Santos: Strawberry Jam


THREE days after the July 1990 earthquake, Edgar, who hailed from one of the towns of Pangasinan, was almost convinced that his parents did not love him. On the fourth day, Thursday, the issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer found its way at UP Baguio where he camped. When he got hold of the newspaper, he was relieved and remorseful at the same time. He felt guilty thinking his parents did not care about him.

On the front page were Dagupan City and several parts of his home province devastated by the twin temblors, too. As it turned out, communications and roads leading to Baguio were all cut-off, there was no way anybody could have reached the city in the first few days of the tragedy.

Nevertheless, the first six months preceding that fateful day indicated nothing of the ominous things to come. In January, Edgar was beaming. He was happy that he would no longer have to think about his boarding house rent. His parents arranged with their eldest, Evelyn, for him to live with her.

When Edgar arrived at his sister’s house, she had her hands full with her little store in the middle of nowhere in Benguet. Several tourists were haggling for the prices of the freshly picked strawberries, vegetables, and Evelyn’s “homemade” strawberry jam. In the succeeding days, Edgar marveled at how his sister tended to the store. In the early morning, Evelyn met with the small farmers for their produce. Throughout the day, she dealt with many customers trying to bargain with her. When nighttime came, she prepared the strawberry jam.

In between her daily routine, she checked on her two young boys left playing in the living room. It was a scene drastically different from what their parents had envisioned for her. She had a bright future they said. She would have been the first engineer in the family. She was also the kind of beauty that made most of their relatives coo and feel proud when they had a glimpse of her.

Evelyn had alabaster skin; she had a turned-up nose, her deep-set eyes sparkled, and she was taller than the average girl was. She was also an honor student. Her suitors lined-up at the front door to have the chance to woo her. She had the world for the taking so to speak. Then she fell in love and became pregnant when she was in her senior year. If she had her way, she would not have married. She was only nineteen years old.

Their parents belonged to the typical conservative clans, marrying her off to her boyfriend was their way to save face. Unfortunately, Prince Charming did not turn out to be the Knight in Shining Armor Evelyn thought he would be. With two young boys and another girl on the way, she knew she had to raise her family on her own.

After school and during weekends, Edgar would help his sister at the store. He was surprised to discover that the store’s gross sales were averaging 15,000 a day. As days went by, he understood why.

Evelyn’s strawberry jam was rich in berries. To achieve the right texture, she followed a laborious process. The berries should be a bit overripe. The amount of berries and sugar should be equal; three kilos of berries mixed with three kilos of sugar. The mixture was stirred constantly in medium heat for four hours.

When the jam cooled-off, this was placed inside sterilized bottles, sealed, and labeled. The final product tasted better and visibly had more berries. It was unlike the commercial ones sold in the market composed mostly of sugar. She bought the berries directly from the farmers so she ended up producing quality strawberry jam at an affordable price. By word of mouth, her little store selling strawberry jam that tasted heavenly became famous.

As a breeder, I strive to be like Evelyn. You see, breeding sound golden retrievers is like the way a quality strawberry jam is prepared.

Well-bred golden retrievers are well-mannered, healthy, move effortlessly, and beautiful. These characteristics are not a happenstance. It requires a lot of patience, preparation, right motivation, and some luck. First, we make sure we are knowledgeable about the breed.

Next is to look for a reputable breeder who would entrust us a puppy. To establish soundness, breeders and judges assess the dog against the breed standard via conformation shows. We then have the dog mature, earn his titles, be cleared of genetic diseases at two years old, and paired to a suitable breeding partner.

For me, a dog must at least earn his Philippine Champion title in not more than ten competitions preferably from foreign judges and against quality competition. This dog must also pass at least his Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) hip clearance before breeding. This dog must also be able to get along with other animals and people. When the puppies are born, further assessments are made to determine which one is a sound golden retriever.

Of course, just like Evelyn whose motivation was for the love of her children, our motivation in breeding golden retrievers must be out of our love for the golden retriever breed. There is no other way any breeder could achieve a successful breeding program and prominence without going through such arduous process.

For so many years now, friends and acquaintances would ask me if they could have a golden retriever. You could be like Edgar. Visit the dogs, observe how they are raised and prepared for competition, and get free training if you like. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, I may give you a puppy from my breeding. For free! Just like when Edgar had free board and lodging by helping his sister tend to her store.

By the way, Evelyn’s house was located at the far end of the stretch of what is now the famous Strawberry Fields in Kilometer 6. Her store in that middle of nowhere was the only store during that time. She was responsible in helping the small-scale farmers sell their produce without having to go to the market.

Without intending to, she sparked a burgeoning cottage and tourism industry in La Trinidad. Her love for her children and sense of duty led her to produce one of the best strawberry jams in Benguet and Baguio that brought more tourists in return. However, like most of us after the 1990 earthquake, she was jolted to re-examine her life. She realized she must make a radical choice. Evelyn left her “life” in Benguet. She has since moved on. She is now living happily in Zambales with her present husband. She has seven sons and a daughter, all of whom leading productive lives.

I hope I could attain something great like what Evelyn achieved. One of my goals as a breeder is to breed generation after generation of sound puppies so that I may enrich the life of many families with a companion golden retriever.

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