Instruments Of Old

The memory is still as fresh as yesterday. I am not sure if this has something to do with aging. In a couple of years, I will be turning senior and, from all indications, will reminisce personal episodes down memory lane either sharply or vaguely. So my fondest memories are not largely shaped by grandiose and trivia, but how the events manifested themselves personally that to this day, the memories are still lucid and overwhelming.  

Take, for instance, dad’s manual typewriter, a dark-green Remington heavyweight. Its origin is unknown, and no information had been handed down to us about it in any year while we were growing up. Dad also owned an adding machine, which is more indispensable as a typewriter since he used to work as a bookkeeper.

I do not understand why a typewriter is needed by a bookkeeper who employed wide sheets of differently colored and lined yellow paper and columnar notebooks scattered on a table to figure out deficiencies and discrepancies. Yet, to this day, the clicking of the typewriter’s keyboard keeps on ringing, and carbon paper continuously popping a scene from my memories of old dad’s late-night business chores even at home. This typewriter motif would eventually appear in my tech-vocational studies of a typewriting course in a suburban institute half an hour away from my hometown.

It was no longer only dad’s typewriter but a good number of uniform typewriters. Each student had to do the keys from memory or suffer from a readily available stick to hit fingers every time a learner cheats.

For lack of anything to do due to Math failure at the university, I was brought by mom to this school to learn a new skill in a non-computer age. In the process, I learned the ropes of typewriting and the do’s of putting a shield to defend my newfound faith quite offensively and thereby lose a whole social network because of one’s imprudence and ignorance.

The typewriter was a prelude to my present computer skills and personal and professional network. Instruments are our connection to the past, and without them, they may pose difficulties in constructing our personal narratives in recalling and remembering certain issues that define us as their functionality is always measured and tempered by time.

One equipment, if you may call it so, that dad had was a black and brown zipped-suitcase with partitions for stationery, pens and pencils, and other office paraphernalia. Also on hand was a black sturdy suitcase with number combinations. My dad would look unprofessional without any of these bags and in not doing so, would create his employment imbalance. Hence, he never wore rubber shoes or sneakers to work but presented himself in neutral-colored polo shirts and trousers, all pressed to perfection.

I would inherit the same fondness for a suitcase when I started a teaching career in a private high school in the late 80’s.

Up till now, I have bags but this time, the bags have evolved into branded red and blue backpacks for convenience. People can live without bags but bags have a tendency to forge a bond with their owners, establishing identity and securityand at other times, serving as a fortress to confusion and delusion.

Dad owned diaries too care of his Chinese connection. The diaries are small with a tiny golden lace inside that you flip through to mark significant dates and events. Dad used his usual fountain pen in his diary and had an ink bottle all ready to replenish his pen. A light blue and green puncher were common sights as well as a long and heavy duty stapler amid boxes of staples. These instruments were his constant companion, alongside cups of coffee to drink in the middle of the night. He wore the same eyeglasses all throughout his life and referred to them as “antipara”. I have a different set of antipara every year as I have my eyes examined at the beginning of each new year although my vision has remained pretty stable through the years. There are certain instruments in life that cannot be discarded even way past their utility, shape, size, and age. They actually transport us into a collective memory – both happy and sad that encourage us to find meaning in the most unexpected object, time, and space.

When I first began writing essays for publications, I made drafts in longhand. I felt that the computer would replace inspiration and germination. Stationery and its closest relatives have a way of bringing out affection that no laptop, tablet, or desktop could replace. This affection is seamlessly connected to calendars and planners which serve as a springboard of all kinds of ideas however odd, awesome, and fantastical. People claim that physical paper will no longer exist in the future and I had my fair share of these electronic gadgets over time: ipod and an electronic calendar/planner/calculator/diary rolled into one, gifted to me by an overseas-based sibling.

To date, although a laptop and an Android phone are easier to manipulate and store documents, I find myself scouting pieces of paper to scribble thoughts and heartaches occasionally prior to any typesetting. Insights are born, developed, and refined through the aid of computers.

A computer does not make my world, rather it often ministers to me in a particular need. Otherwise, this instrument will devour the very fabric of my life if let loose. All instruments are of equal value and no instrument can claim supremacy as every item is interrelated. The same is true of owners. No owner can claim lordship over the owned as if everything is merely anthropocentric-related.

Objects have a capacity to be glorified and so are their owners unless a mutual maturity happens in this contextual relationship or else glorification in its various incarnations will ultimately remain useless.  

Mom, from her end, inherited a shiny and bulky sungka almost similar to a big boat from her parents. It was meticulously carved with intricate designs on both sides of the body something akin to sarimanok feathers. The sungka vessel made us company on powerless nights under the glow of fireflies in the distant past which, I am afraid, cannot be physically reconstructed as this heirloom drowned in a torrential storm that destroyed all external memory of the family. Another treasure which got lost in water was an old wooden chest with bars in the aisle between two unlocked small doors. It became a compartment for old newspapers and magazines discarded by junk buyers. A mill stone could neither be located after the same storm which swept through our ancestral bungalow. People do not only grieve for lost loved ones but also for instruments no longer with them. These instruments are not only nostalgic but more importantly, also give us a sense of the familiar in old age – to hold firmly and dearly in recovering family memories despite physiological and artifact challenges and disappearance. The mill stone saw many years of “halayang ube” of Christmases past that I still long for and miss.

Years before the advent of phone cameras, I bought a Minolta for $80 in Singapore in 1993, my very first overseas trip. It lasted for years, and I collected all my childhood, grade school, high school, college, teaching, and overseas photos in an album together with a clearbook of my published essays, short story, poetry, letters to the editor, and snippets published in an entertainment column of a broadsheet. Retrieval and reconstruction are impossible except for a literary journal where an essay appeared. The rains took away the writing and photo portfolios. It would be tedious and burdensome on the part of the searcher and searched to go through a directory of my writing pieces because such items were published three decades ago. These instruments reflect and are representative of my personal journey as a teacher and writer and basically as an individual. At times when I wish to hold and touch these paper replicas and objects, I feel lonely but not lonesome. Once upon a time, instruments of old shaped my being and perhaps will continue to do so minus any physical manifestations.

Manuel A. Alindogan, Jr.

Manuel A. Alindogan, Jr. or Jun A. Alindogan (byline) is a BA Mass Communication graduate of Far Eastern University. He is presently Academic Writing Professor at the Asian School of Development and Cross-Cultural Studies ( ASDECS) and is the Academic Director of the Expanded Alternative Learning Program of Empowered East, a Rizal-province based NGO involved in community development. His interests include social and spiritual issues, films, and music.

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