the Stars. Each year, the Kalookan City government hosts a Flores de Mayo wherein the participants are celebrities. I remember watching the parade for the first time and seeing Manilyn Reynes, Janno Gibbs, Kristina Paner, Cris Villanueva, and a lot of other celebrities. I remember being star struck when I saw the Reyna Emperatriz who is Cristina Gonzales and the Reyna Elena who is no less than Ms. Dawn Zulueta.
Back then, Caloocan City had Ever Gotesco as its mall. I remember the good old days when they would have a mascot show outside the mall, on a platform outside the second level of Ever a few days before Christmas. My family would go there and my father will let me sit on his shoulders so that I will be able to see the show. I also remember my aunt working there as a saleslady. When we went there to buy my school bag, she was assigned to be the bagger in one of the counters and my mom took me there to pay for the bag. When I called her “miss” as my mom instructed me to do, she put her finger on her lips as if to shush me off and then winked at me. I do not understand why she did that even now.
After a few years, Ever Gotesco Grand Central was built. It also played a big role in the lives of Caloocan City Residents. I remember the McDonald’s with stools inside a bus, in the middle of the restaurant. I remember the Penshoppe boutique where I usually buy my clothes and the Blowing Bubbles boutique where I saw Ruffa Guttierez and Zoren Legaspi on its opening day. I remember Gift Gate where I used to buy trolls and Kero Keroppi items. Inside it is a shelf full of Swatch watches that I dream of owning. I remember A&W restaurant where my cousin celebrated her 7th birthday. I remember the 40-peso movie tickets where I watched my first movie, Fido Dida, with my father.
Before the new millennium, the Asistio brothers, with Boy as the mayor and Baby as the congressman provided funds and the creek was turned into a road – a higher and wider one. It marked a new age for our street. The creek was gone. No one will be baptized as a “batang sapa” anymore.
Kalookan is now Caloocan. Mayor Boy Asistio appealed for a recall election. It was approved but Rey Malonzo emerged as the rightful mayor. The park in front of Caloocan City Hall is gone. It was replaced by commercial spaces.
Ever Gotesco lost its glamour when Ever Gotesco Grand Central opened. My cousin and I still went there once a week, after school, as if paying respect. Now, it was turned to SM Hypermart.
Ever Gotesco Grand Central was burned down just a couple of years ago. When I went back for a visit, I was deeply saddened as I remember the times I spent there with my family and with my friends.
A lot of changes took place. However, when I visited Stotsenburg St., it’s as if nothing has changed. I saw the same smiles, I heard the same laughter, I saw the same twinkle in the new generation kids’ eyes. There was a lot of chatting. There were lots of embraces. There was the usual teasing. I still felt the warmth. It is still my home no matter where I go.