Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Inside My Maternal Grandmother's Old House

It was three o'clock in the morning; the whole town was in deep slumber, when my mother, my friends, and I, due to a change in itinerary, turned an intended day trip into a past-midnight  two-and-a-half-hour drive from Manila to my hometown.

I have not been back for a very long time to this small coastal town in Batangas, Philippines, where I spent the first  12 years of my life. It's been a while, and even though I stayed for only a couple of hours, in the silence before the break of dawn, it felt very nostalgic to physically step back into my childhood. 

I have always thought of my late maternal grandmother as a very lucky woman who has led and lived a fairly comfortable life compared to her contemporaries. She was adopted by her child-free uncle who bequeathed this 98-year-old old house to her.

In the classic Spanish colonial style old-wooden-house  architecture, my grandmother's ancestral home has two floors, with previously exposed beams, wide and large capiz shell window panes, solid wood window ledge, high ceiling, and smaller windows or ventanillas beneath the large capiz ones which are kept safe by decorative wooden balustrade with shutters to leave it open or closed for additional ventilation especially during very hot and humid summer days.

Capiz or windowpane oyster has been traditionally used in the Philippines, and is excellent for the natural filtering of light. These ones on my grandmother's windows, including the wooden panes, are originally from 1917.

When I was little, I used to sit on the window ledge while watching tv, or studying, or writing, even though I had a proper study table. In 1984, my parents had the whole house refurbished, making the first floor (ground floor to the British) concrete. Otherwise, it could have succumbed a long time ago to natural disasters and inevitable decay. As some of you perhaps would know, the Philippines is an archipelago prone to typhoons. Not once in my stay there has this house lost a roof or wall or suffered any other structural damage. 

The iron grills were added for safety and security. I used to unlock it to walk over the roof, or retrieve my pens or erasers. A tarpaulin covers the grills, which we used to adjust much like you would adjust blinds. It's now permanently at a level where you can just catch both the morning and mid-afternoon sun at the right angle.

My father chose the above sofa. He was very keen on home improvement and interiors. Years after having served generations of siesta-makers, it's been stripped of its original brocade upholstery and replaced several times, with this old rose number currently gracing its framework. I remember crawling under this sofa, and hiding under the curve of the rest while watching '21 Jumpstreet.'

Above is an original laser-cut wood that was sadly painted over with pastel green. I loved the darkness of the almost-smoked-like wood in my childhood, which, although didn't signify opulence, struck a burgeoning penchant for things old world.

Windows of my late grandfather's bedroom, where some of my old things are now stored

The staircase is no longer original; the old one has long rotten from the elements, but it still maintains a traditional look and feel.

My aunt keeps it clean and shiny, you can eat off the stairs. We had a dog named Pinky who chose the foot of these stairs as her flat. Everyone still speaks fondly of her, as if she were a cousin. My father adopted her.

The exposed beams have been covered and the internal walls changed.

The original wooden floorboards never fail to draw admiration from anyone who sees it and whose bare feet touch them for the first time. Although we had a house help, one of my tasks on occasional weekends was to polish the pre-waxed floor with commercially prepared coconut husk. Aahh, what an exercise! 

One day, my mother was clearing away some of the things I left behind after I moved to the UK. She found a photograph of a young woman she didn't immediately recognise. She had it framed. 

In one corner of the receiving area, I smiled when I found that old photo of myself hanging on the wall. 

My camera wasn't at the ready when we travelled one midnight in May, I took these photos using my HTC One. As it was dark, I wasn't able to take photos outside, and as it was a very quick trip, I didn't manage to borrow some pre-refurbishment photos of the house. I'll be back for that.

I was recently asked about my permanent address. Without hesitation, I gave this one. After all, this house was the very first one I've been uprooted from.


  1. How wonderful and I don't doubt for a second, nostalgic. I'd love to revisit some of the previous homes where I grew up but i'm not sure the current occupiers would be too happy about that ha ha so you are lucky that this is still available to you to visit. I'm sure tears must have come to your eyes when you saw your picture hun, it would have for me. The floors and staircase look immaculate and it's great they they've kept the traditional character - obviously house proud which is always a good thing. Hope its not too long before you return xx

    1. I used to clean that staircase myself. Haha. I made a good cleaner :D x

  2. What a beautiful place, lots of memories stored there. Love all the shiny wood, wonderful and full of character. Am glad you got to go back there and re-live some memories doll, this was beautiful to see :) xx

    1. Thank you! My grandmother and mother are very proud of that house :) x

  3. The house looks beautiful and it must have been quite an emotional experience to revisit a place from your childhood. But it's great that it is all associated with good memories!


    1. Thank you Anouk! I really wish I can afford to acquire it and restore it to its 1920s glory.

  4. What an incredible home. Even the images taken with your Smartphone turned out well. Thanks for sharing this post, it's always nice to think about memories from childhood, especially the history of a special place. Have a great weekend. x/Madison



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