Revisiting Arguilla’s house in Bauang
By Yolanda Sotelo
BAUANG, La Union – There are no papayas in bloom anymore at the sprawling yard of the house where Manuel Arguilla, was born. The camachile tree infront of the house, which was also mentioned in Aguilla’s winning short story “How my brother Leon brought home a wife,” is also long gone.
But the wooden house with its 36 concrete posts roofed with GI sheets still stands, trying to defy tests of time and elements, but barely winning.
The Arguilla’s property seemed frozen in time in a town that has all the signs of moderning life and flourishing economy. Beside the house is a sprawling yard where dogs run around and goats graze on the green grass. The back, where a time-worn barn stands, opens to wide agricultural field where hay are stacked high and would be the carabao’s meal for months to come.
Infront of the house is a barely visible marker put by the National Historical Institute, mentioning his birthdate, education, and stories. The house could have been constructed during the American Occupation because Arguilla was born there in 1911.
“This is the house where Leon in the story brought home his wife,” Jose (Pepito) Arguilla Sonza Jr., 73, says. Sonza, the son of Arguilla’s sister Aurelia, and who lives in the house with his family, has no recollection of his uncle.
“He died when I was only one year old,” he says.
But he recalls his grandmother telling him and his cousins that the famed short story writer had an uncanny way of dodging farm works: “He would bring books and continuously read while his siblings were working. Then my grandmother would tell his siblings not to bother him as he was studying.”
He also remembers playing with his friends on cart on which Leon and his wife rode on the way to the house. But the cart is long gone, too.
“How my brother Leon brought home a wife” is the most famous work of Arguilla, an Ilocano writer in English, a patriot and a martyr. His stories, written when he was 22-29 years old, were compiled in a book How my Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife (And Other Stories) published by Philippine Book Guild in 1940. The collection won first prize in short story category during the first Commonwealth Literary Contest in 1940. Arguilla’s writings were almost all set in his village, Nagrebcan, Bauang, La Union. He died during World War II when the Japanese invaded the country in 1941, as one of the freedom fighters of the country. He was executed on October 1944 at the age of 33.
Arguilla, born in 1911, is the second of four siblings of Crisanto Arguilla, a farmer and carpenter, and Margarita Estabillo, a potter. The eldest was Aurelia, and the second and third were Salvador and Gualberto.
But “Leon” in his famous work which is a combination of reality and fiction, is him, and the name could have been taken from “Manuel ” or Noel spelled backwards.
As to who Maria, the wife in the story was, Sonza says it could be “Auntie Pinay,” or Josefina, the wife of Salvador, as it was Salvador who brought home the wife and he (Arguilla) told the story .
But a cousin insisted it must be Lydia, Arguilla’s wife, as there was mentioned of Ermita, Manila, where the couple lived. Lydia was also a writer.
Sonza showed the rooms of the wooden house, saying they were called “narra” and “santol” rooms.
“This could be where the scene of Maria met Leon’s father for the first time, was depicted,” he says of the narra room.
Sonza explains how his grandfather was able to build a wooden house with concrete posts at a time when houses were made of nipa and bamboo: “He was a carpenter but was also a contractor of houses, so had money for the house. Tanguile wood (which was used for floor, door jambs and trussses) while the walls were made of ipil wood. The windows were made of capiz shells.
But no furniture of those years are still available, as collectors already got them. Sonza says a rocking chair at the Manila Hotel came from the Arguilla house, while Arguilla’s documents, all in a chest, were taken by the National Press Club supposedly to be brought to the National Library.
The house was occupied by Japanese top military men during the Japanese Occupation, Sonza says. It also served as an office of the central bank at one time.
Rumors spread that the Japanese buried treasures under the house, luring treasure hunters to the place. To discourage them, Sonza’s mother Aurelia had the groundfloor cemented and walled.
Former San Fernando City Mayor Mary Jane Ortega says the local government offered the Arguilla family to rent the second floor to use it as a museum. But nothing came out of the talks.
Instead, she suggested to that the local government honor Arguilla by establishing a library in his name, thus the Arguilla library was put up.
Entry filed under: News.