Stories of Christmases Past

Stars

The Christmas rush has me rushing. No matter how early I start with the shopping and the planning, I still end up dashing through the sea of equally harried last minute shoppers hoping to keep their date with Santa.

I don’t want this space to look lonely over the holidays. And so I am reposting something “Christmassy.”

Cheers everyone. Happy Holidays!!!

Story 1

It is the (mid) 1970s. I am grumpy because I did not get the (usual) box of curly tops during our school exchange gift. In fact, I did not get anything at all because I left the (usual) soapdish at home, and the (usual) exchange gift went on without me.

Because I am probably getting on Ma’s nerves, she decides to have an impromptu exchange gift, with all of us combing the house for “gifts.” I spy a bagful of red kiamoy and I wrap it up in elementary-school fashion. Our boy comes in carrying a big, beautifully wrapped present. The brat that I am, I decide to have that gift no matter what.

We draw lots, and I see that I’m about to get a “thing” wrapped in brown paper bag. My younger sister is about to get the gift. I bully my sister into trading lots with me.

The sister opens the brown paper bag and gives out a delighted yelp: there are sweets aplenty–Kendi-Mint, Bravo, White Rabbit, N-Nut, Big Boy Bubble Gum. I open the gift and I roar.

Inside the beautifully wrapped package is a bunch of freshly harvested kamoteng kahoy!

Story 2

It is 1989. My sister and I are at the bus terminal, trying to wheedle tickets for the trip that would take us home to Sorsogon for Christmas. All seats for the air-conditioned coaches are taken, the booking agent tells us. There is an extra trip, though, she continues.

And so we clamber aboard the rickety, ordinary bus, picking our way past cans of biscuits and baggage. The bus is packed. And smells of sweat and who knows what else. But there is an undercurrent of happiness, of excitement over going home for the holidays.

Four hours into what is projected as a twelve-hour ride, the engine coughs, then dies. We spend four hours in the middle of nowhere as mechanics try to resuscitate the otherwise dying bus. When it is clear that it won’t go any farther, the conductor flags the next Bicol-bound bus, and asks if it would take us in. Or if we would take it.

We take the equally packed bus, and we are crammed–along with two others–into a three-seater. We are among the lucky ones. Others are standing along the aisles, separated from their travelling companions. The bus is so crowded that when someone is left behind at a pitstop his companion doesn’t find out until four hours later, at the next pitstop.

For the entire trip, the tale of the lost companion becomes a running joke. The bus breaks down twice, and we are–again–stranded. Somebody passes around a tin of biscuits, and soon, there is a mini roadside party of sorts. We watch as locals out to attend the dawn masses file past.

We transfer to yet another bus, and we spend the rest of the journey home standing. The twelve-hour ride stretches into a full 24 hours. It is the longest bus ride of our lives. But it is worth it. After all, what is Christmas if it is not spent in the comforts of home?

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