Food for the soul

By: Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo August 04,2017 - 09:58 PM

Antoinette asked me if she can join me that Saturday for Story Hours at J Centre Mall, a literacy initiative held every last Saturday of the month and attended by children from public and private schools.

Story Hours is my eldest “child,” born before Nicholas and Antoinette. Its first edition was rolled out in 2012–2013 when Banilad Town Center, Basadours and Philippine Daily Inquirer Visayas Bureau signed an agreement to carry out a program for children to listen to stories and write stories.
For 2016 to 2017, the tripartite agreement was signed by Basadours, Cebu Daily News and J Centre Mall. We are down to our last two sessions, and it feels like I am giving birth to another child as the culmination of this edition will be on September 2017.

Antoinette’s request to be my little assistant that weekend was uttered in Cebuano: “Pwede ko mokuyog, Nanay? Nag-dress na man ko.” (Can I join you, Nanay? I am already wearing a dress.)

Despite the objections of Ate Joy, who convinced me that I will only be distracted with my storytelling session in Antoinette’s presence, I told my daughter that she can go with me provided that she will be good girl.

She agreed.

She was a good girl, all right.

She even listened intently when I took out my storytelling apron as I regaled 30 children from Little Angels Montessori School and Banilad Elementary School with the story of “The Amazing Hat” (Ang Pambihirang Sombrero) by Jose Miguel Tejido.

The story is about the curious girl Mia who found a magic hat inside her grandmother’s old treasure chest. The session ended with children writing their own stories and reading them in front of other children.

I will never get tired of this arrangement. Watching children huddled together with their respective facilitators and seeing them collaborate, exchange ideas and asking their ate or kuya to write down their ideas in story form is pure happiness to my heart. What we do is simple, but we hope to inspire these children to be writers and dreamers.

I was once told that history and art classes are useless. I’ve been discouraged by several people to stop writing — and reading — poetry because it is not relevant in this world.

I stand as a testament that it is neither useless nor irrelevant.

I started writing poetry when I was eight. It helped me survive the harsh world of university days — and yes, graduate school. While the writings of Sylvia Plath did not get me through depression, her words were consolation that I was not alone. It was Neil Gaiman — and “The Graveyard Book” — who helped me get out of the dark tunnel.


On the night of the same Saturday, I stood in front of 15 or so people to celebrate the first anniversary of Presents and Such Tearoom and Cafe owned by my adoptive parents, Rudy and Loy Alix, as I read a poem by Pablo Neruda. Pardon me if I failed to remember the title because my architect-brother Hendrix chose it for me and I read it while looking out for my daughter who was opening the door leading to the Alix couple’s study.

That night, Jessica McYorker sang for us while her friend JK played the guitar. Oh what a tandem! Raymond Fernandez played with his saxophone. I met Tess Ruelas (again) and my newfound best friend Frankie Despi along with her husband Art. The evening was described by Tita Loy as “food for the soul.”

She fed us cabcab with two types of homemade dips.

There was pasta and apple pie. Citrus-mint-infused water was my favorite and the rest of the group had red wine.

It was a small group of people who basked in the grandeur of music and lyrics that night. We are lovers of the arts — and no, we’re not irrelevant.

At some point during the reading and singing, Antoinette made her escape to the kitchen and helped herself to more cabcab and pasta.

“We go home after I eat, Nanay,” she said.

We rejoined the group later as Jessica sang the Italian version of “Se Tu Non Sei Lei,” the Italian version of Daniel Bedingfield’s “f You’re Not the One.”

We just listened. It was such a treat to be in the company of people who actually listens to music and enjoys poetry. I hate it when people keep on talking when musicians play or when people read poetry. It is very disrespectful. I have been successful in controlling myself not to throw any beer bottle or wine glass their way.

My daughter swayed and smiled as she listened to Jessica. She enjoyed the song. Her dad deserves all the credit for my children’s love for music. They listen to Frank Sinatra most of the time.

Later in the car, she told me, “Next time, we sing together Nanay” as she closed her eyes and called it a day.

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TAGS: J Centre Mall, Story Hours

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