By SOL VANZI

Tita Sol - Years of Fun, No Batteries Needed

Half the fun of growing up after the war was making our own toys. The Philippines was, at the time, importing almost all of its processed food from the US and the most popular breakfast among Pinoy families was rice or bread with sardines.

Portola was the top choice mostly because children insisted on it—its flat, oblong cans made the best toy carts. All we needed were two short thick wires, four wood thread spools for wheels, and a long string to pull the cart with. That toy gave generations of Filipinos endless hours of fun and games, memories of which are awakened each time we scour a supermarket’s sardine section.

Toys were us

There were no toy stores, no malls. Lucky were the kids with relatives or godparents in the US who sent toys for Christmas. Most parents, however, considered the imported toys too precious to be played with and placed them on display in glass cabinets for decades. The children did not mind. We were too busy making our own play things.

The easiest toy to make was sipa. We cut newspapers into fringes and tied a handful around a small, flat rock or metal, then kicked the sipa in the air with our ankles. The number of kicks without losing the sipa determined the winner.

Girls made rag dolls from cloth scraps given by the barrio dressmaker. We all learned how to sew in public school. We used buttons for eyes, drew lips with red crayons, braided corn hair blond wigs.

giphy - Years of Fun, No Batteries Needed

Playing everywhere

Our barrio had no public playground, but it did not mean a thing to us. We played everywhere. Our whole town was a children’s paradise.

Vast rice fields were spread out in the east, while salt beds and fishponds fed by Manila Bay glistened to the west. They were all ours to roam and romp in.

During long summer vacations we fashioned kites from bamboo and old newspapers, using soft boiled rice as paste. We ran and jumped between rice paddies, our legs getting rashes from the sharp edges of palay leaves. After the fields were harvested, we searched the stumps for wild quail nests and gathered the small spotted eggs, which grandma boiled and added to adobo.

There was no swimming pool anywhere, but we had the Zapote River and Manila Bay, both clean and teeming with free seafood for everyone. All we had to do was wade in kneedeep water and we could pick up as many oysters, clams, and mussels as we could carry home.

Tita sol 2 - Years of Fun, No Batteries Needed

Other games

We did play the usual children’s games: taguan (hide and seek), patintero, luksong lubid (jumping rope), and piko. There were also non-physical games considered too tame by the boys: sungka and jack stones. Boys preferred playing with and collecting marbles.

There were seasons when we all went hunting for spiders, which we kept as pets in matchboxes until they were ready to fight to the death.

As we grew older, we learned to make deadly tirador (slingshots) using forked guava tree branches. We used them to catch tilapia and crabs from the ponds and mangrove swamps. Fishpond owners at the time considered tilapia as pests.

Boys and girls together played bahay-bahayan (play house) with no malice. We cooked real food, not leaves and weeds, and argued over ingredients and recipes. Our generation definitely had more fun than today’s gadget-dependent youth.

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