Monday, November 17, 2008

An Old Document In The Aparador

ONE OF THE DISCOVERIES during my last trip to my hometown of Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro in the Philippines was a 78-year-old document, mildewed, insect-eaten and brittle as a dry leaf, inside an old aparador. It was a lease contract between the Singer Sewing Machine Company and my grandmother Marcosa Closa. (Click on the document to enlarge.) It shows that she paid 10 pesos downpayment to rent a sewing machine Model 128-4 valued at 100 pesos, on August 28, 1930. (Coincidentally, that day was the fourth birthday of my father, her would-be son-in-law, still unknown to her family; my mother was then six years old.) According to the agreement, she was to pay three pesos on the 28th of every month in Philippine currency.

Though not exactly a find that will make me rich, the document is interesting in many ways. The form was surprisingly still in Spanish even though the Americans had been around for 32 years. The preparer who filled in the blanks had written the entries in both Spanish and English, with the month entered as "Aug." for August (instead of "Ag." for Agosto) and the word "complete" to describe the accessories included with the machine. On the back of the document, which showed my grandmother's age as 29 and my grandfather Genaro Castillo as co-leaser, the answer to question Cuanto tiempo han residido en la direccion arriba mencionada (How long have you lived in the address mentioned above? was "(illegible) years." Son los arrendetarios maridos y mujer--"yes." Occupacion--"H. Keeping." "Laborer." Two of the references I recognized as other lolas (Augustina Closa and Vicenta Lontoc) and a Jose Morente.

Interesting. I wonder how the document had survived the elements (typhoons, humidity, insects) and unknowing katulongs who disposed of old-looking documents as trash or stove kindling. I also wonder just exactly when English replaced Spanish as the language of business in the Philippines. Before WWII, were business and government forms printed bilingually in English and Spanish, with the educated (like the preparer) using English and the not-so-educated (like my grandparents) using Spanish, or even Tagalog? And how many households today still have a sewing machine? Do people still sew their own clothes, or repair them at least? Finally, what can my grandmother's monthly rent of three pesos buy today?

I believe Grandma eventually bought the machine. My mother inherited it and made lots of pajamas, pillow cases and curtains when she raised her own family. One of the tasks I had to do before she used it was to get a bowl of water and dampen the abaca rope that served as its belt (the original rubber one had snapped) so it would expand and tighten, to turn the hand wheel when she pedaled. Finally, after a strong typhoon blew our roof off, the sewing machine's wooden fold-out cover warped from the deluge and mother gave the thing away. Below is a picture of what it looked like: probably a 1924 or 1930 Singer treadle sewing machine model 128.

No comments:

Post a Comment