Willing back the old-fashioned courtship

Inspired by my previous blog on love and tradition, I write about old-fashioned courtship in the days of my youth, a nostalgic reflection of how a family-imposed preference easily became our accepted norm.  I grew up in a family in a  province in the Philippines where old-fashioned ways and discipline ruled. One of several daughters in the household, I was not spared stern expectations and rules specifically about the manner of courtship allowed. Looking back, it seemed like a different world then.  If by strike of magic I find myself in my youth again – would I want to be back in that world?  My answer is a resounding yes!  But why, you might ask.

Amusing as they are, I teeter with embarrassment as I share memories of courtship in the old veranda. There’s a delicate coyness about admitting being the object of admiration.  So, regaling stories about the courtships in my youth still somehow elicits a blush.  But this baby boomer Lola will cite the stories anyway, so the young generation will know how courtship was in the good old-fashioned days.

The open, airy veranda, the most charming part of our home, was witness  to many courtships. True for my older sisters, and true for me as well.  Dates were taboo for us.  Males were allowed to visit, but never allowed to take us out on dates.  But there were streams of male visitors, singly or in groups, because that was acceptable.

Visits happened anytime and unannounced, especially on weekends.  The visitors climbed the veranda stairs, stopped mid-way and knocked on the upper step, likely hoping to be met by the object of their visit and not by a parent. The visitors’ knock almost never surprised me. Usually seated in my favorite corner where to my left I could look out at the Bicol river 10 meters behind my parents’ backyard vegetable garden, and to my right see anyone approaching from the stairs — I would spot heads popping up and down or cringing to peek through the wide-spaced wooden bars of the low veranda wall.  The visitors mostly came in two’s or three’s, perhaps because there was courage in numbers.  Those who ventured singly must have been brave enough to withstand Papa’s bold and scrutinizing look.  And braver still to answer his probing questions that sounded more like tests of intelligence and motive.  In some quirky way, my father’s reputation for strictness pleased me. Like a personal bouncer, he was my personal screener.  I didn’t have to bother wondering if the boys that came to the house were good or not.  If they dared visit despite knowing Papa’s rigid façade, they must be good enough, I secretly rationalized.

The veranda was my usual study spot.  Whenever the boys came, they would find me poring over textbooks.  They then approached respectfully, almost as though tiptoeing to a shrine.  Comical, I thought, and though I felt complimented by the visits and privately welcomed them, I never openly showed my sheer delight.  Often, I heard that I was referred to as Linda the scholar. Hmmm … not bad.

As a student, I generally stuck to books, school activities, dramatics and inter-scholastic leadership meetings and seminars.  Not much time for parties.  My choice.  But whenever I got invited, a group of boys would come to the house and coursed the invitation through my parents.  From my parents’ perspective, a group invitation was better than just an invite from one person.  Maybe it was the presumed safety in numbers.  Or, a group invite meant there was no special someone that Papa and Mama worried I would commit to as a “girlfriend”.  Not then, not when I was so focused on scholastic achievement and ambition.  I readily agreed with them.

My parents seemed less anxious when more than one boy visited at the same time.  In those instances, Papa didn’t come out to the veranda very much to interrogate.  But one suitor visiting – and that meant Papa was either in the garden right below the veranda, tending to the plants while singing with his wonderful baritone voice, surely not to impress but to announce that he was just there, watching – or he’d stroll in and out of the veranda to make his presence known.  Funny, I actually didn’t mind that ridiculous pantomime.  All that was when I was in my teens.  When I neared 21, my parents didn’t seem to be out checking very much during courtship visits, but they were just as strict.  And that, too, was all right with me.

If the young men were not visiting in the veranda, they serenaded late at night.  Ah, serenades with guitars – loved them.  I secretly swooned when they sang my favorites which at that time were the Beetles’ songs.  I remember my older sisters’ serenades.  The repertoire included Tagalog songs, some were the classic Kundiman or love songs.  I never had that.  Mine were the popular hits of the time. My shy serenaders stood in the shadows, while the bolder ones chose to be in the dim glow of the porch light.  I never ever looked out the window or asked them to come up the veranda.  But I peeked eagerly to see who serenaded. And when the boys visited, I would carry this wild game in my head trying to guess if any of them serenaded me in the shadows.  I never asked.  But guessing, again in a quirky way, was an exciting part of courtship.

Serenades and courtship – they go hand-in-hand.  If you ask me, I think courtship should come not just with flowers and chocolates, but also with serenades – and yes, pleasant visits, in the veranda, as in the good old-fashioned days.

Linda P. Jacob