At 75, My Old School is Young (Part I)
When those who graduated in the 70s come back to the Naga Parochial School, they will be returning to a home that has greatly changed.
Founded in 1947, some two years from the world war, a photo of its pioneer instructors together with priests must be the only document that is so visually charged with its age. In that well-preserved photograph, we see Fr. Ramin, the first director and other school officials seated at front row. Behind them is an ancient wall. Where that wall was, perhaps no one could attest anymore, unless someone in the photo is still alive to tell the story.
One good thing about an old school is that it will never run out of storytellers. It may totter to old age, but there will be students, present and former, ready to narrate their experiences within the walls of this school.
I have my own stories as all the previous generations of Parokyalistas have theirs.
What do I remember about this school?
We lived then near the school, at 40 Ateneo Avenue, in a rambling house facing directly Ateneo de Naga. There was only a field of cogon grasses separating us from this school that never had a wall.
The Naga Parochial School, in my memory, always had walls. One wall stretched from the area facing then Colegio de Santa Isabel, which ended at the building occupied by the Daughters of St. Paul. The same wall, which bordered the Ateneo Avenue ended where the low building for the kindergarten demarcated the boundary of the school. At the northern side, the sacristy of the Metropolitan Cathedral led to a covered area, which is the only clear boundary between the church and the buildings of the school; otherwise, the Naga Parochial School felt like a corridor connected to a massive church.
This building that appeared to grow from the cathedral had two floors: the upper one began with a huge room the heavy wooden door to which was the private room of Msgr. Nicanor C. Belleza (all Naga Parochial Boys then knew the complete name of the monsignor.)
The room of Msgr. Belleza opened directly to the classroom of Grade VI-H, the “H” standing for Honor section.
The entire second floor was for the Intermediate classes; at the end of this row of classrooms was the kitchen. Below these classrooms were the administrative offices and the library. Thick-set grilled windows made the library appear like a jail during the Spanish regime.
A beautiful, grand staircase, its baluster blackened by time, brought us down into the light of hallway on the ground floor and out into the quadrangle. There on the stage, every Monday, the Monsignor would deliver in his booming voice a talk in English, punctuated by Latin and Spanish. When Msgr. Belleza spoke, we felt he was mediating for us and the heavens.
On that stage, pupils, heartbreakingly nervous and dying of stage fright would sing and declaim. From these performances would be selected those who would represent the schools in various competitions. There was a silent instruction for all contestants: win! And we always won.
The choir of the school was called “The NPS Little Singerss.” We practiced and practiced until we could sing our part of the harmony even in sleep. There was no such thing as “over-practicing.” We simply over-practiced.
Mr. Juan Badong V, our principal, would introduce to us first the songs. We would listen to the melody and by the end of an hour, we had to know the song. At each practice, he would move behind us, listening to anyone who was desafinado, or out of tune. Then, when he heard your voice going east and west when the rule was to go south and north, Mr. Badong would shout out your name. Everyone knew you were out of tune.
After a few weeks, Mr. Badong would bring in two more rehearsal masters, Mrs. Meriem Rodriguez-Palacio and Mrs. Amelita de la Paz-Saenz. More rehearsals with the two experts focusing on our enunciation and how we opened our mouth and breath would take place. After that, we had one duty and that was to win. We, of course, always won.
Naga in the 60s and well into the early 70s was a quiet, peaceful, simple city. It was in fact a town-city, where everyone knew everyone.
On Sundays, we had to attend the Parochial Mass. Attendance was graded. I could be absent in class sometimes but I dreaded being absent from the Parochial Mass. In my mind, I would recall an illustration in my Catechism book. It showed a little boy flanked by two figures: the Devil and his Guardian Angel (looking back, I thought we also had our own Guardian Devil). The little boy was shown with a heart, which turned black, when he did bad things, like not waking up for the Sunday Mass, and reverted to white, when he finally decided to do good things, like attend the Mass. When this little boy committed bad things, his Guardian Angel, who was so beautiful I would not know if it was a man or a woman, cried.
I could not bear to see my Guardian Angel in tears so on First Fridays, I had to wake up at 3 in the morning. Mass was at 4. I could not take any breakfast because the rule then was “no solid food” before communion.