When MacArthur’s forces had finally complied with his promise “I shall return” we young Filipino boys IN OUR early teens during the 3 and ½ year war also returned – to complete our interrupted studies. This time, with some minor adjustments for Ateneo grade school students when bombs fell on Manila, we survivors all of 14 years old we are back in the classrooms. Quonset huts rented from the U.S. Army. Unbroken rooms and walls of the old prewar Ateneo main campus in Padre Faura also served as lean-to and makeshift classrooms with only iron sheets and crude wooden walls to keep the elements out were functioning.
Many Ateneo high school students have suffered family losses because of the war. Some urban students managed to stay safe with the family despite the harsh conditions under the Japanese Imperial Forces. Still many out of town students had to play a delicate game relating with Japanese soldiers who come and raise hell in their towns and guerillas who come down from the hills seeking food and medicines for their comrades. All of them 15 year olds who felt and suffered during the war looked at the start of classes like zombies trying to shake off the horrors of war.
It was in this scenario of destruction debris and dust when I met one of the many friends I would have till later in life. He was sullen looking. Even during happy moments that came around after classes he was the same sullen boy whom I befriended while we were at our smoke break provided by the school for smokers. This was also recess time for all smokers and non smokers.
I got to listen to his experience (as I and many others did) during the war. He came from a large family of (1o siblings); He was the youngest of them all. Throughout high school I would be with him – often alone for I discovered that he was extra touchy with meeting other boys for reasons I did not know. I respected that so we were always together him and me. No others. However, I had other small groups that I went with depending on the particularly school intramural academy I signed up with. I worked as part of the Chesterton Evidence Gild which had a weekly radio program over DZRH. Then I acted with the Ateneo Players Guild having been recruited for a one act comedy directed by Fr. Henry Lee Irwin, S.J. the highly reputed authority on Shakespearean plays. But my quiet and sullen friend was careful in just joining any activity – which further strengthened my suspicious that he was a very private and sensitive young boy. I was said to be a most gregarious chap they say that I sometimes got too involved in extra curricular activities neglecting my studies.
In fact, my friend was not my classmate. For he was a year behind me in high school. I graduated in 1948 and he 1949.
When I graduated from high school the college department soon moved to the new Ateneo campus at Loyola Heights, Q.C. I saw less of him since my college subjects did not coordinate with his schedules. But when I started college at the new Ateneo campus with a major in Journalism I was so happy seeing him in the Journalism subjects. And the class was small compared to others with at least 20 or more. Our class had less then 10. However, three of them became lights in Philippine Journalism. But he and I were not among those. We picked up with more vigor for we would often walk home from our late afternoon class in Journalism. The large Loyola Ateneo campus had only three buildings at the time.
When we gfraduated from college, the commencement exercise was held outside In the open. I rendered a song ala Sinatra with a fedora even. Halfway through the ceremony, we spotted him coming in and taking his seat ijn the group tht was graduating. His face was ther picture of grave sadness. Soon I learned that he stayed up to the time his mother died. It was only at that time when he rushed over to be at the graduation ceremonies. ?The scene was so heartrending because every single classmate in the group slowly trooped over to offer his condolence to our classmate who had just lost his mother.
Back to the original campus in 1952, One four story building were used by the college department. One building known as the Blue Eagle Nest housed the gym and some offices. The third was the four story Administration building. During the cold months and days of early darkness he and I and some others would walk the unpaved dark road and for the lamps were still to be installed. When we reached the main road known as Aurora Boulevard we would often hitch a ride with gravel trucks going into town or if we are lucky some kind soul would take us in their private cars for by that time the Marikina Valley busses were all in their garage, off for the night.
His rare talent, as I discovered earlier, was his keen sense of humor. But with his soft modulated voice his jokes were delivered clear enough to make me laugh out loud. In fact, it is this unique skill that got him to work with leading ad agencies before he was pirated by a newly opened radio station DZMT where he had the enviable distinction of introducing stereo sound in the Philippines for the first time. After graduation, we started our role as husband, and father, but saw less of each other for I too had other paths to take in teaching, radio and TV work. A few times we socialized with him and his family but soon after I decided to seek our fortune as a family to migrate in America. After settling down in ?California, what greeted me one day at a Filipino gathering was my friend, this time he was less sullen and already smiling and cracking lots of jokes. He told me that he had moved to the U.S. with his new wife and that he was working with a large American bank. He was indeed happy. And it was my turn to ask him how I could also secure employment. He shared with me some techniques in landing a job – even by that time I was no longer a spring chicken. But thanks heavens there were lots of jobs even for older people and new immigrants like myself. I finally got one but sad to say, I was found too slow for a word-processing person in a large health related firm. I was let go. As luck would have it, it was the year California suffered from an earthquake, and followed by the recession. I managed go get temporary jobs but even that dried up and I was “retired” automatically.
Still I would find time to meet him after office hours. We would meet at a small bar not far from his office and have our favorite drinks, His was J and B with a Twist of lemon) while I had shot after shot of Johnnie Walker Black label whiskey, neat with water on the side, For almost two hours we would exchange Ateneo memories, work in Manila offices and getting drunk minute by minute. Before we would really get drunk, we would quit and he would walk me to the Bart station where I would catch the Daly City train while he the Hayward train.
I did not know much about his health condition until after a few drinking sessions he confided in me that he had had heart by pass surgery some years back. But he looked so well that it never occurred to me to inquire about his health. Then I noticed that he used a hearing aid. This was the time when he had retired from his San Francisco firm and now did temp work whenever he could. This time we would meet in Daly City where I had our apartment. The arrangement was that we would agree on a date and time. Also a specific Bart station. Then I would fetch him from the station and we would decide to go to a restaurant around the area. Oftentimes, we would just have beer with buffalo wings. That was it.
After a while I would take him back to the station and he was off to his home in Hayward. We did this for many years and each date was lots of laughs and memories.
Then in early May 2011, he said that he was having problems with his heart –I assumed a result of his bypass. He was composed in our phoned conversation but I could sense a latent fear. I asked him to keep me post on any developments. At the same time Chita and I were leaving for our scheduled trip to Manila. I tried to call him but he was required to stay in hospital for observation.
We arrived in Manila May 6th and through our lap top I emailed his wife Lola an updates of his condition.
On May 16, 2011 I got the chilling report via emal from his wife, Lola, that he had passed on.
Ruben was a kind soul. Creative and because of his sensitive= nature was also perceptive. Qualities that makes a person a good friend and partner.
We have offered prayers for him since his death.
I enjoyed reading your tribute, especially the background info about the Japanese occupation, the liberation period, and how it affected the lives of 14-year-olds returning to school - and to life. That's quite picturesque.
Ruben used to look forward to your get-together. I did, too. I knew the two of you would have fun reminiscing your Ateneo days, your advertising days, your radio days, and every wonderful memories the two of you had experienced in Manila. I'm glad there was you - ever-faithful friend that you were to Rube. Your tribute is much appreciated.
Thank you for being with Rube throughout his life. Thank you for being with me all this time. Thank you for the prayers and remembrances.
I'm glad there is you and Chita. God bless.