Tabada: If


IF I WERE a hundred years old today, I would put my faith on a “suwiter (sweater)”.

In the American colonial-era periodical, “Bag-ong Kusog,” I came across in its editorial page a two-sentence article advising the reader to choose the right sweater and avoid catching the influenza going around Cebu on Jan. 28, 1927.

The final line clinched it, weaving fashion and public health: “Pangitaa ang ‘Sport Coat Sweater’, kon dili ang ‘Ideal Sweater’.”

The “leading periodical of its time,” according to the 1975 research of National Artist Resil B. Mojares, the “Bag-ong Kusog,” has been digitized by the University of San Carlos Cebuano Studies Center and may be viewed on The Nueva Fuerza Online Archive.

In the age of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), this century-old publication has become my favored “layas (escape)” hatch.

Though I miss the hushed-library sensation of turning slowly an almost sacrosanct sheet of newsprint, the PDF files of the periodical are clear enough for daydreaming.

If I were seven years old in 1927, I would bite all fingers in indecision, unsure what to order and buy from the Mercer Book Company: “Ang Lunario” for P0.20 or “Pocket Dictionary” for P1.50.

More expensive than the dictionaries of Castellana and Binisaya “hinubad (stripped? unchained?)” into English, the new colonizer’s tongue, was the P2 price of “How to write love letters” at the Gacura Mailing Store on Dalan Borromeo.

Two pesos for a book was eyebrow-raising in 1927, when “50 sintabos ang bulan” or P6 for a year was the subscription price of “Bag-ong Kusog”.

If I were seven and had two pesos, I would not choose love but the Philippine Candy Factory (Telephone 388). No seven-year-old can be deaf to their siren call: “Always remember... ‘PhiCyFy’, don’t forget it, they satisfy”.

Nostalgia, exacerbated by quarantine, cloaks the past in romance. A shipment of “Crown” bicycles “for men and boys” was announced in a half-page ad on Jan. 28, 1927. With P150, the most expensive “Model 75, Motobike de luxe” could be brought home by the workman, office messenger, school boy, boy scout or any male taking “pleasure... in the great outdoors”.

Five pages after, another half-page ad shows a 10-year-old girl embroidering on a “maquinita,” which C. Q. Demerry Store offered at P2.50, discounted for all “kababayen-ang sapian kon kabus (women, rich or poor)” to master the craft.

What if I do not fancy sitting for hours before a maquinita? What if I want to escape on a bike? What if I do not believe biking devirginizes disobedient girls who mangle their sewing?

When such questions raise their unruly heads, I know I am back in the present. “If’s” never satisfy for long.


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