A Magical Time

At the foot of the mountains we stopped at a gas station for gas and oil. We had been on the road for hours and my sister and I were restless. To stop our bickering, Mama instructed the maid to sit between us. I didn't mind because I could roll down the window and gaze dreamily at the tall green mountains. They looked full of mystery and promise.

Sitting in front, Mama badgered Papa.Are the brakes good? The zigzag road is dangerous. Why, last summer, a car tumbled down the mountains, killing all passengers-all.

I felt wary. To make matters worse, just as we were leaving, a boy of around seven ran to the side of the car and spat at me. His saliva hit my face. For a while I froze, then I burst into tears. The maid wiped my face and Mama lectured about peopl's rudeness. Papa said poverty can make people do strange things.

As we started up the mountain, its lushness captivated me. We curved around the narrow road, and when I looked down steep cliffs, my stomach quivered. To keep from getting too scared, I studied the pretty white and lavender orchids by the roadside. Ferns sprung up in clusters. All around were evergreens-Baguio pine trees-that I had seen only as cut Christmas trees. Numerous springs gushed out of the mountain sides. Waterfalls splashed down and misted up in mysterious fog. The place was enchanted, I decided.

Papa slowed down at landslide areas, and he blew the horn to warn the driver on the other side of the one-lane road. Mama, who was nervous, passed food around. Eat, she said. So we ate until we saw dwellings and people with baskets of vegetables perched on their heads. The women wore wrap-around skirts and the men had skimpy G-strings. They were wonderful-they looked like the carved Igorot heads on our piano.

When at last we arrived in Baguio City, we headed for a cottage near Pines Hotel. Our vacation house was surrounded by tall, heavily scented evergreens, and it had a fireplace. I had never before seen a real fireplace.

Pa, will it snow? I asked, remembering winter pictures of snow and fireplaces. My sister stuck her tongue out at me. Boba, it doesn't snow here.

Papa stroked my head. It hails in Baguio sometimes. That's almost like snow. He described hail to us-marble-sized ice cubes that fall from the clouds. How I wanted it to hail so I could see and feel those magical ice cubes.

In the States, it snows, he said. He had lived in America during his college years. Is that how you lost your hair, Pa? By wearing a hat to keep your head warm and your hair stopped growing? I asked.

My sister rolled her eyes upward. Papa smiled and tousled our heads and told us to unpack our bags.

I recall how cold it was. I wore a white fake fur jacket, which reminded me of our shaggy white dog back home. Clothed warmly like an Eskimo

(so I wouldn't come down with pneumonia, Mama said), I collected pine cones and plucked the little yellow flowers that grew along the driveway. I watched the pine logs smoldering in the fireplace.

We went to Mines View Park where we threw coins down the deep gullies and watched boys scamper down the rocks to find the money. We climbed a hundred steps (or so I thought) to visit Mary's shrine. We went horseback riding, boating, and roller skating. We visited Camp John Hay, and we shopped in the open market at the end of Session Road. I learned how to say, Mano ditoy? and to haggle for my Igorot dolls and small wooden fork and spoon.

It was an enchanting time. Maybe it was because I was a child then. But in a few years, Papa would die from a heart attack, and we would never have such a magical time again.