Updated: July 29, 2020, 7:15 PM

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My story, your story – our stories.

I was the Ingenious Bootblack

By Teodoro Alcuitas

Editor, Philippine Canadian News.com

It was one of our last high school reunions and like the previous ones, it was a time of joyous recollections.

Joy in seeing classmates from 30 or 40 years ago.

But sometimes, tinge with sadness in the absence of others who passed away.

That year, it was also a special one for me as one of my favourite teachers was there – one of  three who showed up to join with us.

He was Mr. Generoso Zamora.

And he gave me something I did not expect. After so many years, I didn’t remember about it.

Mr. Zamora gave me a clipping of the original article he wrote about me 67 years ago in the Philippines Free Press magazine. It was pure joy to see it, preserved in its original print copy which he kept all those years.

Why did he gave it to me? Did he have a premonition it was our last time seeing each other?

Perhaps he had.

Several years later,Mr. Zamora died of Pakinson’s disease.

I was profuse with thanks and gratitude for this man who played a central role in what I am today.

He was the one who influenced and encourage my young, inquisitive mind to read and love books.

The books and magazines he mentioned in the story were all his. And he allowed me to carry and let my clients read while I clean their shoes. It was his idea.

And like the journalist in him, he arranged for the photograph taken with the sign on my shoe box: “Read my Magazines while I shine your shoes.”

And he is the one having his shoes shined! He even hand-lettered the sign on my box.

I became an overnight sensation in our town when the Free Press come out with my story. The now-defunct Free Press was a very popular publication in the province and was widely read.

Our own family subscribed to the Free Press and it would go around in the house – first, to my parents and to each of us siblings. Only when our parents are finished reading it were we allowed to have it. And when the family was done, it would go to our neighbours.

That’s how Mr. Zamora nurtured my love for reading by loaning and sometimes giving me his old copies of Coronet, Reader’s Digest and the Free Press. I just loved reading them cover to cover.

Reader’s Digest was a favourite and I would memorize their ‘A Word a Day’ feature. Each day I would learn a new word – its meaning, spelling, pronounciation and how to use it in a sentence.

I think that’s how I was completely colonized!

Recently, I discovered that Mr. Zamora, the writer that he was, kept a diary. He continued writing up to his death through Parkinsons, his granddaughter, Cressa Zamora, revealed. She discovered her grandpa’s typewritten stories and transcribed it into a biography blog – ‘A Pleasure to Recall – the autobiography of an extraordinary man who believes in an extraordinary God.’

Being a bootblack also formed my values of work and saving money. What meager income I earned ( I only charged 25 cents a pair) at the time I would deposit to a postal savings account in our municipal hall as there was no rural bank.

I would spend my weekends shining shoes as I had a number of ‘suki’ – regular customers who I would visit house to house. One can just imagine how many pairs I have to shine – men’s, ladies, childrens’ shoes. And if its rainy season it made my work harder, cleaning the mud, drying the shoes, applying the shoe polish and then brushing it to a shine.

It was hard work but I loved it and happy to see my customers satisfied and some would give me a tip.

Town fiestas were a boon to ‘limpia bota’ (in Cebuano) as they used to call us.

Some of us would be at the municipal hall where customers would find us to have their shoes shined.

Occasionally,I would travel to other towns during fiestas for a weekend. I’d hop a ride on buses for free, sometimes just clutching and hanging on to the side door bar of the bus. A very dangerous risk but luckily I survived.

If I have no relatives to stay with in the town, I would sleep in benches in the municipal hall with other boys. The police allowed us and we feel safe.

That was my life as a bootblack, a life experience that probably taught me resilience and tenacity in the face of poverty.

And perhaps, my entrepreneurship.

Today at 80 years old I am still at it. Trying to make a go at a business of my own  – the online news magazine, philippinecanadiannews.com which you are now reading.

The teacher and his student…

Mr. Zamora’s graduation picture in the blog he was writing before he died. (Photo: Cressa Zamora)

My graduation picture with a degree in Architecture at the University of San Carlos.

Copy of the article Mr. Zamora gave me during our high school reunion. Note his hand-written comment. (Photo: My archives)