PERSONAL history is the business of raising phantoms.
In this country, memory—even of the intimate—is at the mercy of termites, fire, war, even lack of a permanent address.
Even worse, since it does not only leave no trace but creates no tracts, is apathy.
I felt this gossamer flutter when I researched recently about my great great grandfather Juan “Hantoy” Solon. He is the stranger preserved in a sepia photograph stored by my elders.
His wife Jacinta “Intang” Palacio Solon is different. In 1998, I wrote a newspaper article about my great great grandmother and the hojaldres named after her. My source was my aunt, Juanita “Niting” Solon Villarosa.
I was often at Tita Niting’s home to read magazines. She had a hobby of cutting out recipes. I was indifferent to cooking but liked listening to her stories of the old days. She recalled how her grandmother created a dainty that became a favorite pre-war “pasalubong,” delivered by horse-drawn “tartanilya” from the Calle Zulueta home to the pier, where their buyers awaited.
After Intang died, her husband Hantoy and son, Filomeno “Menoy,” continued Hojaldres de Jacinta Palacio de Solon, later known as Hojaldres de Cebu.
In 1998, I was fascinated with Intang. Aside from being a wife and mother, she was an entrepreneur at a time when to be female was to fulfill a manifest destiny that rarely extended beyond home and church. Yet, she died young. As her figure retreated to the shadows, my excursion to the past ended.
Recently, I revisited the Zulueta period to seek more clarity about another phantom: Intang’s widower Hantoy.
My guide is my uncle, Jesus “Etot” Francisco Solon, grandson of Intang and Hantoy. At 87, he can not only outwalk many of his peers, his memories are more lucid and detailed than the records and memorabilia he stored over the years.
What he regrets deeply, though, is losing the notebook where he jotted down the “balak” (poems) Hantoy dictated when he was bedridden. According to a 2005 Philippine Graphic article written by Fr. Miguel A. Bernad, one of their pre-war student boarders, Hantoy spoke in Spanish but wrote poems in Visayan.
Rainy days inspired Hantoy. Dressed in a cap, sweater and loose balloon trousers tucked into socks—Fr. Bernad nicknamed him as “The Baseball Player”—Hantoy penned poetry that was published in the local dailies under the pen name “Lonso,” a play on his family name.
When the Americans bombed Cebu, the family evacuated to Kotkot, Liloan. In the chaos, Tito Etot lost the notebook containing many of the Lonso “balak”. Only one endures, a 1928 poem entitled “Alang sa Mga Inday,” republished in the Cebuano Studies Center anthology, “Cebuano Poetry (Sugbuanong Balak)”.
After I read Lonso’s original Cebuano and the English translation by Simeon Dumdum, Jr., Tito Etot then turned the anthology’s pages and showed me a “balak” penned by another Solon relative. Reading the title and first stanzas struck a chord in me.
According to “Cebuano Poetry,” Hermenegildo Solon wrote “Garbosong Bukid (Proud Mountain)” in 1907.
On May 5, 2009, the noontime heat was making me drowsy in my note-taking at the Badian Municipal Hall. My husband and I were interviewing local sources for the Badian town history commissioned by the Cebu Provincial Government. Garrulous old-timer Venancio N. Español banished all thoughts of sleep with his anecdotes.
Here is my retelling in the Badian town history of the Badian poet known as Amoros: “(Hermenegildo) Solon was the secretary of Badian Mayor Tranquilino Agravante (1906-1908) when the former incurred the ire of Tankinoy, the nickname given to the mayor. Solon was imprisoned indefinitely, an experience that fueled his writing of ‘Garbosong Bukid’. Although it has been written that respect and recognition eluded Solon in his hometowns of Dumanjug and Badian, Badian native Venancio N. Español recalled that ‘Garbosong Bukid’ was used as the electoral campaign theme of Flaviano Taboada, Badian’s mayor of 1915-1917.”
Amoros composed the music, too, that made his balak into a popular song of protest, using analogies of nature to caution against arrogance and the impermanence of power.
To Tito Etot, Amoros was the relative who regularly visited the Calle Zulueta home to read newspapers in Spanish. The room he stayed in became known as Cuarto ni Amoros.
Nothing more was known about Lonso and Amoros until that recent afternoon when our resurrection of family phantoms yielded nuggets we could read and savor, despite the passage of more than a hundred years.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 26, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column