I am sure no one from the last two generations will believe me when I tell them that long long ago, we celebrated the feast of St. John the Baptist like crazy down the old Ponciano Reyes Street. For the uninformed, this feast is popularly known for dousing passing vehicles and ordinary passers-by with water, in honor of the saint that baptized Jesus. For our residents, it was a major affair of my childhood.
My beloved Ponciano Reyes street (where the Times holds office) was a quaint backstreet in the 60s, second only to Davao’s mainstreets, San Pedro and Claveria. Along this straightaway, from the fire station up to Crooked Road, everybody knew almost everybody. We lived in a simpler era back then than what it is now, where pockets of local immigrants bunched up in tight little quarters; so that one would instantly know if he were to stray into the Tagalog section, the Visayan section or the mixed part of Ponciano. We likewise had a sprinkling of Japanese and Chinese occupants along Ponciano, where their sari-sari stores abound.
As someone who loved to play in the streets, these were innocent observations coming from a kid back then. A side street that cut through Claveria was the “Looban” and it housed the Tagalog section, with its Claveria end side occupied by the mixed. It has lingered with me till today that playing here was such fun, especially when people started to prepare for any big celebration, be it Christmas, Flores de Mayo or the feast of San Juan.
As early as six o’clock in the morning, pails of water would slowly begin to line the street during the fateful day, and the merry-makers, with their “tabo” at the ready, eagerly await the onrush of vehicles as they wind their way to San Pedro or Uyanguren streets. My younger brothers and I would watch from the old balcon of our house and cheer with other onlookers, as the Ponciano homies led by my older brother and his cohorts would begin their merry bombardment. Lordy Lordy, things are much different now. I do not know if residents, in any part of the city, with San Juan as their patron saint, still celebrate the yearly “watering” of the faithful. I surely like to think so. The festive air of that lost time would last till the afternoon and one would think that why is it that, in those days, we never really seem to run out of water?
Then much later in the mid-70s, I experienced living in San Juan in Metro Manila with my sister’s family, and experienced again first-hand the large-scale dousing of vehicles and people by the local residents. Yup, large-scale “all in good fun”, but nevertheless taxing on the nerves of some office-goers. This was after all the main event, as San Juan in Manila, was considered the center of all St. John festivities. Fisticuffs were common, especially in the marketplace, especially if one were a poor sport, and I had thought, the same would be unheard of in Davao’s old-style Ponciano. There might have been some grumbling victims, but that was all.
If one were to walk along P. Reyes today on the feast of St. John the Baptist, the only wetness one would feel would be the perspiration on your neck. Sure, the timeless Acacia trees are still there, right in front of the old school (with a new name), but the gaiety of the simple good-ol-days are gone forever. The entrance to the Looban has now permanently been sealed by buildings, a hotel, and several business offices. Only old foggies remember and sadly, that is the only thing that will never change.