The lost children’s garden

Before St. Joseph’s Academy (SJA) become what it is today, all concrete from bottom up, there was a brown patch of land by the main gate, beside the National Shrine of Saint Joseph (formerly St. Joseph Parish). It was small but big enough for about 20 to 30 children to play catch in.

Thinking about it now, I’m sure it was meant to be a garden with a statue in the middle and trees surrounding it. The trees, thick with dark bark and coated with ground dust, stood bent and drooping, like a decreasing army of wounded soldiers.

A bit of trimmed grass, parlored bushes and a keep off sign would have made that piece of land a peaceful sanctuary in the middle of a bustling city, a modest remake of the garden of Gethsemane, something you could expect from the ICM Sisters who managed the school in its early years.

But there was no stopping us, still young and jaunty schoolchildren at the time, from entering this well-shaded garden whose mere presence unceasingly taunted us to play. Dust rose from the ground as we chased each other in this garden during class breaks and at the end of the school day.

We were oblivious to the health hazards the garden posed on us: dusty air that was as thick as the bark of the trees, undried sweat on the back of our white cotton uniforms and the verbal onslaught by mothers who thought more about laundry than the benefits of play.

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Remembering Coleen, the girl of joy

What is now a paved road outside my parents’ house used to be uncovered soil with stones and weeds. This rough plot of land, with only trees on one side serving as a sort of boundary and a concrete wall on the other, welcomed the restless feet of 8- and 10-year-old children jumping and thrashing against the hard ground.

Among them was Coleen. She was a short, frail-looking girl with a pair of sad eyes. Her appearance was a sobersided contrast to the meaning of her complete name: Coleen Joy, or a girl of joy. But appearances can be deceiving.

During one of our games of catch or hide and seek with the neighborhood children—Manny, Toto, Nonoy, Christine, and Alwin—Coleen would come out of her house pale and tired. She must had had one of her “nebulizer sessions” to ease her asthma attacks.

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