Where do Trains Go? (For Ampy & Alex Ferrer)
Trains never rust away and die; they just become memories.
As I write this last of the series of essays honoring the trains of Bicol, I am amazed more than ever how I remember this means of transportation and the days I link with them through the years.
In the 70s, the improvement on the trains was so vast that for each train leaving Naga, there was a medical personnel on board. For several years, a relative, Tita Lozano was that person. She would usually stay with us in Ateneo Avenue for the day, sometimes take a nap or join us for lunch or dinner and leave during the late afternoon for the train station.
In many of these trips to the terminal, some of us would join her. Naga then was a quiet, sleepy city – like a town albeit a big one – and these trips with Tita was the equivalent of driving to the mall or having a walk in the park. Often, it happened that another relative would be leaving for Manila that night via the train. We had, in fact, an uncle who would cut his long travel (for it was long and tiring then) from Masbate to Manila. Having crossed the sea from San Fernando, in Ticao Island, and rode the bus to Naga, he would stop by our home to take a quick shower, and have dinner with us. Then he resumed his trip by taking the train from Naga.
In one of these excursions to the train station, Carlo, our youngest brother who was seven or eight years of age then, was with us. When Tita, the health personnel for the train, went up to one of the air-conditioned coaches, Carlo tagged along. All of us, however, remained on the platform. Time passed by so quickly and, for some reason, we did not notice the train had already moved.
When the last coach of the train could barely be seen, we turned around and readied going home. Carlo was not with us on the platform. We looked around but after a few minutes of not seeing him, we grew frantic. It was evening but we moved onto the railroad tracks prepared for the worst and began the search for him.
Did Carlo jump off when the train was already moving afraid he would be carried to Manila? Was he dragged off under the tracks? People noticed us moving along the tracks. Some joined in with their flashlight.
Or, maybe he stayed on the train because an aunt was there anyway with him?
We remembered we had a family friend right there in the station. He was Tito Alex Ferrer, from Vinzons. He was the chief engineer of the PNR and was newly assigned to Naga with his young wife, Tita Ampy Ferrer, a public school teacher.
Tita Ampy was the youngest among Mama’s friends who were all teaching in Pili Central School. The other one was Tita Ely Lirag, wife of Fiscal Senen Lirag (the Lirags lived in what is now the site of Savage Mind Bookshop and, lately, Tugawe Cove Café).
Remember there were no mobile phones then. When you called a place outside Naga, it was deemed a long-distance call. It was not always easy making those calls. You could not make it at your own home; you needed to travel to Tabuco, where the NATELCO was found. There you waited for operators to connect you to Manila.
There was no way thus for us to get an update. Unless we followed the train.
It was Tito Alex who assuaged our fears (we did not know what he was thinking also) and suggested that we all go home. He would wait for the train to reach Tagkawayan where they had already radioed the terminal personnel to go up the train and look for a small boy named Carlo Valiente.
At this point, my memories are blurry. Did Papa not leave the train terminal? Was Mama, the worrier par-excellence there with him? Did they stay up there till late at night to get an update? What was certain though was that near midnight, Tito Alex relayed the good news: Carlo was there with his Ate Tita, safe and sound. They also had arranged that on the train coming from Manila, they would put my brother, and “do not worry, we will take care of him.”
Early morning of the next day, Papa was in the Balintawak PNR station to fetch Carlo fresh from his first trip on the train alone.
Years after, Tito Alex and Tita Ampy soon left Naga for different assignments. Tita Ampy went on to become a principal in Bulacan and assumed other posts and Tito Alex worked abroad. They travelled abroad and after retirement found their way back to Bikol.
Years back when Mama could still walk by herself and was out on the porch, I heard familiar voices outside. A woman’s voice was asking Mama to guess her name. I walked out and saw how Mama struggled with her mind. But soon warm memories eased all those years and she was able to say: Ampy!
Tita Ampy and Tito Alex were here again in Naga in 2017. They made it to the ninth day of Mama’s passing, with Tita Ampy now the only surviving person in that circle of good friends.
Where do trains go? In Kristian Cordero’s film, Hinulid, the trains bearing the mother’s love, soared into the night skies. Where do old friends go? They travel far and wide but they always return home to build more memories and friendship with the kin of their old friends, unending like those old railroad tracks that seem to just go on and on and on.