The late authority on Philippine antiquities Martin “Sonny” Tinio, Jr. declared that to be considered “ancestral” a home has to be lived in by at least four generations of the family. If “lived in” is considered the same as “owned,” then our house in Santa Cruz, Manila qualifies, having been built by my grandmother and grandaunt in 1932 and with their 13 great-great grandchildren as heirs-in-waiting.

The family moved to Quezon City in 1955 and my sisters and I now own the house. It’s been rented out these 65 years and the last time I was in the area was four decades ago. ECQ, however, has given me lots of unexpected internet browsing time and thanks to Google Earth I saw the old manse again, an alien among townhouses and low-rises.

My Lola Trinidad del Carmen and her sister Susana de Sena moved there from Tondo, enticed by relatives who were next door. The house has been pushed and pulled in all directions over the years and is no longer its old self. Gone is the unpretentious elegance it shared with other middle-class homes of the 1920s and 1930s, two floors of two bays with capiz windows (no grilles), ventanillas, and outside stairs ascending to a balcony.

The balcony opened to the hall leading to the sala that extended the width of the house. There were also a cuarto, really a large walk-in closet with two aparadors, a bathroom, and back stairs. On the ground floor were dining room and general living area, kitchen, toilet, and a bamboo-floored mezzanine where the lolas slept.

Potted roses and flowering San Antonio were on the outside stairs. The front and side yards were thick with palmera, sampaguita, rosál, bandera, española, and miracle plants kataká-taká, soro-soro, and sábila, and veggies like camoteampalayá, and bataw. We had a guava tree, and tall and leafy butuan banana trees that Lola explained was barrier against conflagrations.

The sala was furnished with a French provincial set, a Bilibid Prison masterpiece, an upright piano with a print of Santa Cecilia above, a narra desk finished in black, and a couple of bookcases. The radio was high on a shelf, FM channel disabled by the Japanese. The back window had a nice view of San Lazaro racetrack.

Bulletin471 - Ancestral ill c

Our part of Manila is near UST and was immediately secured by the liberating Americans in February 1945, leaving the neighborhood and the house unscathed. Renovations began after the war. The family grew with my sisters’ arrival and the sala moved downstairs, the outside stairs was enclosed and upstairs became all bedrooms. By the time we left for Quezon City, the right side yard was a garage and the front yard was fenced with Marsden (a.k.a. Marston) steel matting.

City engineers have been super active in the intervening decades, widening the street and raising it with every flood, meaning dry streets and waterlogged homes. Everyone thereupon raised their ground floors as well and the next cycle began. Now you can’t stand straight inside the first floor.

Nanay bought new furniture for our house in Quezon City and, as the eldest and first to get married, I had first dibs on the old furniture and have most all of them. I toyed with the idea of restoring the house and returning the contents, but my sisters immediately shot it down. “What for,” they said, “and besides, you have to lift the whole house at least three feet.”

Regretfully then, memories will remain memories and my ancestral house is bound to become, like those of our neighborsthe—the Sanglays (formerly Tio Terio and Tia Hilda) on the left, Jockey Biazon and Aling Kayang on the right, and the one across the street of Mang Selo and Aling Nenathree townhouses.

Notes: (a) The concept of ancestral home is more meaningful in countries like Great Britain that practice primogeniture. Under such a system the principal residence and identified heirlooms can be handed down to the eldest son or to the nearest male blood relation if the patriarch has no sons. It is thus possible for descendants of the same family to own the same home for centuries. Here, children usually inherit equal shares of the family home; and (b) kataká-taká leaves are good for bruises, soro-soro for ear infections, and sábila (aloe vera) for beautiful hair.

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Source: Manila Bulletin (