San Carlos in Negros for me is home to forgotten family ties. My grandmother, a de los Santos, was a sugarcane farmer in the Ledesma owned Hacienda Fortuna. She came from a big family but believe it or not, I have not met anyone or known personally a relative from this town.
My Nanay gave me instructions on the exact locations of where she used to work as a “tindera” and some houses in the poblacion where I could find relatives. But the town has changed drastically in the 50-odd years that have passed since she left San Carlos. Those relatives are no longer there and that shop where she used to work is now something else.
The landscape has changed. A new city hall, a large Gaisano mall and expensive looking subdivisions are now landmarks. There’s this highway called Don Salvador Benedicto that cuts deep through the Negro’s central mountains. A very impressive feat of road engineering. It reminded me of the steep zigzagging roads in the highlands of Luzon. Before the only road going to Bacolod pass along the coastlines. The mountain highway substantially lessen travel time by more than half I was told.
The old plaza now have a covered convention center. There were several banks which I take as a sign of progress. The Elementary school grandmother attended is still there. The Institute (Central Negros) where my mother enrolled for secondary studies is now a full college. The centuries old Catholic institutions, Sta. Rita (located in the old convent) and Colegio de Sto. Tomas of the Recollects, remains unchanged.
My Nanay remembers my grandmother to be extremely religious. She dabbled in spiritual healing when not helping out in the farms and vending vegetables. She was very spiritual, a devout churchgoer. If she fail to hear mass, she still goes to church anyway, to pray. While I was inside the church, I saw some old women that reminded me of my mother’s description of her. They were wearing “belo”, dressed in long saya and had these laced novenas around their necks while praying the rosary.
Her children helped sell vegetables and mani (a popular San Carlos crop) in the old public market. All her young boys never finish high school. They preferred working over books. The two girls, my mom and her younger sister, were the only ones that took interest in studying. My aunt, (now living in the Emirates) was the only one that finished college. She majored in education, graduated with honors. She is said to be the splitting image of their mestisahin mother. Since they don’t have a surviving picture of Lola (they lost belongings because they were like gypsies moving from one town to another) my mother would always tell old friends and relatives to look at her younger sister if they wanted to see what their mother looked like.
I’ve never known my maternal grandmother. Never even saw a picture of her but there’s a lot of her in all of us. My mother would be reminded of her in us. She said that I have her eyes. I like the idea that I’m seeing the world with these borrowed eyes. My Lola’s eyes.
She lives in all of us her grandchildren.
Just before I left the town. I dropped by a lodging house managed by a friend’s mother. Their property sits right beside the cemetery. I asked them if people are turned off by their location. My host said the location is never a problem. Lodging and hotel business are doing well these days because according to them because local government is getting better in promoting tourism.
The lodging house’s service mini-van took me to the Ceres station where there are buses going to Bacolod through the Benedicto Salvador highway. I bid them farewell and bought some mani for pasalubong before boarding the bus. I would like to comeback one day and hopefully meet some of my relatives.
Vamos San Carlos!