The apartment where I grew up with my parents and eight younger siblings was a corner unit in the 1st building complex inside a huge family compound belonging to a clan from up north of Manila.
And this little space which my family occupied was home to me from the time we moved there shortly before I entered kindergarten until I got married. It was my home for 19 years, the home that also nurtured my youthful dreams.
“It didn’t matter how big our house was; it mattered that there was love in it.”
― Peter Buffett, Life Is What You Make It: Find Your Own Path to Fulfillment
It was one of those American style 2-storey apartment complexes designed in the popular retro architecture of the ’60s, and located in a quiet middle-class neighborhood. Most families here sent their children to the nearby Catholic schools — one exclusive for girls, and the other for boys, or to the pilot public schools that catered to both boys and girls.
Our front door opened to the main driveway, the right side of which, if you were entering the big iron-wrought gates, was lined with a variety of green plants and flowers, from the gate to the end of the long pathway. A tall fruit-laden star-apple tree also stood by the entrance, solemnly guarding the spacious property.
From the kitchen, our back door led us to the small yard that laid between our building and the 2nd main complex where most of the family members of the clan lived in their own smaller units. At the tip of that small yard was my father’s garage. Hence, when he drove home each evening from office, he would have to turn left from the main driveway.
The yard and the driveway fronting our unit served as our points of connection with the other children in that compound.
Most interesting were all the box-like windows in the house, the type of which we could climb up inside, close the shutters, and viola, we’d be in our own little world, out there in the open yet safely enclosed within the house.
These windows. They were often the stage for my and my siblings’ imaginative wandering minds.
Much like the houses of old, an enclosed staircase led from the 1st landing up to the 2nd floor, and this staircase was another favorite nook of mine, where I’d often write in my diary or create poems, or read books – books filled our home including the bathroom. But many times, dreamy me would just sit there on one of the steps, leaning against one side, my feet up on the wall, musing my hours away…
That staircase. My comfort zone where I was free to be alone with my thoughts.
Our family unit’s focal point was the medium-sized living room where we had our family altar, the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the wall, hung over the corner table lined with statues of Mama Mary and St. Joseph, and other saints like St. Jude and St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Yet in each room upstairs, smaller altars were enshrined as well.
Each evening, my parents would gather us all in that cozy space, in the living room, after my father had arrived home from office, to say our family prayers that would start with the recitation of the Holy Rosary, before we partook of our supper — one that often lasted an hour. Our family prayers were personal to us for they were composed by my parents.
Our family ritual. It was, until now even in our own homes, a ritual that has nourished our souls, our faith in God, and one that has marked us as a family.
Family meal times were also a time for sharing stories about our day, or quiz time as when my parents would check on our lessons, or just simply telling jokes.
With a large brood such as ours, it was usually a time of mirth, playful bantering or at times – marked with petty quarrels that my parents would soon squash enough with just a simple stern look or a “ssshhhhh” from either of them.
The house where I grew up. The home that nurtured my dreams. It has helped transform me into the person I am today. Thus, so thankful am I there were those elements that cultivated my inter-, intra- and meta-personal relationships: with others (family & childhood friends), myself, and with God: the yard. the driveway. the windows. the family dining table. the staircase. Most of all, our family altar.
That house. My family’s sacred space. A special memory for me.
“When I think of home, I think of a place where there’s love overflowing.” – sung by Diana Ross