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Through the eyes of a child

(Article published in the May 4,2011 issue of Manila Standard Today) 

It was a big risk.  Local media for several days had been hyping the wedding of William and Kate; would anyone forego the live TV coverage of the measured moves and counted curtsies of royalty in a far-off kingdom that had long ceased to rule the waves and come instead to the launch of printed pages of a childhood forced to quickly ripen to responsibility by the specter, and then the reality, of a world war that school kids nowadays know by its being only the second, not even the first?  But come they did, those who knew the difference between suds and substance.

Last Friday, on April 29, the last working day of the month, his family and friends, colleagues, classmates and combatants all joined in the launching of  Lauro Jocson’s second book “Will there be war?” held at the 34th Floor of Citibank Tower, on Paseo de Roxas, Makati City.  William and Kate, they must have seen too, but, as deserved the event, only later in the evening, in edited replays.  After all, the brits’ stint in the country was by far too short to matter, a subject that I had dealt with earlier. (For my take on the brief British excursion to, and incursion in the Philippines, you may read this column’s piece in the Aug. 12, 2009 issue of Manila Standard Today  and in the Aug. 13 edition of Sunstar Online Manila).

“Will there be war?” is Larry Jocson’s second book.  His first is entitled “Moments” which this corner reviewed in December 2007 (See “The Secret of Larry Jocson’s Longevity”, December 05 issue of The Manila Standard Today).  By the time he was working on “Will there be war?” Larry Jocson was already age-wise way past the passing grade.


But, notwithstanding, the book is amazingly packed with details.  For instance, of his stay in Tondo, just before the war broke out, he recalls: “We were to stay in the second storey of a wooden building at the corner of Moriones and Sande Streets in Tondo….On the first floor of the building was a tailoring sop and a Chinese goods store.  The store occupied the corner so that it became L-shaped.  On the Moriones side was the sari-sari store.  The owner of the store was Mang Jose, a Jolly Chinese, and I presume partly Filipino, for he spoke Filipino.  Here one could buy canned goods, candy, cigarettes (the favorite then being Piedmont), and postage stamp for 2 centavos.”  Since then, of course, inflation has raised the cost of stamps, among other items of commerce.

Fast forward to 1941.  Larry recounts, “about two months after the start of classes in June, I heard about the possibility of war in the country.  My parents said that the enemy would be Japan…It seemed incredulous, even to a 9-year old boy, ere one cHerHere one cHerHthat Japan would wage war on America.  The only thing I knew of Japan were the toys that my father bought for Ernesto (Larry’s brother) and me.  Made in Japan  toys were made of tin that did not last one day after Ernesto and I had played with them.  The Lionel train set that Tio Ipe gave me was made in the US.  It lasted for years.  If the quality of the toys were to gauge the power of the contending countries, then it would take America only three months to beat Japan.”  As events unfolded, history had other plans, the war lasted longer than Larry expected. 

But the war did end and this was how Larry the boy saw it.  “When I woke up one morning in early March (1945), I felt that something was different.  I could not immediately place why that morning was different from the previous ones.  Then I noticed that the silent sounds of battle in Manila were no more…Ernie and I went up once more to the municipio roof garden to look at the Manila skyline.  The first thing we noticed was the change in the dome of the Sto. Niño Church in Tondo.  The silvery dome, bright in the sunlight, had been very familiar to us.  This morning, the glow was gone.  In its place was the metal support, still curled like a dome, but was supporting nothing.  The tops of the other buildings were gone as well. There was absolute silence.  And there was a thin smoke like that of dying embers.  The smoke seemed to cover the entire city…We did not know that what we saw was the carcass of a dead city…”

Pressing and serious though they might have been, deadly war and silent peace were not Larry’s only preoccupation at those times; he had thoughts of love, too, and in quick progression.  Thus, said Larry, “…I knew there was something that made a boy want a girl.  The thought started when I was in grade 1-B (pregrade 1) in the Infant Jesus Academy in Tondo….In grade 2, there was pretty girl, a mestiza, who I kept looking at…In grade 3, at the Philippine Normal School’s Training there was a girl who appeared to be everybody’s crush…in one of the class plays, she and I appeared as characters…At one point, I was to hold Maude in the arm.”  This was the early 40s, dear reader, and, according to my elders, being able in those times to hold a girl’s hands was the functional equivalent of today’s conquest.  “Maude”, by the way, is not a nickname of Larry’s wife, Ernestina Querubin.

The rest of the book, I commend to your reading.  The final paragraph tells of what the third book of Larry will most likely contain.  Says he: “I graduated valedictorian in 1950 from the St. James Academy.  Thereafter I went to the Ateneo College of Arts and Sciences for a two-year pre-law course, and graduated cum laude.  I enrolled at the College of Law of the Ateneo, finished the course in 1956, and passed the Bar Examinations in the same year.  After practicing law at the law firm of Beltran and Lacson for about a year, I worked at the Prudential Bank where I spend the significant part of my professional years.”  

           It was during his years at Prudential Bank that I met and worked with Larry…but that’s  a story waiting for his writing.