Happy birthday, House.

The house I was born in, the house I grew up in, turned 49 today. It’s two years my senior, which tells you how old I am.

My parents hail from Sampaloc, Manila. That was a pretty decent area in their day, but by the mid-1960s it had become too rough-and-tumble and risky for a brood of 5 boys. With the help of a neighbor, my Dad bought land in Parañaque in a development meant for Meralco housing. Though they were hardly wealthy, my parents found the property attractively reasonable and conveniently far enough from the Manila gangs to take the plunge. By 1965, the house was built.

Not the house as it is now, of course. Like most couples with young children, my parents had school bills and the usual quotidian expenses to confront. So they started with the basics. As they prospered, they added to the structure, and later, to their number as well. As the story is told, I came along with much anticipation and fanfare in 1967 — the unica hija, the muse of the basketball team, the thorn among the roses (or so they say).

As the only one of us “made in Parañaque,” my experience of “family” is different from my brothers’. Unlike them, I did not grow up alongside my cousins under the gaze of doting Titos and Titas and grandparents within a stone’s throw of the ancestral home. I feel I missed out on much of the bonding that made our larger family more like one big household than the fused branches of a clan. I never knew my grandparents, who passed away within days of each other in November 1965, shortly before my parents moved to their new home. My brothers, on the other hand, knew them intimately. Their stories of Lolo and Yayay made me envious and wistful because I never had any real experience of grandparents, even on my Mom’s side. I couldn’t relate, and for me there seemed to be a line drawn between us — pre-Parañaque and post-Parañaque, then and now, them and me.

The age gap didn’t help. I am 14 years younger than our eldest and 7 years the junior of the last boy. Often in group pictures, my Mom and Dad would pose with the 5 and then pose separately with me. I think it had to do with their Kodak instamatic’s failure to capture wide-angle shots up close — my singling out was nothing dramatic. Nonetheless, the habit of grouping us that way developed and I too began to think of myself somewhat naughtily as “the second batch” or later, when my brothers had all married and moved out, “the only child of the second batch” — especially because I lived alone with my Dad and Mom for a decade before I too married and moved out.

The house became “ours” alone, my parents’ and mine, with my brothers now only visiting with their wives and kids on Sundays. For ten years, the three of us lived as a tight unit. And because my Dad was and my Mom still is a creature of habit, it almost seemed that the predictable waves of our quiet life were etched into our home. So much so that if we tarried too long in the mornings, it would necessarily kick us off to work; and when we left it, it would warmly embrace us upon our return.

I would play the piano (not too well, but soothingly) for hours while my Dad worked in his study (on my right) and my Mom did her magic in the kitchen (on my left). Then we would eat, we would sleep, and tomorrow do it all over again. It was a comfortable, reassuring existence.

One of the rituals my Dad and Mom established was the celebration of our house’s birthday every year. Sometimes we would have ice cream or pancit, or some kind of party fare. It was a kind of countdown to their emancipation from the mortgage and a commemoration of how much they sacrificed to build that house while raising six children. What a bash we had when the mortgage was finally paid. We never had guests for these parties, only us, but it was enough. It was a private affair.

claro& meMuch has changed. My Dad passed away in March 2013 and I believe that all of us, in varying ways, are still struggling with his departure. My Mom has coped partly by refurbishing the house. She has just re-done the kitchens and I must say they’re spiffy updates to the almost 50-year old structure. She’s planning to do Daddy’s study next. She owes it to him, she says.

I know how she feels, and I agree. This house, it’s family, especially to me. I’ve bonded with it more than with anyone else in my family except my parents, and in my view it is intrinsically part of who we are. It is where I was born, where my father drew his last breath. It will never be just a place to me.

Happy birthday, House.

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