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Back in the Day | The cool, fabulous 50s Part 7

Osmeña Park, PC Barracks and a cool cop

Mr. Cortez was a familiar but quite an unpopular dude in Osmeña Park’s lively vicinity in the 50s. Short but agile, in his mid 40s, he warms up his morning with his usual daily surveillance around the gorgeous park grounds, bounded by San Pedro, Claveria, Bolton and Magallanes Streets. He gets a kick nabbing kids who climb trees to pick fruits in the park. Macopa, Lomboy/Duhat trees and a lone Chico tree beside the Capitol tennis courts were the sweet obsessions of the youngsters’ mischiefs.

Kids and toddlers would sneak into the park and wait to make sure everything was clear for them to assault the trees. Seeing Mr. Cortez from the distance would spook the kids and swiftly, they clear out of the park before they are caught red-handed. But as always, the buzzing sound of bees up on the tree would altogether kill their covert mission.

Summer school breaks spur more actions in the park. One ill-fated day, the urban neighborhood was grief-stricken when one of the toddlers climbed up the tallest Macopa tree along the Magallanes side of the park, broke a branch and fell to his death. Strangely, in almost the same place in early 2000, a century old acacia tree’s weighty over- hanging branch snapped and like a wrecking ball, plummeted down the street crushing down a moving taxi and cruelly snuffed the life of an innocent passenger.

The San Pedro side of the park facing the church was a poorly maintained sub standard mini zoo. This man-made animal habitat, devoid of proper drainage system, wafted the air with a strong putrid and foul smell and folks would rather skip other visual wonders of the park.

A concrete circular pool where giant Gouramis thrive was the centerpiece of the park. One day, at noontime, a grade school kid fished one out, slipped the thrashing thing into his school bag, hurried back to his afternoon class at the nearby school. Upon seeing it, the bewildered teacher tasked the boy to drop the fish in the school’s shallow grotto of the Blessed Mother.

The mini zoo was a city attraction for its crocodile, a leopard, various species of birds, snakes, monitor lizards, civets, and about 30 caged rowdy acrobatic monkeys. Day and night, feathered and furred creatures blared authentic cacophonic forest sounds in front of the old church, vexing the faithful.

Spry and jolly-faced traffic cop officer, Mr. Barbasan of the City Police Department would take on the busy Claveria – San Pedro intersection, across the PNB building in late mornings to direct downtown traffic. With a pleasant and contagious smile, he breaks a sweat and amuse pedestrians and motorists alike as he choreographs and synchronizes his head and body movements with his snappy stop, go, right, left turn hand-signals to motorists. Occasionally, he does his half- pirouettes which draw instant exhilaration from the town folks. During Christmas seasons, presents are hand-delivered by generous and prominent well to do well wishers to the charming traffic cop.

The old PC Barracks (now Camp Leonor) at the other end of San Pedro St was one happy place in the city in the 50s. The huge ground was a tailor-made perfect softball diamond where the out- field stretches over the two huge acacia trees shading the barracks building. Summer softball tournaments were purposely held here since the barracks’ prime location could draw up and generate huge crowd attendance in just a few minutes.

In the 50s, US Navy ships frequented the city for their much needed R&R and docked at the old Sta Ana Wharf. A navy men softball team would engage in a pick up game with the best local players in town. Excited and shrieking home crowd were drawn into watching a friendly Pinoy-US exhibition game.

Being a military facility, it was home to the usual rigid foot and weapon drills, the traditional pass in reviews and other military rituals by the Constabulary as well as the ROTC battalions from Ateneo, Mindanao Colleges (now UM), RMC and Harvardian Colleges. Kite flying for kids during summer days was fun. Also free movies on weekend evenings were shown by big companies of consumer products. All these brought about a happy relationship between the military facility and the community. To be continued.

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