The stories

These narratives, drawn from students' personal experiences, were posted on, a narrative website, as well as here

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Smoky Memories

This story appeared on in November of 2013 
By Connielyn Ramos 
Whenever I smell smoke, I am immediately transported to the Philippines.
Not cigarette smoke, but smog smoke, city smoke, cousin to bonfire smoke. To me, smoke is the deep, potent aroma of home, a major component to the setting of my childhood summers in the Philippines.
The hustle and bustle of the capital city of Manila where there are more jeepneys than people, traffic is backed up ‘til next Sunday, and traffic laws—what traffic laws?
As a driver in the city it’s do or die—no separate traffic lanes, no traffic lights, no pedestrian crossings, and motorized tricycles which whip past weaving in and out of cars—an eternal game of chicken.
“Keep your hands inside those windows!!” my mom used to scream at both my brother and I with that mom glare that all mothers have perfected and made into an art.
She feared that we would lose one of our extremities from the cars and other jeepneys which would practically brush against our jeepney like a cat brushing by its owner—if it were an angry, impatient cat. 
My uncle, Tito Jose (or “Tito Sen” to my younger self who still could not pronounce much and incorrectly pronounced “Jose”) owned a jeepney which is essentially a “pimped out” jeep, decorated flamboyantly and commonly used for public transportation throughout the Philippines. Drivers can decorate their jeepneys, as gaudy and as showy as they wish.
The jeepney my uncle owned had two colorful and flashy signs at the top and bottom of its windshield. “Rhode Island, USA” at the top for where my mom, brother, and I lived in the U.S. and “Joerson & Connielyn” at the bottom for the names of my brother and I. He arranged this as homage to my mom who bought him the jeepney as a gift. Sparkling lights decorated the inside of the jeep. While my uncle’s automobile of choice may seem a bit strange, jeepneys are the most popular way to travel around the Philippines and are an infamous symbol of Filipino culture.

Whenever I smell smoke, I think of my ncle and his jeepney.
I think of one summer day out of the thousands I spent there. It was just Tito Sen and six year old me out adventuring together for the day. I left with him early in the morning, eyes wide open, soaking everything in as he did his route through our town of Cavite up and down the streets. I spun around in my front seat, chin atop both arms as I studied the passengers my uncle transported. Some adults were dressed very nicely for what seemed like a government office job, others were younger kids closer to my age in their pristinely pressed white uniform on their way to school, and others had cages filled with chickens headed off to the market. I used to come up with stories for each person imagining their names and their stories and what they were doing that day.
After my uncle finished his route, he stopped the jeepney near a marketplace where we hopped out of the jeep and into a lively marketplace. I stayed on his heels holding tight to his hand as he bee-lined straight for a fruit stand. He prodded, poked, turned, and “hmmed,” over the fruit as he chose the best rambutans, dropping them into a plastic bag.
Whenever I smell smoke, I think of my uncle and rambutans.
My uncle stopped on a quiet, deserted bridge overlooking a river. He took a rambutan out of the bag and handed it to me. I examined the fruit more closely, since I had never seen such a strange fruit before. They were bright red, spiky, and seemed to be covered in fur. They were about the size of a huge grape and tickled my hand as I examined it.
I watched and tried to mimic his actions as he peeled the odd fruit to the smooth, white flesh in the center. He popped the fruit in his mouth, spit out the seed, and then took his peel and seed and threw them over the bridge. I whipped my head at him eyebrows raised, jaw dropped, since even though I was only six and did not know much, I still knew that littering was something very, very bad.
“Everybody does it,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders and winked over his fruit at me. I leaned in my seat to look over the bridge and indeed saw a river filled with trash.
He prodded me on to peel my rambutan, so I peeled it and ate the sweetest tasting fruit I had ever had. It even smelled deliciously sweet. I then looked at him with a question in my eyes, what should I do with the peel and seed in my hands?
He mimed a throwing motion.
So I gathered my strength, cocked my arm, threw the peel as far as I could, and watched my fruit peels sail over the bridge.
We continued to peel, munch, and chuck until all the rambutans were gone. My uncle wiped his hands on his pants, started up the jeepney, and headed for home with me bumping along in the front seat at his side.
Whenever I smell smoke, I think of my uncle, his jeepney, and the sweet smell and taste of rambutans. I think of the islands of the Philippines.

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