Of Tanduay and religion

By The Sunriser

“Tagay ta ‘pre!” bosom friend Bernie enthusiastically invited me and Narciso to sit on a rectangular papag made of bamboo slats one lazy afternoon. Tanduay and White Castle whiskey competed as the favorite poison of the young in the ’80s in our remote town. Our small band preferred rum over whiskey. A single glass the three of us passed around and shared. We must be sharing viruses and bacteria, too.

Tanduay was cheap. The poor buy it despite its poor taste. Construction workers and farmers imbibe it after a hard day’s work. “Panghabol ta karon a,” Narciso quoted his farmer father as saying. “Bulong sa kapoy” was another justification I heard.

On most Saturdays and Sundays, some of my contemporaries in the barrio who couldn’t care less about their studies and homework wandered around aimlessly in the neighborhood looking for a game of cards called 41 or pusoy. But others like our thrill-seeking gang whiled away time in clueless conversations in between gulps of the local rum. Girls didn’t escape the wanderings of the youthful mind inasmuch as we were exposed to the bomba movies allowed to be shown in cinemas by the Martial Law of Marcos.

Socio-political issues were hardly part of our psyche though we chorused in blaming fate and, to some extent, our humble beginnings when economics did stray into our inebriated session. “Te ano mahimo ta hay imol ginikanan ta,” Narciso would holler.

“Tingoha lang kita part a,” Bernie encouraged Narciso. Bernie was three years older than me and Narciso but we caught up with Bernie in fourth year high school because he had to stop schooling for three years to help his father feed their big family. He had seven siblings.

“Pabay-i diyan mga problema a. O imo dun ran baso Bern,” I blurted out. Bernie grumbled suspecting that I skipped my turn knowing that I wasn’t much of a drinker myself. “Dinaya duman tana ho!” he hollered.

As we got more inebriated, we exchanged jokes. More tagay more happy moments.

No longer boys but not yet men, me and my two barkadas would work odd jobs, sometimes in a hollow blocks factory located in the barangay. Certain weekends we would hop on to the truck of a local businessman to quarry sand and gravel from another remote town in the central part of Iloilo. Pay was pittance but it was honest work for honest labor. At least we did something for ourselves and the small income we earned was good enough for at least three days of school allowance, if we did not spend much of it on batchoy and ‘Koks’ (Coke).

Our drinking session wasn’t a regular occurrence as more time and more days were required by the parents to help with myriad household chores. The worst of our high school lot was forced to skip school to tend the family’s rice field and watch over the carabao they used to plow the field during the planting season.

Sundays were not only labor or drunken days for us. Centuries of religious traditions proved to be difficult, nay impossible, to ignore and parents would drag their young ones to church to worship God. Dominantly Catholic, our town can be considered deeply religious. Proof was the fact that most of the townsfolk in the poblacion would jampack regular Sunday masses. Though hypocrisies abound even inside the church what with the mariteses of yore giving more careful attention to Sunday dresses than their God, consciously making disparaging faces betraying their scrutinous disapproval of some people lining up for the communion. “Sagi pangalawat nga bal-an ka tanan nga butigon,” overheard once from an old lady kneeling while gripping her rosary. On my part, my mother never missed the procession during Semana Santa. But the most unforgettable was me walking on my knees from the church entrance, kissing the saints that I passed along to the altar and back. It was torture. And it was painful. Even if there was no person claiming to be the appointed son of God yet, I wondered how religion could make a person appear good but do such foolish things.

Tanduay can make you drunk and forget your troubles. Religion, too?