An Old Photograph
Visiting my sister, a Catholic nun in Montreal, brought back a lot of memories. I haven’t seen her for a while and seeing her again led us to reminisce the past, especially things involving our family.
She also showed me old photos. It was rather touching to see people and places captured by the camera many, many years ago. It is fascinating to imagine how a particular fleeting moment somewhere in time - was captured and immortalized. Looking at that particular moment when time stood still forever, can render a person awestruck.
One particular photo was that of my mother. It was snapped in 1948 in Escolta, Manila.
The city was ravaged by the Second World War that ended in 1946. This photo was taken two years after the war and Manila was still being restored to make it look like the way it was before the Japanese Imperial Army ruined the whole city. As can be seen here, the sidewalks crossing the estero is made of a temporary wooden bridge. My mom went to church in Quiapo, and after the mass she went to Escolta to go shopping. She was carrying here my older sister who was born in 1948. Following behind her was Rosita, one of the maids who was really good with children, and the guy behind Rosita was a guy named Inocentes, the driver.
I was baffled when my sister told me that the photographer was a total stranger. She explained to me that in the old days, photographers in Manila where everywhere. They take pictures of people passing by – without asking for permission. Then, these photogs would develop the photos and when they were ready, they would go back to their hang-out and wait for the people that they had photographed, hoping to see them pass by again. When they do, they would approach the subject of the photograph and showed them the photos and if they want to buy them they are more than welcome. This photo was one of those taken by a sidewalk photographer. And knowing my mother who would never let anyone down, I’m pretty positive that she must have paid him more than what he asked for.
Little did anyone know that in just a matter of few years after this photo was taken, Escolta became the financial district of the Philippines. It was also the glitziest part of Manila, something akin to LA’s Rodeo Drive or Vancouver’s Robson Street. There were shopping malls, specialty stores, boutiques, excellent restaurants, first class movie houses and what-not.
Photographs. Snap-shots of the past. Reminders of long lost memories. Harbingers of color swatch of emotions. They could bring happy or sad memories. No matter what emotions they evoke, it leaves you, the viewer, wistful, sometimes with feeling of loss.
What happened to the four people captured forever in this photograph?
My mother passed away almost five years ago. My sister became a nun and she lives in Montreal. Inocentes, the diver, when he got married, he asked my parents to be his God-parents and my parents gladly accepted, therefore he became our God-brother. As a wedding gift, my father gave him 10 hectares of land in Bicol and that’s where he settled with his wife. Rosita, the young maid who genuinely liked taking care of children, was given by my father with a bigger land when she got married, nearly 20 hectares, and just like Inocentes, she also became our God-sister. But, despite the distance, previous maids, drivers, cooks – that worked with our family – would always come back to visit us. Then, one by one, as I grew older, they began to disappear. When one disappeared, we knew the answer. He or she have passed on.
Then, you can only see them again in old photographs, photographs that are linked, so to speak, to the past. And then, the color swatch of emotions will once again engulf you.