Monday, June 21, 2021

Cariño: Baguio Connections 42

Baguio Stories

“THEY didn’t find anything. Until one afternoon, one of the workers thought to strike a slab of cement at the bottom of the kitchen stairs.

“It had always looked odd, a slab of rather new-looking cement at the bottom of really, really old wooden stairs. But as a child, I overlooked it in the way of children who have very given worlds. Well, so this worker thought it strange, and thought to strike it with one of those digging tools. The top gave way.

“When they had cleared the rubble, there was a flat surface underneath it. On this flat cement surface, a floor plan of the house had been carved in. An “x” marked the fireplace. I remember getting home from school, staring down at the rubble of cement, staring at the map on the step, staring at the “x,” and wondering if it meant that there was gold in our fireplace. Since I was at that Nancy Drew reading age, the whole thing was, to me, The Mystery of the Japanese Treasure in the Fireplace.

“Now to that fireplace. We lived on the first floor, and our fireplace worked just fine. My aunt’s family lived on the second floor, and their fireplace didn’t work. Whenever they built a fire, the smoke just went into the sala and, precisely, smoked up the place. Thus, the upstairs fireplace was simply not used.

“I must have once asked why, because I remember being told that the way to build fireplaces in a house with two stories is to give each one an exhaust shaft of its own. Ergo, smoke from both shafts exited via one chimney, but from separate shafts. So I knew that something was wrong with the shaft of the upstairs fireplace, since the downstairs fireplace worked just fine.

“On this day of the discovery of the bottom stair with a map, one of the workers was sent up the shaft of the downstairs fireplace with a stick. After poking about in the dark, he came back down covered with soot and a report: the shaft was clear.

“The gang trudged upstairs. Since the upstairs fireplace had always been a problem, it now seemed to make sense that something was hidden in it. In went the sooty worker. To everyone’s puzzlement, he couldn’t even stand up inside the fireplace. After examination, a conclusion was drawn: there was no exhaust shaft. Sooo... That’s why the smoke just went into the sala.

“Aha. But how could that be? Whoever built the downstairs fireplace built the upstairs fireplace. Could he have been both genius and idiot at once? Of course not. The answer, and the treasure, was in there, some (fire) place. So my dad squinted at the fireplace, filter-less Lucky Strike smoking between two fingers. Maybe he would get lucky.

“One of the gang then got the idea that the fireplace wall they were all now squinting at was a fake. So knock-knock, knock-knock, they went. Their next conclusion was that their knocks sounded hollow.

“The next thing was that the back wall of the fireplace was knocked down: yes, it had been a fake. The real back wall was now revealed. Oohh. Now someone could stand up and poke into the shaft, even travel up it. Up he went. And down he came.

“In his hands was a dirty brown sack. The dirty brown sack was sizable enough to hold a goodly amount of gold. But the sack was... alas... empty. My dad took one look at it. Ever the pragmatic gambler, all he said was, “You win some, you lose some.”

“Later, in private, he told my mom who had beat him to the treasure, the only personality, and quite a personality, who had lived in the house after World War II and before the family moved back in. The name of this personality, however, remains one for private consumption. As do the names of a number of Baguio families who have been fortunate enough to cash in on unearthed Japanese loot.

“Oyes, Baguio literally sits atop so much gold, in her veins, in buried treasure still unearthed, in white, in green... But as I told my son after telling him this story, “Darling, find the gold which is in you.” Though of course we agreed that it would be reeaally nice to stumble upon a lot of yellow gold in some cave beside the house, “between two big stones beside the stream... ” Or thereabouts.”


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