Growing up with Pinoy and Nintendo games, and a stony dirt road

The other night I watched a movie called Grown Ups, where a group of childhood friends gets together when their high school basketball coach passes away. Led by Lenny (Adam Sandler), the main characters and their families decide to spend the weekend together in a cabin in the woods. Aside from the reunion, Lenny also wanted to show his kids the kind of childhood he had–playing with friends, swimming in the lake, and not being surrounded by all the modern gadgets that were turning his sons into conceited snobs.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film, not only because it was funny, but also because it reminded me of my own growing-up years in a sitio or small village in the province. Aptly named Manggapo-gapo (Bicol for ‘stony’) for its rocky main street, the sitio witnessed countless afternoons when my neighbors and I played all sorts of Filipino games.

There’s my favorite Tumbang Preso, where it was imperative to choose a nice tall can so it would stay down when hit by the slippers stolen from irritated siblings. Any dirt outcrop that was even just an inch higher than the ground became ‘heaven’ in Langit at Lupa. Bushes became objects tossed and kicked in Sipa. And what kid in the block had never played Taguan or Patintero or Piko? I would go home filthy and smelly, to the perpetual annoyance of my mother.

I seldom watched TV. The only good signal our small, ‘black-and-white’ tube picked up was from government station Channel 4, and the only good shows there were Charles in Charge and Mission Impossible–with Peter Graves and his white hair. Soon, we would get more channels, and my viewing experience widened to include Inday Badiday’s Eye to Eye, German Moreno’s That’s Entertainment, and Batibot, the TV program I wish every Filipino kid got to see.

I did watch a lot of movies. My family loved movies; our beat-up Betamax could attest to that. We spent hours with Jean Claude Van Damme, Jacky Chan, Sharon Cuneta, Bruce Willis, Macaulay Culkin, Maricel Soriano, Christopher De Leon, Eddie Garcia, and my father’s all-time hero, Fernando Poe, Jr.

In Manggapo-gapo, few homes had a Betamax, today’s equivalent of a DVD player. My neighbors would sometimes flock to our house to watch the latest action flicks. Once, my father positioned our 12-inch TV at the window that overlooked the craggy main street, and invited our neighbors to bring stools and benches. The entire sitio with the funny name got together one stuffy and dusty night to watch a movie whose title I can’t remember. All I could recall now were the raucous laughter, easy banter and great camaraderie brought on by that little tube and rickety cassette player that wouldn’t be able to play any movie in this digital age.

The only other gadgets I played with as a child were Game & Watch and Nintendo, which will always be special to me because I played it with my father. I never liked games such as Battle City, baseball or billiards as much as he did, but I played anyway because I played with him. My now 70-year old father was like a kid himself back then, laughing giddily and teasing me unrelentingly whenever my tank exploded in Battle City. His tank would always complete the last stages, as Player 2–me–could never escape the blasted enemies fast enough to make it to the end.

My father has kept the old Nintendo to this day, and he has found a way to still get it working with today’s kind of TV sets. The Battle City cartridge has long expired. But we still get to play the billiards game together when I am home. Sometimes, he would just watch me play, as old age and Parkinson’s Disease have taken a toll on his health. I would play until he gets tired watching. These days, Player 2 has to try to finish the game alone.

I don’t know if my, or Lenny’s, childhood in Grown Ups could be considered better than the kind of childhood his kids were having. I cannot say if traditional games, an unpaved road like Manggapo-gapo’s, Nintendos and Betamaxes can bring a more enjoyable childhood than over 100 channels on TV, cellphones or the latest gadgets.

I guess whatever day and age children find themselves growing up in, what matters most is there are people who can forget about being a grown-up once in a while and play and spend time with kids. Nothing can manifest love more than giving time for someone, especially for one’s children. I know I am a better grown-up because of parents who loved me enough to spend time with me as a child, and who gave me time to enjoy my childhood. Everything else becomes more meaningful because of that.

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