THE sea was so familiar a presence in my childhood, we expressed our intent to go to the beach with the same verb referring to the daily baths we children endured with a dyed-to-the-bone stoicism.
Yet, even before the grown-ups announced a trip to Compostela, Talisay or Marigondon, a frisson of expectation shot through all the children at once as soon as we saw the feeding arsenal come out of storage: battle-scarred pots and pans, rainbow plastic containers with their owners’ names marked to guide returning which to whom after the outing, and the insulated chests for cooling the drinks.
The chosen Sunday never dawned soon enough. It was an undertaking to load everything and everyone and finally set forth.
On the way to the beach, which took about an hour in pre-traffic Cebu, one squeezed in beside the favorite cousins, the proven daredevils.
On the trip home, when children exhausted from swimming all day fell asleep even before the vehicles peeled away from parking, grown-ups anchored them to laps, bossoms, and chests as they were always carried out, limp and oblivious, for the dreaded final rinsing, paradisiacal tumbling into bed, or disastrous last-minute making of Monday’s class assignment.
In those days when “warm” did not refer to an ecological meltdown but the vinegary smell wafted from the heads of your band stayed too long under the sun, it was possible to enjoy the sea without caring about the color of the sand, the SPF level of the sunblock, the framing of selfies, or the waxing of bikini lines.
And “coliform” would have sounded like a Tupperware knock-off, the “stateside” stamp of holiday housekeeping.
Not selfishness but esprit de corps dictated that we children played to the hilt our role in the clan outing. If the women cooked and bossed around everyone and the men obeyed so they would later be left to drink in peace, a break from the everyday henpecking, it was left to us children to do our duty and enjoy the sea.
True, we peed in the waters. You could not interrupt your screaming because the cousin playing the shark or leviathan rising from the deeps had to go to the toilet to “jingle.”
In Tupsan and Mambajao, my paternal roots in the island of Camiguin, the neighborhood children stripped off everything before they swam.
I kept on my panties until I lost them after I jumped from a coconut trunk hovering narcissistically over its reflection on the waters.
My yell must have snapped off the old garter my yaya was forever replacing. In the days before modesty, political correctness, and world-class tourism, I thought that was my stake as a child: to keep the sea well-salted for the generations yet to come.