By ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ
THE last Mambulao town fiesta I had was in October 1964, when I was in 4th year high school.
Having graduated in the summer of 1965 to become one of the Batch ‘65 alumni, I then traveled to Manila for my university schooling and never came home again for the October celebration.
The town fiesta is one community event that Mambuloans look forward to, celebrating it with equal fervor as they do Christmas and New Year.
As a young boy those days, the coming to town of the “palanyag” and its counterpart army of vendors several days before the grand day had always enthralled me.
To me and to a handful of buddies – classmates in the elementary – the “palanyag” was an opportunity for us to practice one of our nasty but risky favorite games during the fiesta – “ikit”, or in more accurate term to describe it – stealing.
“Nang-iikit po kami ng mga paninda … katuwaan lang naman,” to say in plain simple terms.
For us, the long rows of tents that camped out along the roadsides from that spot within the vicinity of the church yard to where the old Bermundo furniture shop stood during those days were our killing field.
As always, there would always be hundreds of tents put up by traders from all over Bicol who wanted to cash in on fiesta goers from Mambulao and neighboring towns of Paracale and Labo.
As usual the stretch of the road that branched out in front of the Fred Theater – one going towards the municipal ground and the other leading towards Calogcog road junction – would be jammed with night shoppers and plain kibitzers.
Our main interests were the bundles of fancy rings that hung in almost all stalls, small toys and fruits such as the “aranghita” (dalandan).
I remember that there would always be heaps and heaps of “daranghita” being sold during our town fiesta and I supposed that it was the season for this fruit’s harvest in Bicol.
During school recess, my gang of five would practice how to pick the rings from the bunch as they hung right in front of the stall keepers. We have our gear prepared for the
training/practice, such as a piece of string and an actual ring (fancy), which was knotted at the end of a string.
We knew how the rings at the “palanyag” were secured at the end of the strings; so we trained our fingers how to undo the knots in an instant, slip the ring into our finger without giving a hint of our nefarious scheme. We never used shaving blade or cutter because, if caught, it could give us away quickly.
During those nights towards the “kapistahan” day, we would average at least five to eight rings each – from the simplest design to one topped with stones.
I remember wearing jacket those nights with deep pockets to conceal my roadside loots such as the “daranghita” and small rubber ball.
Remember that there would be many people at the stall, browsing hundreds of items. So, the impression that we were also buyers had spared us from checks by the stall watcher/helpers.
Once we had decided which bunch of rings to hit, the five of us would come to the stall.
But only one of us would actually approach the goodies, with the rest of us browsing other items that piled up in front of the stall keepers, to distract them or engage them into a chat, showing our interest to buy.
Once the one angling on the bunch pulled away, it meant that he got it. Then, we, who engaged the stall keeper, would attend to the rings as a matter of course. After that, we would pull away for another job nearby.
The next day at school, we would wear the rings in all our fingers to show off to our classmates, especially the girls. By the end of the day, there would only one left in my finger as I have given away the rest to my girl classmates.
One day – it was three or four days before the fiesta - our class adviser noticed that I was wearing rings in all of my left hand fingers with three of them sparkled with “puwit ng baso”. She was actually amused that I could squander my school allowance on them.
I just smiled, giving no hint that her having noticed them had scared me a lot.
Before he told me to remove them, saying I looked silly wearing them, she told me: If I saw these (rings) again, I will have to see your mother and tell her you’re wasting your money on them.
My teacher’s warning was enough for me to think hard – whether or not we should continue picking rings or quit for good.
I don’t want my mother grilling me where I got those rings because she wouldn’t believe me that they were just given to me as toys or gifts.
On the night of the fiesta, my gang decided to quit, but not before treating ourselves with a quick one each.
I told them a little story about my teacher’s threat to talk to my mother about the rings.
I told them I don’t want my mom busting me.
But still, we hovered next to the bunch of rings dangling from their strings, touching them, putting them very close to our eyes, as if scrutinizing them for the carats they had, with either eye squinting.
Then from behind, someone said with annoyance: “Oy, mga unoy … bibili ba kayo …? Kung hindi, tumabi kayo at may bibili …”
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