You have to understand, I have been with the Brothers practically all my life. I first entered the school in 1969 as a bright-eyed probably uhugin Grade 5 student – in those days, pre-elementary to Grade 4 was – as per agreement with the Brothers – with the Sister Madres.
So, once with the Brothers, we came to school in itchy starched white polo shirts and equally itchy brown khaki pants. We groomed our hair with Tancho pomade, combed it until it looked, in the words of a colleague, animo’y hinimod ng baka. If there was no Tancho available, we made do with sachets of what we simply referred to as tagsi – short for pomade na tagsisingko.
Before leaving for school, we patted the left pockets of our pants to make sure we had not forgotten to bring our Rosaries; and inserted neatly folded handkerchiefs into the breast pockets of our white polo shirts. We also made sure our fingernails were clipped short at walang nakaluksâ. Otherwise, magagalit si Brother at si Ms. Rivera… Baka mapitpit pa ang mga dalirî with an Orion ruler!
Each and every school day, the first subject was Penmanship. We had to do it ala Ms. Rivera’s famous pakembot-kembot style, otherwise our handwriting was branded parang kinaykay ng manok. It was really quite effortless for most of us to adapt to Ms. Rivera’s style, because the equally strict Ms. Guno in Grade 4 – when we were with still with the Sister Madres – taught us to write in a similarly attractive pakembot-kembot manner.
After Penmanship, we all buckled down to deal with Science, Arithmetic and SRA – I honestly cannot recall what SRA stood for. This was a reading program which we jestingly referred to as “Science, Reading and Arithmetic.”
We had to make sure we maintained our grades and behaved in school because – we heard it whispered by our upperclassmen – this American Brother who had a bald head, wore thick-rimmed glasses and who towered above everyone had this nasty habit of summoning students who had bad grades or who had accumulated file forms – for breaches of discipline – to his office for a closed-door dose of nasty Brotherly love.
What I am referring to was the paddle, a truly persuasive tool of the Brothers to keep students in line not only inside the classroom but also outside of it. There used to be two types neatly laid down on Brother’s desk for the errant students to choose from. The naïve naturally chose the thin one; and might I say that those who did probably deserved to be whacked for not using their heads. The thicker paddle looked menacing – and, indeed, a whacking with it produced a menacing sound that turned those waiting outside the office ashen. But the thinner paddle was incomparably more painful, as a matter of fact!
The dreaded words were, “Put your hands on the table!” Nakupow! Sa tunay lang, mapapahiyâ ang Tau Gamma kay Brother!
Now, don’t for one moment think that I know all these from first-hand experiences. I kept reasonably good grades; and I stayed away from trouble. There was this one time, though – when I was in Grade 6 – when I nearly had my buns tasted by Brother’s nasty paddle. And not that it was my own doing…
When Brother’s secretary came to the door to announce that he wanted to see some of my classmates, we immediately suspected that it was paddle season – the report cards, after all, had just been released. When some of our classmates returned to the room teary-eyed, we no longer suspected it was paddle season – we knew it was!
Brother’s secretary came back to the classroom two more times, and the second time… Ah-ah… She called my name!!! Por que???!!! What had I done? Gordemet! I had good grades; and I certainly had not had any file forms filled out against me!
And not that my buns were completely virgin because these had tasted Mom’s tsinelas and Dad’s sinturon umpteen times when I was younger and malikot… But to get the paddle for no apparent reason? Ah-ah… ‘Di maaari ‘yun!
I was ashen but I – at least – still had my wits with me. Instead of going straight to Brother’s office, I dropped in on his secretary to inquire, “Are you sure it’s me, Miss?” She suddenly wasn’t; so she inspected Brother’s list once more and – what do you know – it was a classmate whose name was Torres who was wanted, instead.
And, of course, the very same classmate soon returned to the room with his eyes red from crying…
Once, when we were still in Grade 5, Brother got irritable with a classmate who could not answer what must have been – to him – a simple enough question. Brother probably woke up on the wrong side of the bed, because he was not usually this mean.
The meaner he became, the more nervous my classmate became as well. And the less able he was to think of the answer that Brother wanted to hear… Exasperated, he ordered my classmate, “Go to my office! Get the paddle!”
You have to understand – we were simple Batangueño kids and Brother’s tweng [twang] did not all the time register in our simple Batangueño minds. So my classmate, nervous that he was already, hurried to the second floor office still wondering, “What did Brother want?”
The peh-del? The pah-del? The poo-del? He looked around Brother’s office and continued to wonder, what did Baldy really want, for crying out loud?! Then, suddenly, hayun sa sulok! A bottle of Coke! Sus! Brother wanted him to get the bottle!!!
So, grinning from ear to ear, he happily picked up the bottle and took it to Brother. To this day, I do not know if he still got a whacking. Probably not, else I would recall it. The latter’s irritation dissipated; although he was probably thinking, “What is this stupid kid doing in my class?”
[What I do not remember was if my classmate was nagtanga-tangahan lamang. Whatever, it worked!]