(This is dedicated to all the lovely Lourdesians, most especially to my high school classmates who were once the avid “sukis” of this little corner store)

THERE once was a very special store that now exists in the memories of many Lourdesians. The building where it was located was razed to the ground decades ago and last year, a new glass and concrete edifice was built in that area. I liked what my aunt—who was a poet—wrote that one does not need maps and mileposts to go back to the cherished places of your youth for your heart will always bring you there. The Good Morning Store is one such place.

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It was a plain corner store located on the first floor of a two story wooden building across Lourdes College and was owned by a Chinese couple. The husband was lanky and wore round rimmed glasses. His wife had the smallest pair of feet that I have ever seen. It was then that I learned that small feet were considered beautiful by the old Chinese. But it did not deter the lady from actively managing the store. In my mind’s eye, I can still see their faces wreathed with smiles once my classmates and I stepped inside their store.

The Good Morning Store was our favorite stopover before and after our classes. There we would eat those crispy square-shaped, white chicharons that were sold at 5 centavos each. These were the best sellers of the store. Until now, I still have to find a chicharon whose taste and texture is as good as the one made by Good Morning. It went well with a cold bottle of coke that was sold for 10 centavos. Their kiamoy was something else—at five centavos a piece, you can get one meaty helping that’s so salty your lips turned white after eating it. This made you want to drink a glass of water afterwards. And when you do, the kiamoy left a sweet aftertaste in the mouth. The third favorite was the 5-centavo packet of Fat and Thin pakwan.

On one side of the store’s wall were rows of big “garapons” that contained the candies of my childhood like chocnuts, orange mallows, tootsie rolls, Serge chocolate bars, butterscotch and fudges. And lest I forget, the “limon”—the hard lemon flavored candies wrapped in thin silver foil and sold at five pieces for 5 centavos. On the opposite side were two big wooden and glass counters where the school materials were sold, and even hopia. Overhead was a thick wire where the latest Women’s and song hits magazines, hung like laundry. They were for sale, too. It was indeed a very ordinary store. But what made it special to my classmates and me?

It was the place for fun and girl bonding. We frequently agreed to meet “sa Good Morning karong hapon.” There, over chicharon and coke, we hatched zany plots designed to make “Puring” (Mo. Pureza Jimenez, RVM, our long suffering moderator) go crazy in her Religion class as we stapled our hemlines right at the store so that the length of our uniforms would be above our knees. After our PE class, we would rush to Good Morning and nonchalantly eat our chocnuts and tootsie rolls and in the corner of our eyes, we would see the group of handsome, cute and whatever XU high school guys taking their usual slow afternoon stroll along Real (now Capistrano) St. We called that the “Pass in Review.” Both groups were there to be seen. It was a kind of a wordless but innocent flirtation.

And if our eyes happened by chance to lock with the guys’ especially if it was THE CRUSH, it would give us a high that lasted for days and we had a word for it - “na inspired!” But had they stopped and exchanged pleasantries with us, I think that we would have fainted or worse, expired! For the nuns would be told about this by their spies and the Sisters would punish us. Now I know what the fair Leonor Rivera felt as she stood by the window and saw the love of her life, Jose Rizal passed by. So there we were—girls in short pink and white uniforms, crazy about the Beatles, Cascades and Cliff Richards but possessed an 18th century emotional outlook towards the opposite sex.

After the Pass in Review, we would call it a day and felt deliciously naughty since we thought that we had one over the nuns who were so strict that they would not want us to communicate with the boys other than our siblings. That store indeed held so many teenaged memories for many of us. Too many to count.

A decade later, a high school classmate of mine who made Cebu her home called me up and requested that to meet her and our gangmates at Good Morning Store. In that golden afternoon, we were all there sitting in the store’s only table, drinking Coke and eating kiamoys. There was no more chicharon for the old couple were long dead and it was their daughter and her husband who took over. But this did not matter to us for in that moment in time, we felt like we were back in Lourdes again when life was free of cares. It was a time of laughter and catching up with each other’s life plus lots of reminiscing about our high school life in Lourdes College. And there we were—a young wife, a new mother, a law student and an ambitious entrepreneur who wanted to make her first million before she reached age 30.

All these years, our friendship remained steadfast and took on a new meaning each time we went through a new phase in life. It was a friendship that started in school and in Good Morning Store. So even if that store is gone now, I still have my friends who share with me this cherished memory. (prroa50@yahoo.com)