“Locally knitted bonnet on my head and dressed with a layer of thick clothes. I am always excited to tag along with my Papa going to work” Mang Ponce is talking like this happened yesterday. He is now 52 and still walking on the same grounds as when he was a two-year-old.
Camp John Hay was ordered by the President of the United States on 10 October 1903 as a mountain retreat for its military and civilian personnel around the world. It was established as a resort and vacation haven, designed to rejuvenate weary servicemen from combat in order to regain their strength and vigor.
“Every gate was jointly guarded by US and Filipino soldiers. Sturdy and upright men in their camouflage uniforms. A 360 degree of green manicured grass slopes. A thick canopy of Benguet Pine trees. And, oh, that piney smell at dawn mixed with the morning dew is unmatched by the most recommended air freshener in the metro, nowadays.” He recalled.
The camp was the most commodious and stunning U.S. military installation during its era. With its sprawling area of 1,764 ha., originally, it was the refuge of a hundred cottages, hospital, chapel, a movie house, mess halls, stores, and various facilities for some sports and social activities.
A pet project by the U.S. Commanding Generals, which assumed command since 1911, improvements, renovations, and construction of roads, hydro-electric plant, and water pumping station were introduced. Making it self-sufficient, independent and advanced compared to other facilities established during its time.
“The smell of their bread about to puff in the oven still lingers in my mind. It’s extraordinaire! It is incomparable by our famous pandesal. It tastes soulful – my stomach would never forget how it battled the hunger with so much as a tasty palate with the mouth-watering taste then.”
“May to June are my favorite months. My favorite month comes with my favorite line from my Papa – ‘Get a bag and lets go mushroom picking’”.
“Picking wild mushrooms is one of my most treasured memories of me and my Papa. After the rain, we spend the whole afternoon going on forays and it’s like playing peek-a-boo in between pine trees. If we have extra, I would trade a portion of it in exchange for an aromatic bread in the bakery.”
“Facilities and amenities inside the Camp were manned by Filipino crew. Hence, as a tot, I am always handy.” He reminisced.
For half a decade now, Mang Ponce has continued to walk on the same ground, though the routes have changed. Seeing the same pine trees, though some are no longer standing and breathing the same air, gives him a nostalgic feeling. Half a decade ago and he still talks like he just turned two, yesterday.
“How I wish we could go back through a time capsule and you could travel with me. I will show you more trees, more mushrooms, the best bakery I’ve known, that wonderfully tasting loaf, the greener sceneries, the colder climate, the environmentally conscious camp”. “Oh how I wish… If only…”, Mang Ponce says as he half-closes his eyes as if to turn back time.
Fast forward to 2018, Mang Ponce is an accomplished father to three (3) wonderful children. He bragged about his son, Jay-ar, who is now a Certified Public Accountant. His daughter, Jay Ann, who finished a bachelor’s degree in Financial Management and Accountancy while the youngest, Jo Anne is still in school under the K-12 program of the government.
Now, he dreams of having a grandchild to hug and tickle. END